North Korea Chooses Guns Over Google

In testing a nuclear device, North Korea again turns its nose to the international community

KimKimKim.jpg[North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un makes an opening address at the Fourth Meeting of Secretaries of Cells of the Workers' Party of Korea, in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by North Korea's KCNA news agency on January 29, 2013. (KCNA/Reuters)]

Kim Jong Un had a brief moment this year to change North Korea's trajectory, to choose Google over guns. Instead of experimenting with greater connectivity to the outside world, North Korea has chosen a path of new sanctions, increased pressure from China, and the political impossibility of a negotiated "live and let live" agreement that could have traded nuclear progress for regime stability.

Today's nuclear test continues North Korea's policy of favoring a military-first policy over the needs of its people. This is perhaps not surprising, but it is disappointing.

Though the full impact of today's events will depend on yet-to-be-determined nature of the nuclear technology tested, taking the North Koreans at their initial word means that they sought progress in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead for use with the missile technology it has also recently tested. This growing capacity significantly raises the level of the perceived threat to the United States, Japan and South Korea.

There was another path. Some analysts saw last year some initial signs of attempts at economic opening. After all, the benefits of engagement are compelling. The country's GDP was about $40 billion in 2011. That year, Google's revenue was $37.9 billion. North Korea's leaders had to know that the great needs of their people would remain unmet and the limits on the North's economic potential would remain insurmountable, though, until it found a way to reintegrate with the international community.

But North Korea chose the other path. It was clear at least from January's United Nations Security Council resolution that North Korea could expect a harsh reaction to further nuclear testing. The benefits of an open economy are many, but they are not available to a belligerent North Korea.

Some analysts describe this test as a call from a predictable North Korean playbook -- take provocative action, then negotiate from a position of perceived strength. But static playbooks don't age well, and repeated tactics often yield diminishing returns.

In this case, the international political landscape has shifted to erase any potential gains from a tactic that relies on provocation. New governments in Japan and South Korea are committed politically to significant action -- Japan has already called for "quite severe" sanctions. A third nuclear test is likely to eliminate what little appetite there was in Washington for negotiations. And, a new Chinese leadership's credibility has been challenged by a nuclear test amid widespread reports that China's frustration with North Korea was growing.

Presented by

Matt Stumpf is Asia Society D.C. Office Director and former Special Asst to the USAID Administrator, State Dept nonproliferation expert and MacArthur Foundation Program Officer for Asian Security.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

Just In