BY CHARLOTTE UMEMOTO, Asia and Deputy Editor
Part two: cultural and ideological reasons
It can be said that North Korea acquired nuclear weapons due to cultural and historical reasons. According to Stack, the Korean war was referred to as the ‘forgotten war’ in the US. However, despite the fact that the war only lasted three years in comparison to the Vietnam War which lasted approximately twenty years, it had arguably longer-lasting repercussions. It is thought to have ‘set the stage’ for years of hostility between North Korea, South Korea and the United States.
In 1948, the American-supporting, southern Korean administration announced that it would now be called the Republic of Korea. Syngman Rhee then became the South Korean leader and enjoyed the backing of the US. The communist northern administration then called itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The leader was Kim Il-sung. He was involved directly in the Chinese Civil War. He provided 100,000 Japanese rifles, uniforms, and other military supplies to assist in the effort to assist the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He provided clothing and shoes for the troops; he also was said to encourage young men in the North Pyeongan Province to join the army.
It can, therefore, be argued that the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, has sought to legitimise his regime by continuing the ideology that his grandfather, the first leader of North Korea, adopted. Thus, he can prove to the North Korean people that there is a legitimate continuation in terms of the familial bloodline as well as in practices and ideals. The country’s third nuclear test was ordered on his late father’s birthday. In other words, Kim Jong-Un’s focus on military pursuits including the acquiring of nuclear weapons is partly due to ideological reasons.
Kim Jong-Un’s focus on military pursuits is evident through the country’s propaganda. There is a national song called ‘Onward Toward the Final Victory’. It is played by North Korean state-run media and the score of the music was published by the country’s official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun. It was apparently well received by the country. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that ‘the song hardens the will of the Korean army and people to devote their all to the prosperity of the country with high national pride’. Imagery of militarism appears frequently in the song which supports my assertion that Kim Jong-Un’s wish is to follow in his family’s footsteps and focus on military pursuits. There is a strong ideological message throughout the song which is the idea of a powerful and prosperous nation. It, therefore, shows that Kim Jong-Un believes that the power and prosperity of a nation are synonymous with a military capacity, namely a nuclear arsenal.
Other examples of cultural references to the military include a cartoon for children. It shows animals dreaming of fighting against the US army. There is imagery of US tanks being sunk by school-children. In addition, high school students were reportedly marching in the streets in military uniforms daily to protest against the US; there were also posters showing missiles destroying the Capitol and tearing apart the US flag. The Secretary of the State, Rex Tillerson (2017) said that the US was ‘probing’ at North Korea in the hopes of dialogue and in fact, had ‘a couple of, three channels open to Pyongyang”. However, Trump rejected this by saying that Tillerson should ‘save his energy’ and is ‘wasting his time’. In my opinion, this shows how ingrained militarism is in the North Korean psyche and therefore, partly explains the reason North Korea acquired nuclear weapons. Weaponry and therefore a nuclear arsenal are major components of the culture of the regime and the country itself. It is one of the core pillars of the regime. It, therefore, is unlikely to be successfully dealt with through means of ‘probing’ and ‘channels’ of communication as suggested by Tillerson.
I argue that yes, North Korea did seek nuclear weapons for national security purposes. However, it would be short-sighted to argue that is the only reason. The fact that North Korea has been suffering from currency shortages and issues such as flooding, and famine show that the state may have an incentive to acquire financial aid from its foreign enemies. In addition, its nuclear weaponry is a notable part of North Korean’s culture and therefore its identity. Therefore, it is unlikely that we will see an end to North Korea’s espousal to nuclear weaponry any time soon. Perhaps we can only hope…