With regards to North Korea, 2019 ended in similar fashion to a season-ending cliffhanger episode of a television series. An ultimatum was given, and threats of a “Christmas gift” were made. And then, just before the 2019 screen went black, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walked into the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party and hinted that he might no longer honor the testing moratorium now in place, and told the world it will soon witness a new strategic weapon.
Now its officially 2020. The United States has not responded to the North Korean ultimatum. No Christmas gift has been delivered in the form of a missile, or nuclear test. The concern surrounding North Korea has started to wear thin, and has started to be replaced somewhat by growing curiosity about the timing of Kim’s veiled threats. Since April of 2018 or so, North Korea has received many concessions from the Trump administration. As relations warmed and both sides attempted…unsuccessfully, as it would seem now,….. to reach an agreement on denuclearization, and sanction relief, the US left North Korea alone for the most part. Economic sanctions remained in place, but in some instances the Trump administration looked the other way concerning certain North Korean violations. It appears this bonus concession, intended to nudge Kim ahead in negotiations, was for naught. Negotiations broke down over the sanctions and for the moment US-North Korean relations seem poised to return to the crisis level.
So why has Kim Jong Un gone back to making attention-grabbing, destabilizing statements?
Finding an answer to this question is anything but simple. However, one theory appearing likely right now is that internal pressure is growing and Kim is threatened by it. To the outside world he appears to be in full control of the North Korean state. What most people don’t grasp is the fact that just beneath the surface, there are a number of factions vying for influence and power in the North Korean government. Kim’s failure to obtain full sanctions relief from the US reflects badly on him now. Hence, the bellicose language of the past few weeks. A sop to the members of his government who may be starting to question whether or not “The Marshall” is equipped to lead North Korea into the future.
More than anything Kim Jong Un is a survivor. His recent behavior might seem alarming to the outside world but he is simply taking the necessary steps to ensure the survival of his regime.