Russian analyst: North Korea weapons are primarily for defense

Alexander Zhebin says the regime’s insecurities need to be addressed in Washington.
By Elizabeth Shim  |  March 1, 2017 at 11:34 AM
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March 1 (UPI) -- North Korea is viewed as a top security threat in Washington, and the recent assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother in Malaysia has not encouraged the United States to offer dialogue to Pyongyang.

Backchannel talks in New York between former U.S. government officials and North Korean diplomats were being arranged until the slaying.

The Feb. 13 assassination, which involved the use of a banned VX nerve agent, has been blamed for the cancellation of the talks.

But even in the face of numerous provocations, some Russian experts, while wary of nuclear weapons in North Korea, see the situation differently on the peninsula.

Alexander Zhebin, a North Korea expert at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, told UPI during the annual Global Peace Convention on Wednesday in Manila that Russians see North Korea's motives are clearly to prevent an attack.

"North Korea will use everything to defend themselves in case of American or a South Korean invasion," Zhebin said. "North Korea is very small, and not a very rich country. How can they challenge the United States, or attack the United States?"

The analyst said fear is driving the regime's choice to pursue weapons development, and that past U.S. actions in countries like Iraq and Libya have "really frightened" the North Korean leadership.

To ease North Korea concerns, the United States has offered multiple security assurances, including the Clinton-era 1994 Agreed Framework, the 2005 Joint Statement reached during the Six Party Talks, and the Leap Day deal signed during President Barack Obama's term.

But continued weapons buildup in South Korea and what Zhebin described as inconsistent U.S. foreign policy in successive administrations have placed a cloud of uncertainty over Pyongyang.

Drastic policy shifts have undermined North Korean trust in U.S. policies and each new U.S. president is seen as a new chapter in the life of a "hostile" superpower with troops south of the demilitarized zone.

U.S. political changes provide a contrast to North Korea, which has not changed its weapons policy across successive generations of Kims, Zhebin said.

"Very often North Korea is seen as an unpredictable, irrational government," the analyst said. "But an irrational and unpredictable government would not be able to stay in power for 70 years."

The North Korean leadership may also be addressing the needs and interests of its elite class, who, while being increasingly exposed to the outside world, also worry about their eventual fate after unification.

Trials, punishment and imprisonment may await North Korea officials, and that risk allows the regime to maintain loyalty among its ranks.

Zhebin, who visited Pyongyang in 2016 during the country's Seventh Party Congress, and spent 12 years in North Korea as a journalist, also said North Korea ultimately wants to have "very good relations with the United States."

"It is an open secret each new U.S. administration changes very dramatically," Zhebin said.

An underlying sense of consistency in U.S. North Korea policy may need to be conveyed, he added.

The Global Peace Foundation is affiliated with the ultimate holding company that owns United Press International.

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