North Korea and its World: An Attempt at an Explanation

North Korea allegedly conducted a hydrogen bomb test on January 6, 2016. There is still little known whether the current test involved a real hydrogen bomb or not. It could be possible though that North Korea would have acquired the technology to compact nuclear heads which is one of the steps to finally arrive at a hydrogen bomb. This nuclear test by North Korea can be analyzed through two events that occurred nearby in Asia and further afield in the Middle East.


North Korea’s nuclear test at this time might have been expected at least by China, the US and Russia. After Iran and the US concluded the nuclear deal, North Korea might desire a similar deal with the US and be waiting for a good timing. Since China has become the hegemonial power in Asia, confrontations with China might be undesirable to the US. And vice versa because China is still on the way to reform its society and military. Meanwhile terror threats have also spread in China. Russia and the US are deeply involved in the Middle East chaos. North Korea’s nuclear development definitely poses a world threat, but these powerful nations might not wish to get involved at the moment. Hence, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might try to demonstrate his new weapon especially to these nations and South Korea and Japan.

The first step to amend the relationship between Japan and South Korea was surprisingly made by the respective governments at the end of December 2015 even though it might cost Japan’s Prime Minister Abe his post because of his acceptance of distorting histories. If South Korea and Japan as US allied nations overwhelm their historical difficulties, North Korea’s position could weaken. It could also be possible to withdraw the US Forces from South Korea once South Korea and Japan strengthen their security ties by means of an agreement such as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) which was almost signed by the two nations in 2012; however, South Korea postponed the signature but one hour before the agreed upon time. The Six-Party Talks (North and South Korea, Japan, China, the US and Russia), which were held for the first time in China in 2003 and another six times until 2007. If the North Korean leader tries to obtain maximal gains from these actors, he might need more fearful weapons than North Korea ever possessed and would like to make a deal with the US before America leaves the Korean Peninsula.

In addition, there exists the desire to unify their country again. If South Korea absorbed North Korea, China and Russia would lose a buffer zone. Thus, Russia and China keep a very close eye on this peninsula. Nevertheless, it would be too much and not a good time for them to negotiate with North Korea since the competence of Kim Jong-un is unknown. As already mentioned above, China, the US and Russia might avoid confrontations amongst themselves, all the while rather carefully observing and gauging the movements on the Korean Peninsula. Japan is the only actor within the Six-Party Talks who desires to negotiate with North Korea at the moment due to the Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

Middle East

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran has even more deteriorated recently. The Saudis have broken their diplomatic ties with Iran. Saudi leaders have criticized the US for the nuclear deal made with Iran. The US sanctions on Iran seem to be revoked very soon in spite of Israeli and Saudi efforts to the contrary. Saudi Arabia’s financial situation might have tightened due to low oil prices although its military expenditures are vastly increasing (the proxy war in Yemen against Iran comes at a price).

China’s declining economic development also additionally impacts the Saudi’s economy. Saudi Arabia though does not seem to reduce oil production; as a consequence, oil producers in Iran and Russia as well as the US shale oil producers suffer. The harder fought the conflicts in the Middle East get, the more weapons come to this region. One of the most important revenues of North Korea is weapons export. ISIS terrorists use some North Korean weapons which might have been seized from Syrian troops. Presumably more than 70% of the total weapons exports of North Korea are said to have gone to Syria, Iran and Yemen between 1995 and 2004.

The relationship between Iran and North Korea is still veiled, but it is claimed that Iran got the missile technology from North Korea and also cooperates in developing nuclear technology with North Korea.[1] It is said that the NCRI (National Council of Resistance of Iran) has reported activities in a similar vein concerning nuclear development between Iran and North Korea.[2] It has also been reported that North Korea’s economic situation has improved.[3] This might also imply that the profits of weapons exports have an influence on the market improvement, too. Within the group of Saudi policy makers divergent opinions might prevail. The escalation of relations with Iran might have been a tactic by Saudi Arabia to thwart the US nuclear deal with Iran. This uncertain situation could move the Saudis to obtain nuclear weapons/technologies. It is a very reasonable time for North Korea to make a good profit. If the US seriously worries about North Korea selling nuclear technology to the Middle East and also to ISIS, the US has to cooperate with both China and Russia to negotiate with North Korea.


[1] Center for Information on Security trade control: JAIST 13th Research Symposium, Tokyo, March 24, 2012.’%E3%82%A4%E3%83%A9%E3%83%B3%E3%81%A8%E5%8C%97%E6%9C%9D%E9%AE%AE%E3%81%AE%E9%96%A2%E4%BF%82′

[2] Sanke News: Kitachosen to Iran ga Kaku Kyoryoku (Nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran), May 29, 2015.

[3] Korea Joongang Daily: Sakunen no Shijou kaikakugo Kitachosen no Keizai ga kaizen (After the market reform last year, North Korea’s economy improved), July 28, 2015.

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