How Not to Misread the North Korean Mind-Psychology and History ICHIRO FUJISAKI

Jun 17, 2019

“Deja vu” was my impression of the Hanoi Summit. North Korean leaders simply cannot make real steps towards denuc/earization. This is obvious if you put your feet into Kim Jong-un ‘s shoes. Also they have many records of turnit:zg around. In order to read their minds, psychology and history are more important than following and analyzing their words or than depending on theory books.

When the Hanoi Summit broke up abruptly, the first thing came to my mind was deja vu. We have seen such tum arounds many times. No, I am not saying it’s in the DNA of the Kim family. North Korean leaders just don’t have other alternatives than to cling to what they have.

When I am talking to college students, I tell them that political theory books are not your guidebooks. No politicians make their decisions by reading theory books. It’s like no CEOs follow economic theory books. Theory books are there to logically explain what has happened. It helps you organize your mind.

I also tell them not to rely too much on leaders’ speeches or issued documents. Once upon a time there was a word “Kremlinology.” It was an effort to decipher the power relationships among Soviet leaders. It was done by analyzing the changes in where these people were standing when they were observing parades or by trying to read between the lines of speeches. North Korea is an even more closed society than the Soviet Union. So it is rational to analyze speeches and statements to understand the country. However, to depend too much on them may be misleading. Speeches are often written to convey what leaders want others to believe rather than to express their true thinking.

It’s psychology and history you have to know in order to make predictions. Psychology does not mean academic theories. It just means to put your feet into someone else’s shoes.

Let us try it with Kim Jong-un. Assume you have inherited an empire from your father where only you and your family members are living a heavenly life. Most of the others are nearly starving. What would be your objective? Of course, regime survival. To do so, what is needed? What would you like to have in your hands?

Perhaps, two things.

First, military strength which would cause fear among other countries. Nuclear bombs and missiles would be the ideal tools. Or, would you believe in another country’s security assurances? Would you abandon your ultimate weapons and place your and your country’s fate in others’ hands? You would of course think about what has happened to Colonel Muammer Kaddafi of Libya.

Second, you would think about a certain amount of national income to keep the country going and develop the said military strength.

Mikhail Gorbachev or Deng Xiao Ping are often referred to as the leaders who have changed their countries’ courses. So there are people who suggest that Kim Jong-un may follow their steps. Make no mistake. Have Deng or Gorbachev unilaterally abandoned their weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? On the contrary, they have kept building up their WMD.

Deng was able to introduce a type of market economy to China. So some ask can’t Kim do the same? That is an argument that does not consider the circumstantial differences between North Korea and China. If you open up your economy, you must anticipate a flood of information coming in from the media and other sources. Deng did not have to worry too much about influx of information. That countries surrounding China were far smaller was a help. Once a competitor, Taiwan has now become a small entity. Still he had to suppress people during the Tiananmen Square crisis when people developed too much awareness or consciousness. Also Deng was able to deny his predecessors.

But can Kim endure information coming in? Republic of Korea (ROK)’s GDP is more than 40 times larger than that of North Korea according to ROK. Can he deny his father or grandfather who provided him with the only legitimacy he has for being the leader? If he opens up the country, people will instantly know that they had been left behind from the rest of the world and his grandfather and father had lied to them for over half a century. He just cannot do that.

So Kim dynasty leaders have just been buying time. During this time they have been developing WM D. They had and have no other alternatives. This is the psychology lesson.

Some analysts have been taking North Korean officials’ words too literally. Let me show some examples:

-North Korea has been longing to change the cease-fire agreement to an end-of-war declaration,

-North Korea would like to conclude Peace Treaty with the US in order to get security assurance from the US,

-North Korea would like to unite the Korean Peninsula under its regime.

Yes these words have been said many times. But if you were Kim, do you really care whether a piece of paper’s title is cease-fire or end-of-war? Do you rely on US security assurances? If you set aside psychological analysis, you may place too much importance on these words expressed intentionally to misguide you.

While buying time, the North has been engaging in negotiations. Why? Because they were able to fetch some concrete results through such negotiations. What they got were, at times, food, oil, or delisting from terrorist supporting countries. Once they almost got a nuclear reactor.

In return, North Korea offered to behave themselves. They offered concessions such as halting of nuclear experiments to get aid or to get sanctions relaxed. This, positively, was called a “step by step approach.”

Negatively, it was called “salami tactics” of North Korea.

The biggest problem was that their commitments have never been honored. One spectacular example was the Six Party Talks’ 2005 Agreement. Let us look at the excerpts. This was an Assistant Secretary level meeting.

The DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation ofNuclear Weapons and to IAEAsafeguards.

The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.

The ROK reaffirmed its commitment not to receive or deploy nuclear weapons in accordance with the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while affirming that there exist no nuclear weapons within its territory.1

Then the next year, 2006, North Korea implemented their first nuclear test. Subsequently, they have conducted five additional nuclear tests. This is the history lesson.

Then, is there no possibility of complete denuclearization?

No, I am not saying that. Didn’t we see how eager the North was to see sanctions lifted? Here lies the key to understanding the situation. The 2016 and 2017 sanctions prohibited all North Korean coal exports and about one half of their total oil and oil products import. UN Security Council sanctions need all permanent members’ agreement. That means China and Russia must join. These very strong sanctions were possible only because the North conducted three nuclear tests and more than 30 missile launches against the warning of Security Council in 2016 and 2017. Faced with the strong reaction of international public opinion, the two countries had to acquiesce to unprecedentedly strong sanctions. These have been hurting the North Korean economy. They had engaged very actively in transferring cargo between ships on the sea, or lightering, to bypass the sanctions. This is stated in successive UN reports including the one issued this February. So, in short, sanctions have been effective. The North is eager to see the sanctions lifted. Also, they are after funding.

President Donald Trump once said that he would negotiate but those who extend economic cooperation should be ROK and Japan. We have already experienced such a plan when an agreed framework was established. In the KEDO project which the US negotiated with North Korea, ROK and Japan were due to be the financial contributors. Japan accepted the deal. Japan again will be ready to offer financial support as it has done to ROK in 1965. But Japan will do so only in accordance with the Pyongyang declaration between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim Jong-ii.

Following are excerpts.

Both sides determined that, pursuant to the spirit and basic principles laid out in this Declaration, they would make every possible effort for an early normalization of the relations, and decided that they would resume the Japan DPRK normalization talks in October 2002.

Both sides expressed their strong determination that they would sincerely tackle outstanding problems between Japan and the DPRK based upon their mutual trust in the course of achieving the normalization .

The Japanese side regards, in a spirit of humility, the facts of history that Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of Korea through its colonial rule in the past, and expressed deep remorse and heartfelt apology.

Both sides shared the recognition that, providing economic co­ operation after the normalization by the Japanese side to the DPRK side, including grant aids, long-term loans with low interest rates and such assistances as humanitarian assistance through international organizations, over a period of time deemed appropriate by both sides, and providing other loans and credits by such financial institutions as the Japan Bank for International Co-operation with a view to supporting private economic activities, would be consistent with the spirit of this Declaration, and decided that they would sincerely

discuss the specific scales and contents of the economic co-operation in the normalization talks.2

In short, it should be in such an order as first tackling outstanding issues, followed by normalization and only then extending economic cooperation. Here, outstanding issues include nuclear, missile and abduction issues. Until these issues are solved, Japanese people will never allow their government to go ahead with economic cooperation.

If their economy is really cornered, North Korea is expected to tum around and seek cooperation with ROK and Japan. It is sincerely hoped that the day will come sooner than later. But neither Japan nor the US is in a rush. The situation brought about after the Singapore Summit is not bad for our side. Kim had to commit not to launch missiles and not to proceed with nuclear experiments. The sanctions are intact. Some analysts always over-evaluate the North Korea’s diplomatic skills but in reality they are more cornered than before. They themselves know about this.

Many argue that in order to proceed with denuclearization, a relationship of trust relations should be constructed first between the North and the United States. This argument plays into the hands of North Korea and forgets that the US is negotiating on behalf of the international community. North Korea has repeatedly conducted nuclear testing and missile launches against the warnings of the UN Security Council. These are by no means one-on-one negotiations. It is the international community as a whole opposing such actions of North Korea.

Lastly, a word on the recent move of North Korea to restart activities at their missile launch site of Ton Chang-ri or their blaming Secretary Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. This again is deja vu. The North wants the US to ask for the next round of meetings. They don’t want to put themselves in the “demandeur” position. So they are sending messages not to put them aside. The officials have to say that it was not their responsibility that the Hanoi Summit had no agreements. At the same time, they know that if they blamed President Trump that would definitely be the end. So they are focusing only on officials from Mr. Pompeo to Mr. Bolton. What a classic technique!

The best thing that happened in Hanoi was that the two sides did not agree on the next summit date. Now, there is plenty of time for detailed official level negotiations.

No rush. Let us go steady and slowly. More haste, less speed.

Notes

1 Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks Beijing, September 19, 2005 U.S. Department of State Archive https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2005/53490.htm

2 Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/n_korea/pmv0209/pyongyan.ghtml

About the author

Ichiro Fujisaki joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1969, and went on to serve as Deputy Director General for Asian Affairs, Political Minister at the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC, Director General for North American Affairs, Deputy Foreign Minister, and Ambassador to the UN and WTO in Geneva. He served as Ambassador to the United States from 2008 until 2012. He is President of Nakasone Peace Institute and President of the America-Japan Society, Inc.