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N. Korea Resorting to Brinkmanship Antics Again

Posted November. 14, 2008 08:15,   


North Korea’s recent omnidirectional offensive is the typical brinkmanship it frequently uses in nuclear negotiations with the United States, with the intent to drive the negotiating partner into a corner to gain the upper hand.

Pyongyang’s extreme measures such as cutting off direct communication links and restricting overland passage across the border, however, are not only related its strategy of “talk only with Washington, ignore Seoul,” but also several internal factors.

▽ Reason behind brinkmanship

Ironically the North’s hard-line measures reflect the communist regime’s frustration over its failure to drive South Korea in its direction.

Pyongyang has tried to tame Seoul’s conservative government. The Lee Myung-bak administration, however, has refused to budge, leaving the North no choice but to take radical measures such as severing official communication channels with the South and threatening the closure of the Kaesong industrial park.

From Pyongyang’s perspective, Seoul and certain South Korean civilian groups have touched on too many of the North’s fundamental problems.

For instance, the South participated in the adoption of a resolution on the North`s human rights abuses, discussed how to respond to a sudden change of power in the North amid rumors of leader Kim Jong Il’s worsening health, and sending propaganda leaflets to the North. For those in control in Pyongyang, these were serious threats they could not overlook and had to strongly respond to.

Experts also blame the North’s hard-line stance on the considerable amount of economic losses incurred by inter-Korean projects since the Lee administration took office. Seoul suspended sending rice and fertilizer aid to Pyongyang this year.

The South sent 300,000 tons of fertilizer and 400,000 tons of rice to the North last year.

Worsening inter-Korean relations can be viewed as the outcome of a head-on collision of national interests, with no short-term solutions on the horizon.

▽ Pyongyang’s negotiating strategy

The North on New Year’s Day this year announced what it wants from the Lee administration in an editorial in its official daily Rodong Shinmun. Pyongyang demanded abiding by agreements of the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean summit declarations.

The North, gradually stepped up its offensive, however, as the South’s conservative government failed to provide carrots. In response, the Stalinist country began speaking to South Korea’s civilian groups while ignoring its government, expelling 11 Seoul officials from the inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation office in the Kaesong industrial park March 24.

In the process, Pyongyang employed its typical trick of warning of offensive steps in advance and passing the buck to the opponent. In a Rodong Shinmun article carried April 1, the North said the Lee administration must take complete responsibility for causing irrevocable damage.

North Korea`s Red Cross, which announced an end to the inter-Korean hotline Wednesday, also said the attitude of the South’s conservative government will decide the fate of inter-Korean relations.