North Korea is not a Part of Nuclear Prophecy the West misreads about Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions

„One Korea“ sign in DMZ zone

Edward Oh

North Korea watchers confidently announce in endless media appearances and on myriad op-ed pages that Kim Jong-un’s relentless nuclear and missile tests are all about ensuring survival of his regime. Declaring that the North Korean regime seeks to survive is fundamentally true, but it is also unhelpfully axiomatic.

Tyrannies will, of course, do all they can to cling to power, as surely as a cockroach will scurry for cover at the flick of the light switch. Proffering a banal truism as some kind of unifying insight into Pyongyang’s thinking, however, does not move the needle in terms of trying to grasp fully the nuances of North Korea’s nuclear motivations.

In fact, we shortchange North Korea’s oft-professed ideological aspirations – to our strategic detriment, if survival is all we ascribe as a motivation for its nuclear ambitions.

Kim Jong-un’s propagandists have been only too willing regularly to provide the West a nuclear justification tailor-made to its native presumptions (that is, wishful thinking) about the behavior of rational nation-states. Subscribing to these presumptions becomes irresistible if only for the fact that it absolves us from contemplating the possibility that Pyongyang may have other more diabolical designs for its nuclear arsenal beyond mere classical deterrence.

Blind adherence to this survival/deterrence narrative also instills a false comfort that the nuclear dynamics between the United States and North Korea can be effectively managed and the status quo in East Asia maintained.
North Korea’s propaganda organs regularly trumpet – and Western media glibly echo – the lessons supposedly drawn from the demise of Iraq and Libya, two regimes de-fanged of their nuclear programs only to be later violently toppled. Never mind all the reasons that suggest Iraq and Libya are pretextual smokescreens thrown up to get heads nodding in unison at the facile appeal of the comparison, starting with the concentrated retaliatory proximity to treaty allies North Korea has enjoyed for decades and which has kept US and South Korean forces at bay – a deterrence reality, we can be certain, Pyongyang had long ago figured out.

So the question asked, but never answered, is why Pyongyang would spend its precious resources, descend to pariah-nation status, and risk the very attack or invasion it says it fears merely to supplement a deterrence bulwark it already enjoyed and has repeatedly exploited.

Still, the logic of the Iraq/Libya line of argument is immensely attractive to all of us who seek to infer a benign – or at least understandable – reason behind North Korea’s outlaw pursuit of nuclear power. If all Kim Jong-un desires is attainment of nuclear parity with his existential enemy to foreclose any possibility of a US attack or invasion, then shifting the US policy posture toward North Korea to a neo-Cold War framework of mutually assured destruction (MAD) would seem to offer an off-ramp to a de facto détente on the Korean Peninsula and breathing room for possible future engagement.

The danger in such thinking is that it misperceives North Korea as an ideologically rudderless state whose leadership merely desires to maintain the mafia apparatus it has erected to plunder the resources of the country and leverage the illicit networks by which it keeps its elites sated and subservient. Yet anyone who delves beneath the crashing waves of North Korea’s incessant propaganda bluster about “invasion”, “self-defense” and resisting US “hostile policy” will detect a consistent thematic undercurrent tied to the eventual reunification of the peninsula and consolidation of the minjok (the Korean race) under Pyongyang’s protection and suzerainty.

How then does North Korea’s heedless quest for nuclear weapons (and the means to deliver them as far as the US homeland) figure into this reunification storyline? The answer to that question was provided by North Korea itself as recently as June 19 in a commentary appearing in one of its state media portals:
The current South Korean government has no need to fear or feel unnecessary repulsion about our nuclear weapon. It is a means for securing peaceful unification and the survival of the race (minjok).

What the statement loses in terms of the flamboyant bellicosity Pyongyang normally infuses into its editorials it gains in the ominousness of what it portends. It is akin to a quack doctor telling his patient, “Stay still, and this won’t hurt a bit.”

The statement does go on to characterize the North’s “self-defensive nuclear deterrence built to counter the US’s threat of invasion”. Herein lies, however, a conceptual contradiction of purpose. How does a nuclear arsenal advertised as purely for self-defense square with the notion of it being “a means for securing peaceful unification and the survival of the race”? As they say, one of these is not like the other, and both reasons cannot be true.

Even a cursory study of decades of North Korean propaganda and, most important, behavior reveals that, given the fact that a US invasion hasn’t happened in 64 years, the regime itself clearly does not buy what it sells to its people and the world. Preparing to repel a US invasion, however, remains the sine qua non of Pyongyang’s claim to legitimacy; therefore, the regime has no choice but to follow the propaganda plot.

Analysts who proudly wear deterrence theory like a bespoke suit squirm in discomfort at the thought that North Korea may be vying for more than just de facto membership in the international club of nuclear states. The difficulty lies in their inability to overlay their presumptions about North Korean behavior neatly on to the idea that the real purpose of the country’s nuclear weapons may be gradually to coerce – via low-grade incremental, serial provocations and incursions – US and South Korean acquiescence to its scheme to rend the US-ROK alliance, erase the American military footprint on the peninsula, and slowly drain South Korea of its sovereignty and political freedoms within the framework of a confederation.

With the threat overhang of nuclear retaliation, the new refrain in the US-North Korea confrontation lexicon would be: Seattle or Seoul. So, yes, North Korea seeks nuclear deterrence, but it is deterrence of an offensive, rather than defensive, nature.

Anyone who dismisses this possibility as just the fever-dream of the flat-Earth contingent in the North Korea analyst community does not really care to know what North Korea is all about. They also apparently ignore the litany of outrageous provocations – and concomitant US and South Korea passivity – of which Pyongyang has proved itself quite capable of perpetrating since the Korean War, a war, by the way, that North Korea started with its invasion of the South.

The perennial disconnect between the United States’ North Korea policy and the reality of North Korean goals squarely rests on the fact that, while we take North Korea’s nuclear ambitions seriously, we refuse to take the North Korean state itself seriously. Yet North Korea’s gambit for reunification under its terms has been a tent pole of its ideological edifice, a pillar of its propaganda project, and the unrequited dream of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, a dream that clearly has been passed down to his grandson Kim Jong-un.

In 2012, North Korea revised the Preamble of its constitution to declare itself a “nuclear-armed state”. That same Preamble mentions the word “reunification” no fewer than six times, describing it as the nation’s “supreme national task”. North Korean propaganda is saturated with the iconography of reunification. From its literature, to its posters, to its Arch of Reunification, to its policy charters such as the “Ten Point Program for Reunification of the Country” (a document that pays lip service to North-South equities, but is really an insidious blueprint for achieving South Korean subjugation), reunification is North Korea’s lodestar and manifest destiny.
This is the ideological imperative of the North Korean state the Western policy consensus continues to discount to its detriment. And the consequences of our biased contempt for our foe cannot be overstated.

If we do not even know – or perhaps worse, dismiss – what animates our enemy, there is no hope that our tactics and strategies can ever effectively respond to, and counter, the real threat North Korea poses to our allies and our interests in East Asia.

Recently, H R McMaster, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, publicly stated his opinion that North Korea could not be deterred, given, among other concerns, the regime’s barbarity and instability. His conclusion is right, but his reasons are misplaced. After all, as discussed earlier, tyrants will seek to survive, even uniquely brutal ones.

The true reason North Korea cannot be deterred is that it sees itself at an inflection point in its history where its perfected nuclear arsenal will provide the ultimate coercive lever to realize its One Korea dreams.

Children stand before an image of a unified Korean Peninsula as they perform a variety dance and music show during an organized tour for visiting foreign journalists on the outskirts of Pyongyang in April.

Moreover, in the current South Korean government, as led by inter-Korean engagement and confederation champion President Moon Jae-in, North Korea sees, if not a comrade-in-arms, an accomplice of the heart. Pyongyang’s persistent passive-aggressive appeals to race-solidarity (a sentiment with enormous emotional resonance in the South) and calls for the “vassal” South to break its bonds of servility to the US show that it knows where the pressures points of the US-ROK alliance are.

When North Korea amended its constitution in 2012, it was renamed the Kim Il-sung-Kim Jong-il Constitution. The reason is that the new constitution’s Preamble – in many respects, the North’s ideological source code – was updated to reflect a hagiographic celebration, not just of Kim 1.0, but now also Kim 2.0. It reverently elevates the achievements of the father in founding the country and the accomplishments of the son in setting it on its Songun (military-first) path as an independent nuclear power. The final chapter on reunification, however, remains unwritten.

Kim Jong-un, as the family’s third-generation torchbearer, now sees himself poised to be the Kim who will achieve “the final victory” of America’s defeat and Korea’s reunification, and he seems intent on using a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile to write the last glorious chapter of this dynasty’s legend himself.

Asia Times is not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors. In case of abuse, click here to report.

Worry About the First Nuclear War (Revelation 8)


The recent provocations from North Korea — missiles fired over Japan on August 29 and September 15, and a sixth nuclear weapon detonated on September 3 — have put the world on edge. With this already dangerous situation compounded by harsh rhetoric from both President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, many fear that the world is only a few steps away from nuclear war. These commentators are correct in that the world stands on the brink, but they are focused on the wrong place.

Further to the south, two nuclear-armed powers regularly face off against one another along a highly contested border. India and Pakistan have fought four wars since their 1947 partition, having both laid claim to the region of Jammu and Kashmir. The rivalry between the two has a tendency to flare up without notice, causing numerous border skirmishes, and runs the risk of escalating into another war.

It is both sides’ nuclear arsenals, however, that make this unpredictable rivalry dangerous and, therefore, the most likely spot for a nuclear war to break out. Self-preservation makes North Korea a predictable nuclear actor; Kim Jong-un will only escalate as far as is necessary for his survival. The continuous hair-trigger game of tit-for-tat between India and Pakistan, on the other hand, has the potential to escalate out of control, and it only takes one soldier to make a miscalculation.

The 1947 partition divided the old British Raj into India and Pakistan, the latter originally comprised of the Muslim-majority areas in what is today Pakistan (formerly West Pakistan) and Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). Violence accompanied the mass migration set in motion by the partition, with the northern region of Kashmir becoming a particularly potent flash point. The violence escalated into all-out war that lasted from October 1947 until a ceasefire was agreed on January 1, 1949. Open warfare would flare up in Kashmir again in August 1965, when Pakistan launched a general invasion. Mediation in January 1966 by the Soviet Union saw both sides’ militaries withdraw from the disputed region, but Kashmir’s status has never been definitively resolved. In December 1971 conflict again erupted, this time over East Pakistan. The aspiring state wanted independence from the government in West Pakistan, and India was more than willing to help East Pakistan secure it. Pakistan was rapidly defeated, demonstrating India’s military superiority and creating the state of Bangladesh.

The rivalry was taken to the next level in 1974, when India successfully tested its first nuclear device in the northern state of Rajasthan. Known today by one of its various code names, the “Smiling Buddha,” and officially referred to as a “peaceful nuclear explosion,” the test alarmed the Pakistani military. Pakistan had recently lost its eastern half in the 1971 war and was understandably worried about its larger and more powerful neighbor becoming a nuclear power. Later, India conducted a series of five nuclear tests in 1998. This time, Pakistan had a response: A month after the Indian tests, Pakistan conducted six nuclear tests of its own. India and Pakistan have subsequently amassed comparable nuclear arsenals of roughly 110 warheads apiece.

The threat of nuclear annihilation has not brought peace between the two rivals. The 1999 Kargil War, though smaller than the previous three India-Pakistan wars, could have become a great deal worse if it went nuclear. While there have not been any wars since, border skirmishes and terrorist attacks keep the rivalry simmering, always threatening to boil over. In 2008, militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group with ties to Pakistani intelligence, attacked multiple targets in Mumbai, India. The unresolved dispute over Jammu and Kashmir has also proved to be a reliable flash point. Just this spring there were clashes between Indian soldiers and the Muslim, pro-Pakistan population of the Kashmir valley, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians.

By contrast, the North Korean situation, while certainly dangerous, is less likely to cause a nuclear war. Despite the rhetoric and bluster, North Korea and South Korea have a much quieter border than India and Pakistan. Furthermore, North Korea’s arsenal is aimed primarily at deterring aggression from the United States, not just its rival to the south. Seeing the downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of the Western powers, Kim Jong-il encouraged North Korea’s nuclear program as a means of ensuring his dynasty’s security. This momentum was seized upon by his son, Kim Jong-un, and could soon make any effort to depose him impossible.

The sound and fury coming from North Korea is certainly attention grabbing, but the unpredictable nature of India and Pakistan’s rivalry is a graver threat to humanity. The unstable border in Kashmir, continuing political tensions and a ready nuclear arsenal make this stand-off the most dangerous on the planet. World leaders must turn their attention toward this nuclear stand-off and work to bring a lasting peace to the region. Otherwise, the world could see its first, and probably last, nuclear war.

*[Young Professionals in Foreign Policy is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: SNEHIT /

The „Zone“ of the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

North Jersey region among ‚most active‘ earthquake zones

Matt Fagan, Staff writer, @fagan_nj


Tuesday marked one week since the 7.1 magnitude quake struck around lunchtime, killing hundreds. USA Today Network

Rutgers Newark geology professor talks about earthquakes in northern New Jersey. Matt Fagan/

„It was a very small earthquake at a very shallow depth,“ Krajick said. „Most people would not feel an earthquake that small unless they were absolutely right under it, if that.“

„To date (there) were no reported injuries or damage related to the earthquake and no Morris Plains residents reported any activity to this agency,“ according to Morris Plains police Chief Jason Kohn.

On the other hand, Butler Police Lt. Mike Moeller said his department received „a bunch of calls about it, between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m.“

Saturday’s earthquake was so minor that Morristown police said they received no calls from residents

.Earthquakes are generally less frequent and less intense in the Northeast compared to the U.S. Pacific Coast, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. But due to geological differences between the regions, earthquakes of similar magnitude affect an area 10 times larger in the Northeast compared to the West Coast.

The 16 tremors recorded in 2016 were minor, generally 1 or 2 magnitude, often misinterpreted as explosions, said Alexander Gates, geology professor at Rutgers University Newark campus.

„A lot of people in Butler felt them over the course of the last year, but a lot of them didn’t know it was an earthquake,“ Gates said.

Butler is the borough, but also the name of the fault that sits at the end of aseries of others belonging to the Ramapo Fault, Gates said.

The Ramapo fault, Gates said, is the longest in the Northeast and runs from Pennnsylvania through New Jersey, snaking northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before coming to an end in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant.

The small area, Gates said, is considered the most seismically active region east of the Mississippi based on data gathered since 1974, when seismographs were installed.

„I’d be willing to bet that you’d have to go all the way to Canada and all the way to South Carolina before you’d get one that active,“ Gates said of the area which runs from the New York state line in the Ringwood and Mahwah area down to Butler and central Passaic County, Gates said.

Of last year’s 16 earthquakes, 12 were directly associated with the faults around Butler, Gates said.

Butler Councilman Ray Verdonik said area residents are well aware of the frequency of earthquakes and agrees they are often difficult to discern.

During one earthquake, the councilman said he and his neighbors rushed from their homes.

„We thought it was from Picatinny Arsenal or a sonic boom.“ he said.

Won-Young Kim, director of the  Lamont-Doherty Cooperative Seismographic Network, which  monitors earthquakes in the Northeast, said often very shallow, the low magnitude quakes‘ waves cause much ground motion. He said even though the waves don’t travel very far, they can seem more intense than the magnitude suggests.

They may not topple chimneys, he said but can crack foundations and frighten residents.

To put earthquake magnitudes in perspective, experts said each year there are about 900,000 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude or less recorded annually by seismograph. These mild tremors are usually not felt.

There are 30,000 that measure between 2.5 and 5.4, and these are often felt, but cause minor damage.

About 500 quakes worldwide are recorded between 5.5 and 6 magnitude per year and cause slight damage to buildings and structures.

The 100 that fall within 6.1 and 6.9 may cause lots of damage in populated areas.

The 20 or so which fall within the 7 and 7.9 magnitude per year are considered major and cause serious damage.

Those that measure at 8 or greater can totally destroy communities near the epicenter and average one every five to 10 years.

The earthquake recorded in Mexico last week measured 7.1 magnitude.

Gates said he has identified most of the region’s numerous faults, but has yet to name them all. Among the unnamed include the faults responsible for last year’s quakes in the region.

Earthquakes in this region are intraplate ones, Gates said, meaning they occur within the plates. Earthquakes of this type account for more than 90 percent of the total seismic energy released around the world.

Plates are the masses of the earth’s crust that slowly move, maybe as little as a few centimeters a year to as much 18 centimeters, around the globe. Faults such as the San Andreas are interplate and occur near where two plates meet.

The plate North America rides upon runs from the Mid Atlantic Ridge to the Pacific Coast. The theory is that as plates interact with one another, they create stress within the plate. Faults occur where the crust is weak, Gates said. Earthquakes relieve the built up pressure.

Boston College Geophysics Professor John Ebel said he and a Virginia Tech colleague, believe the seismically active areas in New York and South Carolina are where some 200 million years ago, the plates tried to break off but failed. This led to a weakening of the earth’s crust which makes them susceptible to quakes.

While not predictable, the data collected seem to suggest earthquakes occur somewhat periodically, 40 active years followed by 40 less active, Gates said.

„We are over due for a 3 or 4“ magnitude, Gates said. „A 4 you’d feel. It would shake the area. Everybody would be upset.“

Ebel does not fully agree. He said saying „overdue“ might be somewhat misleading.  Earthquakes happen through a slow process of rising stress, „like dropping individual grains of sand on the table.“

You never know which grain will cause the table to break, he said.

Still all three experts say statistically it is only a matter time before a magnitude 5 quake is recorded in the northern New Jersey area.

The scientists said quakes in the Northeastern part of the United States tend to come 100 years apart and the last one was recorded in 1884 believed to be centered south of Brooklyn. It toppled chimneys and moved houses from their foundations across the city and as far as Rahway.

Washington D.C. experienced a 5.8 magnitude quake in 2011, which was felt in the Northeast, Gates said. That quake cracked the Washington Monument.

A similar quake was recorded in 1737 in Weehawken, Gates noted.

„Imagine putting a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in Weehawken, New Jersey next to the Bridge, next to the tunnel,“ Gates said. „Boy that would be a dangerous one.“

In 2008 Columbia University’s The Earth Institute posted an article titled: „Earthquakes May Endanger New York More Than Thought, Says Study.“

“Today, with so many more buildings and people, a magnitude 5 centered below the city would be extremely attention-getting,” the article’s co-author John Armbruster wrote. “We’d see billions in damage, with some brick buildings falling.“

The threat though, is not tangible to many, Armbruster wrote.

„There is no one now alive to remember that last one, so people tend to forget. And having only a partial 300-year history, we may not have seen everything we could see. There could be surprises — things bigger than we have ever seen,“ Armbruster wrote.

The Earth Institute’s article did note New York City added earthquake-resistant building codes in 1995.

New Jersey also began to require earthquake-resistant standards in the 1990s. The state, following the 2011 Virginia quake, now requires lake communities to make dams able to withstand a magnitude 5 earthquake.

The issue, Gates said, is that many of the buildings were built before these codes went into effect. A „sizable“ earthquake could cause much damage.

Then there’s the prediction that every 3,400 years this area can expect a quake at 7 magnitude.

According to the Earth Institute article, a  2001 analysis for Bergen County estimates a magnitude 7 quake would destroy 14,000 buildings and damage 180,000 in that area alone.  Likewise, in New York City the damage could easily hit hundreds of billions of dollars.

Ebel noted that depending on the depth and power of a severe quake, damage could be also be wide ranging. In 2011, Washington D.C., 90 miles away from the epicenter, which was located in central Virginia, suffered significant damage.  Cities like Philadelphia fall within that radius.

„The big one could happen tomorrow or 100 years from now. That’s the problem,“ Gates said. It geological terms 100 years is just a spit in the ocean, he noted.

Then again North Jersey is more likely to be hit by hurricane in the next three years, Gates added.


Staff Writer William Westhoven contributed to this report. 

New Jersey’s top earthquakes

  • Dec. 19, 1737 — Weehawken, believed to be a 5-plus magnitude quake, could be very serious if occurred in same spot today.
  • Nov. 29, 1783 — Western New Jersey. Geologists are not exactly sure where it happened because area was sparsely populated. Estimated magnitude varies from 4.8 to 5.3. Felt from Pennsylvania to New England. 
  • Aug. 10, 1884 — A 5.2 earthquake occurred somewhere near Jamaica Bay near Brooklyn. The quake toppled chimneys and moved houses off their foundations as far Rahway. 
  • The biggest earthquake in the last 45 years of data available form USGS was a 3.8 quake centered in Carneys Point in Salem County on the morning of Feb.28, 1973
  • New Jersey has never recorded a fatality due to an earthquake, according to the DEP.

Read or Share this story:

New York Quake Overdue (The Sixth Seal) (Rev 6:12)

New York City Is Overdue For Large Earthquake: Seismologist

New York City could start shaking any minute now.Won-Young Kim, who runs the seismographic network for the Northeast at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said the city is well overdue for a big earthquake.

From Metro New York:

The last big quake to hit New York City was a 5.3-magnitude tremor in 1884 that happened at sea in between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook. While no one was killed, buildings were damaged.

Kim said the city is likely to experience a big earthquake every 100 years or so.

“It can happen anytime soon,” Kim said. “We can expect it any minute, we just don’t know when and where.”

New York has never experienced a magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake, which are the most dangerous. But magnitude 5 quakes could topple brick buildings and chimneys.

Seismologist John Armbruster said a magnitude 5 quake that happened now would be more devastating than the one that happened in 1884.

“Today, with so many more buildings and people … we’d see billions in damage,” Armbruster said. “People would probably be killed.”