The on-again, off-again summit meeting between the U.S. president and the president of North Korea may be on again. The central issue, from the U.S. point of view, is the denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which President Trump has maintained must begin now and end with the destruction of any nuclear capability in the North.
The DPRK is not likely to accede to the U.S. president’s demands. The country has worked for more than half a century at enormous expense to develop a nuclear force, and the hope that it will just toss all that away is highly unlikely.
In an interview with NBC, Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies summarized the DPRK’s goal this way:
They want a peace treaty because it validates them as a nuclear weapon state. It ensures that Trump won’t attack because [North Koreans] were worried about an attack last year.
And most importantly, it means money. Not because the United States is going to give money to North Korea, but we are the primary obstacle in places like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the IMF, where the North Koreans want money.
Former DPRK deputy ambassador to Britain Thae Yong Ho, who defected in 2016, concurs. In the end, he claims, North Korea will remain “a nuclear power packaged as a non-nuclear state.”
While nuclear weapons get most of the attention (deservedly), it is worth noting that North Korea’s military is massive in many dimensions.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, the DPRK had the fourth-largest military in the world, with more than 1.1 million personnel in the country’s armed forces. Others have noted that 6.3 million North Koreans serve in the country’s reserve forces. Every North Korean male serves 10 years of military service beginning at the age of 17. Women are conscripted selectively.
According to a 2015 U.S. Department of Defense report and a 2016 South Korean Ministry of National Defense report, the North Korean military has more than 1,300 aircraft, nearly 300 helicopters, 430 combatant vessels, 250 amphibious vessels, 70 submarines, 4,300 tanks, 2,500 armored vehicles and 5,500 multiple-rocket launchers. Experts also estimate that North Korea has upward of one thousand missiles of varying ranges.
The DPRK’s cyber warfare capabilities also pose a significant threat. Before and after last month’s historic meeting between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the South’s financial system came under heavy attack from hackers that many experts believe originated in the North.
North Korea also has been identified as the source of last year’s WannaCry ransomware attack and a 2014 hack at Sony Pictures.