Is North Korea the ticking bomb we thought it to be?

April 26, 2013

By Alex Glynn

Analysts and experts treated the audience to rare accounts and informed insight into the North Korean regime’s mindset on Tuesday 15th April at the Frontline Club.

BBC East Asia Editor Charles Scanlon hosted the discussion on the hot topic of North Korea’s threat – is it imminent, or is it overstated? – with former British Ambassador to North Korea John Everard, Cambridge lecturer Dr. John Swenson-Wright and Andrea Berger, a Research Fellow in Nuclear Analysis at the Royal United Services Institute.

The panellists discuss if North Korea is a threat or a fake.

(L-R) John Swenson-Wright, Charles Scanlon, Andrea Berger and John Everard.  Photo: Alex Glynn


Everard reflected on Kim Jong-Un’s behaviour and what it meant:

“Given the way the North Koreans continued the escalation – even after the US had offered them a ladder to climb down by famously postponing their missile test – at that point, if it had just been a point of Kim Jong-Un trying to show he is strong, he could’ve claimed victory. . . . But he didn’t do that – it leads me to think that the North Koreans want the US to finally recognise them as a nuclear state; they want them to cease their hostile policy to North Korea and they want aid”

On the other hand, Swenson-Wright, who had recently returned from Seoul, spoke about how the North’s actions were so intrinsically linked to South Korea:

“Some of us thought that the North Koreans were looking to test the new relationship with Park Geun-hye [the new South Korean president] and that’s a consistent pattern we’ve seen when there is a transition in South Korean politics.”
“There is an argument that we should be ignoring this country. The problem there is that if you try and put North Korea in a box and try to contain it, you give them the opportunity to engage in these efforts to proliferate and enhance its capabilities,” he added.

Scanlon asked Berger, who had recently been to North Korea spending time with military generals and the Worker’s Party, if there is any substance behind the threat. She replied:

“For the threats to be credible there has to be capability and intent. On the capability side there is a very large question mark over their nuclear capabilities and ballistic missile capabilities. We don’t think they have the capability to hit [as far as they claimed]. But North Korea certainly seems like it’s working to develop its [military] capabilities. So even though they might not be there yet, they look like they want to reach that ability.”

An audience member asked the panel what the likelihood was of either side opening fire and causing deaths. There was a slight disagreement:

Berger felt it was unlikely because the North would be scared of the South’s reaction. She cited an incident while Lee Myung-bak was in power in the South where the North caused the death of South Koreans: “The current leader in South Korea has made very clear that that situation will not be repeated and I think the North has heard that message.”

Everard disagreed, stating:

“I think that the probability is quite high. They have in the past have got away with sinking a South Korean vessel and shelling South Korean gun placements on an island. I’ve got a sinking feeling they think they can get away with this again.”

Alex Glynn is a freelance journalist currently doing a Newspaper Journalism MA at City University.

You can watch the video of last nights event and listen to or download the podcast below: