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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 12)

2017/09/12 07:00

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What N. Korea fails to know

Nukes, missiles can't guarantee survival

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un is pictured with a big smile on his face in official photos released following its nuclear and missile tests — the last two being after the Sept. 4 sixth nuclear test that some say amounted to a hydrogen bomb in yield and the Aug. 28 test of a missile that flew over Japan.

If Pyongyang wants to convey a sense of confidence with that beaming face of its leader, it should think again. It would face enormous pressure on what is seen as a final sprint to completing the making of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that can strike population centers in the United States and China. It is still a tossup whether Pyongyang can sustain itself as a nuclear state.

Already, the United States is exerting maximum pressure on the North, forcing its benefactors, China and Russia, to cut off oil supplies to it. So far, the two have resisted but it remains to be seen how long they can keep oil flowing into the North as the international community is tightening the screws to isolate the North further.

The secondary boycott has been in the offing for some time to punish all entities, especially Chinese businesses, for dealing with the North. Mexico has expelled the North Korean ambassador, while the Philippines cut business deals with the North. The European Union is also deepening its involvement. The international community would go after an estimated $440 million in Kim's assets deposited overseas.

Even after the North completes its nuclear missiles, it would have to fight for its survival. It is speculated that a nuclear-armed North Korea would call the shots and extort its neighbors but few would succumb easily to its blackmail. South Korea and Japan would either seek nuclear armament themselves or ask the U.S. to beef up its "nuclear umbrella" to protect them against the North's nukes. China would be on guard as well and go after its beneficiary as soon as it judges Pyongyang to be more liability than asset.

With oil supplies down to a trickle and cash reserves depleted, the North couldn't sustain itself on the diet of nukes and missiles. However much money it could get through extortion wouldn't insulate Pyongyang from the principle of market economy it would eventually have to grapple with.

In a way, the North is going on the path it only knows can sustain the system for a bit longer. But it would prove a slow death.

The North should try its luck by freezing its nuclear and missile tests for a while, making the best of what precious little sympathy the international community has and trying to live by cooperation rather than coercion. The window of opportunity has almost closed but still there appears to be a sliver of a chance. The North should seize it.