“I was thinking of bringing an axe, but I opted for a knife because it’s easier to carry”says Jenn, a resident of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, as she explains the very specific plan she has hatched with her brother to prepare for the possibility that North Korea will one day invade her country. .
While Kim Jong-un continues to organize demonstrations of force with missile fire, the new South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol – who does not hide his desire to show great firmness against Pyongyang – takes office on May 10, 2022. The BBC is interested in the concerns raised by this change at the head of the country and the arms race of the North Korean dictator.
Jenn started thinking about her plan five years ago. Tensions between North Korea and Donald Trump’s United States were at their height at that time. As public and media opinion grew more and more fearful of a war, former South Korean President Moon Jae-in was elected and, in the process, convinced the American and North Korean leaders to to meet.
“It was incredible to watch, it was very moving”, recalls Professor Moon Chung-in, former adviser to Moon Jae-in, referring to the latter’s visit to North Korean soil at the time. The effervescence and the hope caused by these events had nevertheless fallen in 2019 during the deadlock of the nuclear agreement, which had led to the end of the talks between the two Koreas. Since then, relations between the two countries had remained at a standstill as Kim Jong-un continued to develop his weapons of mass destruction. The election of a new president, less inclined to negotiate than his predecessor, could once again change this situation.
Military escalation and arms race
In general, information about what is happening in North Korea is filtered. However, since the pandemic and due to the strict closure of borders, access to them is even more difficult today. What is clear is that the North Korean dictator has continued to develop nuclear weapons, despite international sanctions. The regime’s first and most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile was tested in March.
On the South Korean side, Yoon Suk-yeol described North Korea as “main enemy” in a recent interview, thus formalizing the end of a period of relative calm. He also promised to be intransigent in the face of military escalation. Most experts agree that North Korea has no plans to denuclearize. However, this is the only condition for President Yoon Suk-yeol to agree to communicate with Kim Jong-un. Chris Green, consultant for the International Crisis Group, says of this strategy: “She has no chance of working.”
Chris Green, however, wants to be reassuring about the possibility that North Korea will use a nuclear weapon against its neighbor: “It would mean the end of the regime and North Korea knows it.” But he also predicts an arms race between the two Koreas, and the greatest danger of such a scenario would be a miscalculation on the part of one or the other. In Seoul, the situation worries: “I prepare myself”admitted a former army lieutenant general.
While the war in Ukraine is the focus of most international concerns at the moment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore North Korea and the danger it represents, especially for its closest neighbour.