(By Adewale Kupoluyi)

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and its continued military adventures were overshadowed by famine in the late 1990s having suffered first through horrific flooding and then through drought. Because of famine, a failing economy, and a disintegrating infrastructure, Pyongyang now relies on international aid to survive. From the forgoing, North Korea does not have the resources to sustain a very large military and build a dynamic economy.

THERE is the urgent need to curb the growing tension in the Korean Peninsula over the fear of a possible nuclear strike against the United States and its allies.

Since the three-year Korean War that led to the split of the North with the South in 1953 ended in an armistice, rather than a treaty, North Korea has pursued a policy of arms acquisition, while South Korea has benefited from a policy of sustained industrial development and economic prosperity.

The nation’s supreme and youthful commander, Kim Jong-un had ordered North Korean forces, including its artillery, rockets, and missiles, to “enter No 1 combat ready posture” by firing a long-range rocket that splashed down near the Philippines.

Pyongyang claimed the combat was a peaceful satellite launch but the United States and its allies said that the launch was aimed at developing ballistic missile capabilities.

This offensive is believed to be an effort at either bolstering the leadership of Kim Jong-un, the 30-year-old grandson of Kim Il-Sung or an indirect strategy – to force the United States, which has 28,000 troops in South Korea – to open talks with North Korea.

North Korea has indicated that it wants recognition as a nuclear weapons state — seen as a guarantor of the regime’s survival: A dream the United States is strongly against.

North Korea had based its posturing on alleged provocations by the U.S. and its South Korean “puppets”. The North has also been angry about annual military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces, describing them as a “hostile” act.

The United States dispatched B52 and B2 stealth bombers from their bases to take part.

To North Korea, threats of deployment of weapons of mass destruction by the communist half of the peninsula are meant to serve a dual purpose of a bargaining counter to attract international aid and shoring up domestic support for the country’s leadership.

During the time of Kim Jong-un’s father, there were discussions undertaken to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme in exchange for aids.

A typical example was in 2005, when it seemed Pyongyang was ready for a discussion on the platform of the Six-Party Talks, to renounce its nuclear programme. Apart from giving up its uranium enrichment programme, North Korea was expected to sign a treaty, allowing a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear arsenal.

Although promised a restoration of relations with the U.S., supply of oil and construction of two water reactors, the North Koreans never fulfilled their part of the bargain.

It is believed that North Korea is merely operating from a playbook of steadily upping the ante and had planned-out actions to coincide with the inauguration of conservative South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

North Korea too has a history of taking drastic actions on the birth anniversary of the regime’s founder Kim Il-Sung, grandfather of Kim Jong-un.

The North Korea’s Rodong-1 missile is said to have a range of 1,300 kilometers (800 miles). To pre-empt such attacks, the United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea and around 50,000 in Japan.

It also keeps nearly 6,000 troops in Guam, a base for fighter-bombers and submarines, and 50,000 troops in Hawaii and more than 40 U.S. Navy vessels are permanently based in the Pacific with plans to increase the number as part of a growing U.S. focus on Asia.

In the past, North Korea had been known to have made surge into South Korea, leading to the Korean War that followed pulled in forces from the United Nations, the United States, and China, as well as military advisors from the USSR and lasted till 1953.

In 2005, North Korea announced that it had completed its first underground nuclear test, while its ongoing nuclear programme continues to be a point of contention in the international community despite the outcry over alleged violations of human rights.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and its continued military adventures were overshadowed by famine in the late 1990s having suffered first through horrific flooding and then through drought. Because of famine, a failing economy, and a disintegrating infrastructure, Pyongyang now relies on international aid to survive. From the forgoing, North Korea does not have the resources to sustain a very large military and build a dynamic economy.

Its depressed economy is sustained only by food and oil provided by China, and the manual labour of its civilian work force digging out minerals or preparing raw materials for export, mostly to China.

With the latest moves, no one is too sure of what could happen especially under a new and untested leader such as Kim Jong-Un. For instance, it is feared that his action could be an error of judgment that could result in a suicidal move of North Korea attacking U.S. interests or invading South Korea.

Although analysts have dismissed North Korea’s threats as empty, given that nothing had happened when similar threats were issued in the past.

In the event of any onslaught, U.S. has vowed to shoot down any North Korean missiles if targeted at a U.S. territory or one of its allies such as South Korea or Japan.

Unfortunately for North Korea, its traditional allies are gradually becoming tired of its antics. Quite surprisingly, China recently voted in favour of sanctions against its recalcitrant and bellicose ally.

Conscious of its growing influence as a world political and economic power, China is no longer ready to waste time and resources propping up a country whose mischief and hard-line stance are fast becoming an embarrassment to the rest of the world.

As pressure mounts, President Barack Obama has called on North Korea to end what he described as its “belligerent approach” as U.S. intelligence officials concluded for the first time that the country has a nuclear weapon small enough to be carried on a missile.

The United States has offered talks, but on the pre-condition that it abandons its nuclear weapons ambitions, which North Korea deems as a “treasured sword” and never to be given up.

The tension in the Korean Peninsula reinforces the belief that, with the transition of Kim Jong II and the emergence of Kim Jong-un, not much has changed.

Most importantly, while it’s important to show resolve, the United States and South Korea need to continue to be strategic and prevent Kim’s provocations to lead to a dangerous confrontation.

The U.S, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea should find a way of convincing North Korea that hope does not lie in war-mongering, but in economic and social emancipation. The organisational structure of North Korea, which was modeled after that of Stalinist Russia, with a large focus on military build-up, should be reviewed in line with modern day realities.

Despite current realities, Kim continues to stuck with his Stalinist philosophy even as his weird communist neighbours gradually evolved democratic governments, first in 1956, when Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev made sweeping denouncements of Stalin, followed 10 years later by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in China.

Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s appears to be secure in his rule, at least on the surface, he, however, needs to establish his own credentials separate from the revolutionary legacy of his grandfather and the failed military-first politics of his father.

Confrontation with the United States, South Korea and virulent nuclear threat will not be helpful in this dangerous adventure by Pyongyang, which continues to boast that it will strengthen its nuclear capacity.

However, as long as the North clings to its nuclear weapons and missiles, it will not be able to form the friendly international mood that is essential for economic development, let alone convince other countries to shelve their hostile policies toward the North as Kim himself has demanded.

It should respond with enthusiasm to the opportunity for talks that is unfolding. The ROK-U.S. summits scheduled for May 7 will be a good opportunity to do just that.

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has also promised that the U.S. is willing to talk directly with North Korea, hinting that a special envoy could possibly be sent to the North before long.

What will be helpful for the authorities in Pyongyang is to toe the line of peace by embracing the tenets of democracy that is hinged upon the enthronement of fundamental human rights, freedom of expression, free market and the rule of law.

Jong-un should wake up from his slumber of youthful exuberance and live up to expectations as a leader.

• Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”