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MSU Expert Says America Shouldn't Be Too Quick To Dismiss North Korea as a Genuine Threat

Dr. Dennis Hickey Photo Credit- Missouri State Univerity

Tension continues to mount on the Korean Peninsula, and many questions remain about the validity and motive of the threats coming from Pyongyang. KSMU’s Shane Franklin spoke with a local expert on relations in the region, and has this story.

Many analysts say North Korea is not capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the American mainland.

But one expert in Springfield says he’s not ready to dismiss North Korea as a non-threat.

Dr. Dennis Hickey is author of “The Armies of East Asia: China, Taiwan, Japan and the Koreas,” and director of the Graduate Program in Global Studies at Missouri State University.

“I would err on the side of caution. In this instance it is so strange and so bizarre, and you’re dealing with an unknown leader in his twenties. It might be a good idea to be prepared,” says Hickey.

But it’s not just the threat of nuclear war that concerns Hickey.

“These guys have tons and tons of chemical and biological weapons that they have been storing and hiding in caves for decades now. It’s a problem, and probably it is best resolved somehow by diplomacy, by working with China, working with Russia, working with Japan and South Korea to see if there is some sort of multilateral way to get this under control,” says Hickey.

I ask him what North Korea’s motivation is for making such grave threats.

“North Koreans have always wanted reunification with the South. They want assistance. They want money. They’re also paranoid. They want a treaty with the United States that says under no circumstances will we attack them. They want to be treated like a major world power, although they aren’t, I mean except as far as military. As far as economics, and everything else, they are barely a blip on the radar screen,” says Hickey.

To increase its economic stature on the world stage, Hickey says that North Korea is blackmailing the world for aid. He says that in the nineties, when it became apparent that North Korea was working on a nuclear weapon, the international community came together to provide economic aid in exchange for the weapons program to be canned.

“What North Korea has done for the last ten, fifteen, twenty years, is switch back and forth from one ploy to get money to another. In other words we pay them off, for lack of a better term, not to build nuclear weapons, so they go off and start building missiles. So then you give them aid not to build missiles and what do you think they’re doing next? They’re back to nuclear weapons,” says Hickey.

Hickey just returned from spending several weeks in China, and has insight into the Chinese perspective.

“I can tell you with absolute certainty that China’s influence over North Korea is very limited. The Chinese are not happy about what is going on with North Korea, but the North Koreans apparently believe that China has their back, no matter what,” explains Hickey.     

He says North Korea has not been listening to China’s suggestions on proper international policy, and Beijing is becoming increasing impatient with North Korea’s irrational provocations.

Hickey says, the Chinese, these days, have much better relations with South Korea and America than with North Korea.

“The North Koreans believe that China is so afraid of North Korea collapsing and North Korean refugees pouring into China, and they believe that the Chinese are afraid of the Americans coming right up onto  their border if Koreas unifies, that they could do anything and China is going to bail them out and prevent them from collapsing,” says Hickey.

Hickey says that this is simply not true. At the same time, he points out that the Chinese view the joint American-South Korean military practices in the region as unhelpful.

He went on to explain that the Chinese and South Korean students he interacts with here in Springfield are just as perplexed by North Korea’s actions. He says that some have expressed concerns that the United States may end up being too heavy handed when confronting what they see as idle talk from Pyongyang.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.