China and North Korea military Foreign Policy

The military or defense forces of any country come as some of the most
fundamental pillars to the stability and well being of the country. This
is especially considering the fact that it is charged with the
responsibility of defending the country from external threats. This
would, undoubtedly have a bearing on the stability of any country as no
economic activity would be taking place without some element of peace
and security. Of course, there are instances where the military is
involved in some internal affairs especially considering the increasing
threat of terrorism in the contemporary human society. Nevertheless, it
goes without saying that different countries have their military wings
playing different roles. Indeed, there are variations as to the
strengths, systems and styles adopted by military wings in different
countries, as well as in the international system. Of particular note,
however, is the role that the military plays in the foreign policies of
their respective countries. While different countries have different
strengths as far as their military is concerned, none comes as more
controversial than North Korea and China.
The increased role of North Korea’s army (called the Korean
People’s Army) started in mid-1990s when Kim Jong II started relying
on the military in the management of state affairs. In September 1998,
the North Korean constitution was revised, thereby allowing for a
reflection of an increased role of the military in state affairs. This
was accomplished through the elevation of the National Defense
Commission’s role. The commission was under the chairmanship of Kim
Jong II (who also doubled up as a KWP General Secretary), in which case
he exerted his control over the militarized society of North Korea. As
much as the term son’gun chongch’i (military first politics)
initially appeared in December 1997, North Korea sees 1995 as the point
where “military first politics”. The term was invoked in an effort
to reassure the citizens of Kim’s dedication to the provision of
national security and defending the country against external threats, as
well as reassuring the country’s military (which was a key part of Kim
Jong II’s coalition) of Kim and KWP’s capacity and dedication to
take care of the military, not to mention giving the military a first
cut at the ever scarce economic resources in the country. Indeed, the
military in North Korea has increasingly played a role in the
relationship between North Korea and the outside world in general and
the United States in particular.
China, on the other hand, has a considerably suppressed military as far
as its relationship with the outside world is concerned. Unlike North
Korea, China has strived to avoid all confrontations with the outside
world and especially the United States (Bush & O`Hanlon, 2007). The
increasing state of China as a world power to reckon with especially as
far as the economic aspect is concerned has allowed for a decrease in
the role that the country’s military plays in its foreign affairs.
This, however, does not undermine the country’s military strength and
capability, or even its importance in the international scene (Bush &
O`Hanlon, 2007). Nevertheless, the two countries’ military wing or
defense capabilities and the manner in which they shape their
countries’ relationship with the outside world and especially the
United States can be contrasted.
Strength and system
The strength of any military power plays an enormous role in
determining its position in determining its country’s affairs. China
has spent the last two decades undertaking a massive expenditure in an
effort to modernize its armed forces, to the extent of having the
capacity to challenge the United States in its region and possibly
outside the region. After participating in the two world wars, China,
under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping started reforming the country and
opening it up (Shambaugh, 2003). Deng opined that bolstering the
civilian economy should be more crucial than investing in the military.
However, the first Gulf War where the United States attacked Iraq (the
fourth largest army in the world at the time) raised concerns pertaining
to the capacity of the inferior Chinese army to defend itself from the
better-equipped western forces. This created the impression that Ma
Zedong’s doctrine pertaining to human wave attacks where more soldiers
would be preferred to bullets was not capable of meeting the defense
needs of the country in the 21st century (Shambaugh, 2003). In essence,
the country’s defense planners started intensively studddying doctrine
and seeking to obtain superior foreign technologies and weaponry for the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Scholars have noted that as much as
the Chinese military may not be a near rival to the United States
military as far as the expenditure and technology is concerned, it comes
across as a fast-learning organization (Kihl & Kim, 2006). This is
especially considering the fact that it has been deploying weapons that
have the capacity to neutralize the key advantages of the United States
such as supersonic sea-skimming missiles and ballistic missiles that
have the capacity of targeting the United States carriers in the Asian
region. In addition, it has enhanced its capabilities especially
considering the enlarged submarine fleets and the homegrown satellite
communications and reconnaissance capabilities, not to mention the
recently demonstrated capacities to intercept ballistic missiles and
eliminate satellites (Kihl & Kim, 2006). Indeed, scholars note that
China has, in the recent times, made moves that have stoked fears of its
increasing threat to Washington. A case in point is the 2007 incident
where Beijing launched a ballistic missile that undertook the
obliteration of a communications satellite. This was, at the time, an
unexpected and dramatic display of capability. Even underlining the
increased capabilities is the fact that the country kept quiet for about
12 days before the spokesperson of its Foreign Ministry admitted its
occurrence while underlining the fact that it was not aimed at
threatening any country. In May of the following year, satellite imagery
of the country showed that it had constructed an enormous naval base in
the Southern island of Hainan, which was presumed as a staging point for
the launch of naval operations in the Pacific. In January of 2011, China
undertook another anti-missile test a short time after the United States
stated that it would sell arms and weapons to Taiwan. In 2009, the
United States Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates acknowledged
China’s increased modernization of its armed forces citing the key
threats as lying in the Chinese investments and capabilities in
anti-satellite and cyber warfare, submarines, anti-ship and anti air
weaponry, as well as ballistic missiles (Holslag et al, 2011). While he
underlined the fact that the areas may be a threat to the United
States’ primary means for helping allies in the pacific and the
networks that support its sea and air assets and its bases, he noted the
improved security relationship between the United States and China
(Holslag et al, 2011). Indeed, there have been increased military to
military exchanges with strategic dialogue occurring in an effort to
enhance the comprehension of each other’s intentions, as well as
prevent miscalculations that would be potentially dangerous (Qiao &
Wang, 2007).
North Korea, on the other hand, cannot be said as matching China’s
capabilities as far as the military is concerned. However, its strength
cannot be ignored especially considering its nuclear capabilities. It is
estimated that the country has about 1.2 million soldiers (Kim, 2011).
As much as the country (and the army’s) Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un
has given the Korean People’s Army an increased focus through
instructing the troops to build a nuclear arms force, observer’s have
noted that the army is operating on outdated equipment and is short on
supplies (Kihl & Kim, 2006). Unfortunately, the country is extremely
secretive about details pertaining to its operations. However, the
country provided a reminder is its artillery capability in 2010 after it
showered the South Korean frontline island with shells. It is estimated
that the country has over 13000 artillery guns with its greatest
advantage resting in its capacity to deliver immense bombardment on
Seoul. However, while the conventional army is suffering from shortage
of firepower an aging equipment, the country is believed to have
guerilla warfare as the most viable strategy. This is especially
considering that the country has about 200,000 Special Forces, which it
has used before. These Special Forces are aimed at discouraging South
Korea and the United States from fighting with the country at the
earliest stage of a war through putting their citizens, as well as key
infrastructure such as their nuclear plants at risk (Kihl & Kim, 2006).
These forces make a fundamental part of the asymmetric capabilities of
the country alongside the missiles, nuclear bombs and artillery. They
have their key job as the creation of as many battlefronts as possible
so as to put the country’s enemies in disarray. However, the
country’s key capabilities may also be seen in its nuclear enrichment
programs. This is what has been shaping its relationship with the United
States (Kihl & Kim, 2006). Indeed, the country has underlined the
necessity of developing nuclear weapons, which would deter any
aggression from the United States. Indeed, it is believed that Pyongyang
has sufficient weaponized plutonium to make four to eight bombs.
However, scholars have downplayed any assertions pertaining to the
technological capability of North Korea to tip a missile using a nuclear
warhead. Indeed, it does not have the ability to attack the United
States using nuclear weapons that are mounted on missiles.
The manner in which the military of any given country conducts itself
or carries out its own affairs has a bearing on its capacity to
influence the national policy or the relationship between the country
and the outside world. Needless to say, different countries utilize
different strategies and carry their operations in different styles.
The North Korean style comes out as extremely distinctive. This is
especially considering the role and position of the same in the politics
of the country. As stated, the country’s commander or President Kim
Jong Un doubles up as the chairman of the army, in which case he is in
direct control of the army. He has, in this regard, placed or selected
individuals that are close to him to varied positions in the army so as
to have an immense control of the same. While this strategy may be
successful in the home front, or at least in the eyes of the citizens,
he (and previous regimes) has devised another strategy that would
amplify the country’s military capabilities so as to deter any attacks
from the United States. The country, for instance, creates propaganda
pertaining to its nuclear capabilities, while carrying out threats
against countries that are allied to the United States so as to
underline its capabilities. South Korea has, particularly, been on the
receiving end in this regard. In addition, it has been undertaking
varied activities aimed at underlining its increased nuclear war
capabilities. However, its strategies have almost always flopped with
its propaganda being laid bare. For instance, experts have underlined
its incapacity or inability to launch nuclear missiles due to
technological and financial constraints. In addition, its propaganda was
revealed in a photo-shopped image where its impressive show of force
using a “fleet” of modern military hovercraft reflected an image of
combat-ready force, only for the aircrafts to be revealed as
considerably less that shown. This was occurring at a time when the
country was having increased tensions with the U.S. Digital manipulation
of the aircraft images were aimed at projecting an increasingly powerful
image of the capabilities of the country’s army, which was false (Lee,
2001). In addition, the country has noted its technical and financial
inability to challenge the United States in case of a war, in which case
its sole source of salvation rests in its more than 200,000 strong
special forces, as well as the guerilla tactics. These tactics are
complemented by the increased secrecy pertaining to the military
operations (or any other operations in the country) (Lee, 2001).
China, on the other hand, uses a different strategy in outlining its
capabilities as far as the United States is concerned. As much as the
country has adopted a repressed strategy and does not confront with a
large number of countries, it has not desisted from picking on United
States satellites that are orbiting within its airspace. Of particular
note is the incidence where the country short down the United State’s
satellite. This, in all respects, was aimed at sending a message
pertaining to the capabilities of the country to challenge the United
States as far as military warfare and technology is concerned (Kim,
2011). However, the country’s massive army (in terms of personnel)
makes human lives cheaper and considerably less variable compared to
equipment. Indeed, the Chinese sacrifice a regiment or replaceable
company more readily that it does to an irreplaceable tank. In instances
where the strength of the enemy is too immense, the Chinese army resorts
to guerilla onslaughts and Fabian tactics. It may isolate minute enemy
units through ambush through double-envelopment, infiltration,
isolation, as well as piecemeal annihilation (Kim, 2011). However, the
country has never been known to fight its battles with the United States
through proxy or through attacking allies of the latter. Indeed, in
instances where it aims at sending a message to the United States, the
military is always adept at taking a step back and allowing the
political class to send the message prior to making any attacks on any
United States interests. Nevertheless, its threats are considerably
brunt in sending a message to the same.
The policy of any military is shaped primarily by the threats (both
perceived and real) to the country. As much as the two countries may see
the United States as a threat to its interests, they adopt different
views of the same. Scholars have noted that the Chinese military is
accommodative and adept at increasing its cooperation with the United
States in defining their interests and averting the possibility of a
confrontation. This is irrespective of the country’s increased
modernization and its capacity to challenge the United States in almost
all fronts. On the same note, it seems to separate the United States
from other threats such as Taiwan and Tibet, dealing with each as
individual entities.
However, the North Korean army, which is headed by the country’s
supreme leader Kim Jong Un, is considerably secretive and always
expressing immense bravado in challenging the United States (Kihl & Kim,
2006). Scholars have noted the fact that for North Korea, the United
States is the main threat to its peace and stability, with its allies
such as South Korea coming as its agents. In contrast with China, North
Korea deals with such threats as a combined force, in which case it can
attack the United States allies such as South Korea in an effort to
eliminate or neutralize threats from the United States (Kihl & Kim,
2006). Indeed, North Korea is known to place its missiles strategically
and join hands with countries such as Iran in an effort to neutralize
any possibility of an attack from its biggest threat: the United States.
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