North Korea’s third underground nuclear weapons test is a familiar chapter in a narrative with no conceivable end in sight. As usual, even the country’s closest allies have lined up to condemn the test as counterproductive to regional peace and security. But as long as China, which comprises roughly 70% of North Korea’s foreign trade takes no tangible action, there will be no consequence serious enough to deter Pyongyang’s leadership. The only substantial difference with this latest test is that it was suspected by many governments and observers to have involved highly enriched uranium. Unlike the limited stock of plutonium, this would give North Korea the ability to produce nuclear weapons well into the future. The highly enriched uranium would also make their nuclear exports a highly prized commodity on the international black market for weapons of mass destruction, and would facilitate their ability to covertly export them to the highest bidder. The other general fear here is that it will encourage other countries in the region to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) in a defensive bid to protect themselves. One Free Korea has a piece revealing some of the methods by which Pyongyang routinely circumvents the international sanctions designed to deter their pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.
While the potential uses of a North Korean nuclear weapon open a range of possibilities, Pyongyang’s propagandists gladly filled in the blanks by releasing two surreal propaganda videos including one released by Uriminzokkiri in which a major American city is devastated by a nuclear missile to an instrumental version of “We Are The World” in what is depicted as the dream of a peacefully slumbering North Korean. The absurd fantasy of firing a nuclear warhead across the Pacific Ocean in a final bid of vengeance has proven too tempting to resist. Another, newer video shows Barack Obama and US troops in flames. In the gruesome context of DPRK propaganda, it is certainly nothing new. One distinction this time around is that both videos stole copyrighted material from major American video games, the first took explosions from Call of Duty and the second uses a looped segment from the theme song to Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, to the extent that YouTube eventually deleted both them after legal complaints from the publishers. The original source of these videos remains unknown but in this case points to younger pro-North sympathizers in South Korea, possibly in conjunction with propagandists inside North Korea. It doesn’t stop at videos though, a number of primitive web games have surfaced allowing players to kill prominent officials from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. The last few years has seen an internet media blitz by North Korea to modernize their propaganda and widen its audience. The vengeful productions that continually surface have blurred the lines between content produced by the regime and that made by its supporters abroad. Many South Koreans, whether or not they favor the North’s policies, share its hostility toward the U.S. military presence in South Korea, and co-producing these videos with the regime’s more fervent volunteers would be another example of the DPRK inciting Korean nationalism abroad to pursue the interests of its elite.
An interesting article over at News Focus International examines the decline of Pyongyang’s standard of living relative to the rest of North Korea due to its distance from many black markets. Another piece there shows a recent trend among elite officials in Pyongyang to own a special refrigerator that holds the foods they’re routinely given as bribes. There’s also some good some pictures of North Korean toys.