World from Berlin 'Kim Wants Legitimacy as a Nuclear Power'

In addition to multiple threats made against South Korea and the United States in recent days, Pyongyang said Tuesday it plans to restart a controversial nuclear reactor. The German media believe dictator Kim Jong Un is seeking to establish a stronger negotiating position for disarmament talks.

REUTERS/Kyodo

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's regime is busy rattling its sabers again. On Tuesday, Pyongyang said it would restart the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, a facility shut down in 2007 after disarmament talks. The Yongbyon reactor had been the source of plutonium for the country's nuclear weapons program until its closure.

The development follows a move on Saturday to escalate rhetoric between Pyongyang and Seoul by claiming the country was entering into a "state of war" with South Korea. "From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly," a statement from the regime's official KCNA news service read on Saturday.

Since March, the number of bellicose threats coming out of North Korea has increased dramatically, with repeated claims the country might conduct pre-emptive nuclear strikes against United States targets and invade South Korea. The US has responded by positioning warships, including the USS McCain, an Aegis-class guided-missile destroyer used for ballistic missile defense, and a giant sea-based radar platform around the Korean Peninsula region. Military aircraft have also been sent to the peninsula. Still, it is not believed that there is much behind the threats other than talk, particularly given the expert assessment that Pyongyang doesn't have nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US.

Although the US appears to be taking the new rhetoric seriously, concerns do not appear to be great in Washington or elsewhere in the West that North Korea is closer to waging any kind of real war. "Despite the harsh rhetoric we're hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

The new tensions between the West and North Korea come just weeks after Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in February. In China, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said North Korea's decision to restart the Yongbyon power plant had been "regretful." Six-party disarmament talks with North Korea have been stalled since 2008 and experts believe the new rhetoric may increase pressure to restart negotiations.

In Germany, editorialists at some of the country's biggest newspapers look at the latest escalation between Pyongyang and Washington. Most believe the North Korean threats amount to little more than rhetoric.

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Today, under the third Kim, North Korea is a nuclear power and exhibiting more warlike behavior than ever before. It would take less of a strategist than a psychologist to discover any hint of rationality behind this. … After three nuclear tests and a spectacular rocket launch, it's clear that Kim (or his military puppetmasters in the background) wants legitimacy as a nuclear power. Time and time again, he has made it known that his nuclear arsenal is not among the bargaining chips."

"But beyond the riddle of his motives there is a greater problem that makes the latest saber rattling sound particularly dangerous. What, pray tell, counts as reality for this young dictator? Is the new commander, amid all the bluster, still a rational actor? Or does he see the world through a lens made especially for him? Perception is everything in the end, and nowhere in the world is there a more idiosyncratic view of things than in North Korea. For 65 years, the regime has lived in a fantasy world. It's possible that Kim believes in this world so much that he would be willing to fight for it -- making him a victim of the regime's own propaganda."

Leftist Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Like his father, the young Kim is well aware that the regime would not survive a real war with the United States. But this blatant threat is the product of clear calculation. It enables an otherwise weak country to appear threatening. Domestically, it will enable him to score points to mark the Americans as enemies and pit himself against the South Koreans. Abroad, this will perpetuate an image of North Korea remaining unpredictable, which will give the country greater room for maneuver in negotiations. And it is also entirely possible that it will undertake individual military strikes in the border region with South Korea like it did in 2010. But things won't go much further than that."

"Soon it will appear as if its neighboring countries and the global powers are happy that Pyongyang is talking again and that it is returning to the negotiating table. In order to ensure that this happens, the US, Japan, South Korea and China will all make concessions, like oil deliveries, food deliveries or a loosening of sanctions only recently imposed. Once that happens, playing with nuclear fire will have paid off for the son just as it did for the father."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Fortunately, the probability of a major war remains low. One reason for optimisim is China, and another is the rationality of North Korea's leadership. Those in power in China haven't abandoned the troublemakers on their northeast border, even in the wake of past military attacks, in order to prevent the Kim regimes from collapsing. They prefer to keep the country as a buffer against the United States. In addition, they are also extremely concerned about a potential mass influx of refugees. But there's one thing China needs even less: open warfare. And this is also clear to North Korea's leaders. Even in times of peace, the regime's survival is dependent on trade, foreign aid, money and goods from China. The chances of winning a war without aid are precisely zero. In the past, North Korea's leaders have calculated very coolly and dared to venture only the things they believed China would accept."

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The question remains as to what could have moved North Korea to heat up the conflict with its increasingly excessive statements. One explanation may be the weekend meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party. The delegates passed a program that doesn't exactly look like preparation for an imminent war. It focuses on developing the economy. To this end, a new prime minister was nominated, and he has been rewarded with a seat in the Politburo, which gives him relatively strong power within the system. If one assumes that the military sees this as a threat to its hitherto unquestioned leadership role, the war rhetoric would make a certain amount of sense."

-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

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