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Understanding North Korea

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Jongwoo Han
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For the past two decades relations between North Korea and the United States have become increasingly hostile. Pervasive and vociferous criticism of North Korea's dangerous and seemingly irrational behaviour has focused on Pyongyang's use of nuclear brinkmanship, violations of human rights and general disregard for the well-being of the North Korean people, as exemplified by its decision to develop a nuclear programme while the country suffered from widespread famine. However, an alternate view put forth by both American and South Korean experts on North Korea holds that Pyongyang's use of the nuclear wager primarily has been intended to demand Washington's attention in order to initiate bilateral talks and eventually normalise relations with the US. Certainly, Pyongyang's actions have been ham-fisted at times; however, its commitment to the goal of normalisation has been unwavering. The current controversy regarding North Korea's nuclear programme may serve as a necessary step to build trust between Washington and Pyongyang and might continue for sometime, given the short history of direct engagement. However, one thing is clear: neither Washington nor Pyongyang can afford to go back to the starting point.