North Korea’s evolving ways to get what it wants and needs

North Korea has been condemned and sanctioned for its nuclear ambitions, yet has still received food, fuel and other aid from its neighbors and adversaries for decades. How does the small, isolated country keep getting what it wants and needs?

Some put its success down to the extraordinary nuclear blackmail skills of a country whose leaders could be buying food instead of bombs and missiles. Some see the willingness of outsiders to help people in desperate need, regardless of how odious the government that rules them is, and others credit the feeling in South Korea that aid could improve ties.

North Korea has had gradual economic growth in recent years and doesn’t appeal for foreign humanitarian assistance as much as it did in the past. Despite multiple rounds of U.N. sanctions, its leader, Kim Jong Un, has defiantly pushed his scientists to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the U.S. heartland. It test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missile in the past month, and once Kim perfects such weapons, he may to try to extract bigger concessions from Washington.

An examination of how a country that frustrates and infuriates much of the world manages to get what it wants:

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NUKES FOR AID

A relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons has been a major source of the country’s ability to pull in aid and concessions.

Since the North Korean nuclear crisis first started in 1993, its government has agreed to several now-dormant disarmament-for-aid deals.

One accord was signed with the United States following bilateral talks in Geneva in 1994, while others were struck with several regional powers including Washington during on-and-off multilateral forums that lasted from 2003 to 2008.

Under those deals, North Korea halted atomic activities or disabled key elements of its weapons programs in return for security guarantees, heavy fuel shipments, promises of power-producing nuclear reactors and other aid. Despite it all, nothing has led to North Korea substantially dismantling its nuclear program.

Washington accused North Korea of cheating and covertly continuing its atomic work, while the North often accused the United States and others of failing to provide aid on time.

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SOUTH KOREAN SUNSHINE

Seoul, though the North’s bitter enemy, has also helped its neighbor regularly.

During the Sunshine Era of inter-Korean detente from 1998 to 2008, liberals in Seoul espoused greater reconciliation. This was welcome in North…

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