Different voices have always flourished regarding North Korea's strategic objectives. Generally, they can be divided into two camps: One holds that North Korea is developing nuclear weapons purely for self-defense, while the other holds that Pyongyang's main purpose is to seek normalization of relations with the United States.
In fact, neither group has fully interpreted Pyongyang's strategic objectives. Its true objective is far more complex, as it aims to achieve the unification and independence of the Korean Peninsula.
For the North Korean leadership, a divided Korean Peninsula is a dangerous thing, especially as it presides over such a poor, disadvantaged country. But given its systemic conflicts with South Korea and the strength of the South Korean-U.S. military alliance, North Korea finds it extremely difficult to realize its real strategic objective.
Therefore, the only thing Pyongyang can do is to push toward this objective through realizing tactical aims, step by step, with a variety of smaller strategies and measures.
In this process, its primary task is to cultivate relations with Washington. After the Cold War, the nuclear issue has been an excuse through which the United States has been able to dominate the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
The oft-mentioned "policy of brinkmanship" merely represents the oscillating of North Korea between its statements of developing and giving up nuclear weapons—tactics designed to achieve its ultimate objective. Most frequently, North Korea's behavior is based on its anticipated reactions of its adversaries.
TOUGH TALK: Diplomats from the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan pose before the first round of the six-party talks in Beijing on August 27, 2003 (XINHUA)
However, this back-and-forth diplomacy cannot last forever: at some point, North Korea will have to make a clear decision.
Ultimately, improper reactions from the United States at the most critical stage of the six-party talks led Pyongyang to believe it is better off keeping its nuclear capacity.
Besides external calculations, North Korea displayed intentions of breaking out of its brinkmanship tactics, too. It longed to escape the confusion caused by the multiple objectives of the six-party talks. It coveted the prestige associated with possessing the threat of nuclear weapons. It also sought to gain time for its domestic political stability and economic development.
In the end, North Korea decided to achieve its goals by playing the nuclear threat card. However, the current deadlock will prove unfavorable for Pyongyang in the long run.
By breaching an agreement to abandon nuclear weapons, North Korea has greatly undermined its moral standing in the international community.
In this context, its leadership should prepare for long-term international sanctions and continued isolation. Although North Korea is accustomed to these conditions, this nonetheless signals bad news for a country so desperate for development.
It is difficult for the outside world to understand the real economic conditions of North Korea. According to UN statistics, 8.7 million people there are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Such statistics are underscored by negative reports from the foreign media.
Is North Korea's economy really so terrible? Actually, while people hope the country abandons its nuclear weapons program and opens up to the outside world, its economy is evolving in secret.
Thriving restaurants and shops in the streets of Pyongyang, and television advertisements for beer and restaurants are all signals that economic vitality is increasing in the country.