With the collapse of the first high-level talks in years between North and South Korea this week, the question of what to expect from the North Korean regime is being raised again. The talks were scheduled to begin Wednesday, June 12; the resumption of joint economic cooperation projects was among the key items slated for discussion. However, Pyongyang announced that it would no longer participate due to strong disagreements in both countries about whether the other party's delegates were of sufficiently high rank.
In recent years, with North Korea's military provocations and nuclear tests and South Korea's increasingly hard-line political stance, the tension and mistrust between the two countries intensified. In Seoul last month, General Min-Koo Han, the 36th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Republic of Korea, addressed the North Korean threat at Asia Society Korea Center's monthly luncheon.
General Han was Seoul's top military officer in March 2010, when North Korea sank the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, and killed 46 soldiers. He also oversaw the military response when North Korea shelled Yeongpyeong Island in November 2010, killing two soldiers and two civilians. No stranger to the ongoing North Korean threat, General Han drew back the curtain on Pyongyang's military capabilities, Seoul's countermeasures, and the necessity of a more permanent solution for peace on the Korean peninsula.
General Han asserted that the key to understanding North Korea's behavior was its military spending. Experts have long questioned how North Korea has been able to build up its military capability despite poor economic conditions. General Han explained that between 1967 and 1971, North Korea announced that 30-32% of its budget went to the military annually. However, since 1972, the regime has taken to publicizing that it only spends 17% of its budget on the military.
"The reason [for this] is that in 1972, North Korea adopted the principle of the 'second economic front' [that] deals with production and distribution of weapons," General Han said, "From that point on, experts conclude that North Korea has been systematically hiding the real extent of its military budget."
Watch an excerpt from General Han's lecture, above, to gain more insight into the evolving political and military situation on the Korean Peninsula.