The news that the DPRK had decided to freeze its uranium enrichment operation in exchange for food aid from the USA is not surprising.
For it is part of the pattern of behaviour that the regime has followed since the end of the Cold War. It goes like this:
- Have talks with the USA;
- Agree to "be good" in exchange for money, aid. "Being good" could be to allow nuclear inspections, allow family reunion visits, stop missile testing.
- Receive the aid, be it anything from food, to technical expertise, to assistance in building a light water nuclear reactor;
- Avoid being totally transparent about nuclear inspections, or stopping testing, and blame the US for not providing all that it promised;
- Allow all statements from the US that the DPRK has not met promises to be rebuffed with vituperous invective;
- US cuts aid and support;
- DPRK starts being "bad" openly, saying it is for self defence. e.g. send off a missile over Japan, test a nuclear weapon, shell an island, threaten to create a "sea of fire";
- A few years of stalemate;
- DPRK uses back-channels to seek face-saving agreement to get given a bribe to stop being bad;
- Have talks with the USA... Insist there not be talks with South Korea (the "south Korean puppet clique") or Japan or include Russia or China, because you want to be treated as an "equal".
This time the reason for capitulation is two fold.
Firstly, Kim Jong Un has barely been in power 2-3 months, and needs to keep the army and the party nomenklatura happy. His power is entirely dependent on satisfying those in the military who enjoy a comfortable lifestyle due to black market trading in arms, drugs and counterfeit currency printing.
Secondly, 15 April 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, and the masses need gifts to prove the state remains "generous". In addition, Kim Jong Il promised that in 2012 the DPRK would be a wealthy country. Some food aid will help with this.
So whilst some in the media see it as a breakthrough, it remains business as usual - the USA facilitating the continuity of a totalitarian regime.