As a young U.S. military intelligence officer, Syd Seiler arrived on the Korean Peninsula during a pivotal moment. Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea’s ruling dynasty, was still in the process of constructing some of the country’s first nuclear facilities. Over the ensuing four decades, Seiler has closely observed the progression of North Korea’s nuclear program under Kim’s leadership, which has now reached a point where they have the capability to deploy nuclear warheads.
Now, freshly retired after advising presidents, military leaders, and diplomats, Seiler has an important message for American leaders: do not lose hope.
Seiler emphasizes that North Korea’s recent series of missile tests should not deter international sanctions and pressure. Nor should it lead to an acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear-armed power. He firmly asserts, “That’s a failure of deterrence? That’s nonsense. We’re deterring an attack.”
Drawing on his extensive experience, Seiler shares the following insights:
1. North Korean Logic
Seiler discerns a discernible strategy in North Korea’s unwavering pursuit of nuclear capabilities. The Kim regime’s focus is not primarily on external threats, but rather on maintaining internal control. By prioritizing the nuclear program, Kim Jong Un seeks to reinforce the narrative that the Kim family and its nuclear arsenal are the sole protectors of North Korea against perceived external threats.
2. Russia Ties
Speculation surrounds a potential meeting between Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Seiler suggests that Kim may view this as an opportunity to align with another anti-U.S. leader. However, he also raises concerns about potential outcomes, including Russia bolstering North Korea’s military capabilities.
3. Threat to South Korea
Seiler notes a concerning shift in Kim’s rhetoric and posture towards South Korea. As Kim advances his nuclear arsenal, coupled with internal debates in South Korea about reliance on U.S. protection, the potential threat to South Korea has heightened.
Seiler stresses the need to recognize and address the growing risk posed by North Korea, especially in light of the broader geopolitical landscape.
In reflecting on his experiences in North Korea, Seiler vividly recalls a poignant moment while watching a televised program in 1983. The show, unscripted and emotionally charged, facilitated reunions of Korean families separated by historical conflicts. This powerful display of human suffering reinforced the importance of addressing the humanitarian dimensions of the Korean Peninsula issue.
Seiler’s extensive career in intelligence provides a unique perspective on North Korea’s nuclear program, urging continued vigilance and engagement on the international stage.