Nuke tests won’t solve DPRK’s prob­lems

That the DPRK is still se­ri­ous about its nu­clear-first strat­egy in­di­cates the mil­i­tary pres­sures and eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed on it have failed to work.

China Daily (USA) - - VIEW -

The nu­clear test con­ducted by the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea on Fri­day was its fifth and largest, with a yield equiv­a­lent to about 10 kilo­tons of TNT, or trini­tro­toluene. And it was its sec­ond this year.

This ill-con­sid­ered move must be op­posed, and that is ex­actly what China and the Repub­lic of Korea did im­me­di­ately after the nu­clear test, be­cause if it is not taken se­ri­ously, the DPRK may con­duct more such tests.

Since the DPRK’s nu­clear pro­gram de­vel­op­ment pro­gram is still in the ini­tial stages, it will have to carry out more tests to col­lect rel­e­vant data to build a nu­clear war­head. But judg­ing by its re­cent mis­sile tests and as­sertive re­sponse to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s call for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula, Py­ongyang had sig­naled that it was plan­ning some­thing big. Take for ex­am­ple the tim­ing. By con­duct­ing the lat­est nu­clear test on the 68th an­niver­sary of its found­ing, the DPRK in­tends to add “le­git­i­macy” to its nu­clear am­bi­tions.

The test also comes as a time when China is at odds with the United States and the Repub­lic of Korea after the lat­ter two agreed to de­ploy the Ter­mi­nalHigh Al­ti­tude Area De­fense sys­tem in the ROK. ThatUS Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is set to leave of­fice in four months and the coun­try is caught in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion frenzy might also have em­bold­ened the DPRK to con­duct the nu­clear test now.

But whether the DPRK has be­come a nu­clear power re­mains to be seen, be­cause all its five nu­clear tests have been smallscale det­o­na­tions, and de­spite its self-procla­ma­tions, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is not go­ing to rec­og­nize it as a nu­clear state.

To some ex­tent, the al­most con­firmed de­ploy­ment of THAAD in the ROK has a lot to do with the DPRK’s in­creas­ingly provoca­tive pos­ture, in­clud­ing the lat­est nu­clear test, and could cause more dam­age to the Korean Penin­sula. In re­sponse to the news of THAAD’s de­ploy­ment, Py­ongyang has re­peat­edly pledged to take actions to pre­empt pos­si­ble at­tacks from the US and the ROK. Which means Py­ongyang may also ex­pe­dite its nu­clear pro­gram and test bal­lis­tic mis­siles more fre­quently, height­en­ing the risk of war in the re­gion.

On the other end of the vi­cious cir­cle, Wash­ing­ton may seek to con­sol­i­date its pres­ence on the Korean Penin­sula and speed up THAAD’s de­ploy­ment. Should that hap­pen, Py­ongyang could face harsher sanc­tions, even mil­i­tary strikes. So the only cure for the DPRK’s se­cu­rity dilemma lies in aban­don­ing its nu­clear pro­gram for good.

As for the ROK, what can best pro­tect its na­tional se­cu­rity is the thaw­ing of diplo­matic re­la­tion­ship with the DPRK, not THAAD or a closer mil­i­tary al­liance with the US. Seoul should ease the sanc­tions it has im­posed on Py­ongyang and seek bi­lat­eral di­a­logue. Call­ing an end to the US-ROK joint drill, for in­stance, could help al­le­vi­ate the DPRK’s se­cu­rity con­cerns.

That the DPRK is still se­ri­ous about its nu­clear-first strat­egy in­di­cates the mil­i­tary pres­sures and eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed on it have failed to work. So the US needs to forgo its Cold-War men­tal­ity and stop see­ing the DPRK as a per­ma­nent ad­ver­sary if it truly wants to help main­tain re­gional or­der.

Fix­ing its diplo­matic ties with Py­ongyang, work­ing on a proper al­ter­na­tive to the 1953 ar­mistice, and con­tribut­ing to the re­sump­tion of the Six-Party Talks should be a good start forWash­ing­ton. But that re­quires long-term plan­ning and pa­tience.

China, on its part, will strictly abide by theUNSe­cu­rity Coun­cil’s sanc­tions on the DPRK and urge it to stop mak­ing all the wrong steps.

The au­thor is an as­so­ciate re­searcher at the Cen­ter for Northeast Asian Stud­ies in Jilin province.

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