North Korea’s nu­clear tests

SP's MAI - - MILITARY - AIR MAR­SHAL (RETD) ANIL CHO­PRA

Con­sid­er­able im­prove­ment in ABM ca­pa­bil­ity by po­si­tion­ing more mis­siles in Alaska and Ja­pan could put pres­sure on China to armtwist Py­ongyang. The new lead­er­ship in Seoul and Tokyo need to quickly take stock with Washington in view of the new sce­nario.

On Fe­bru­ary 12, North Korea shook the earth by con­duct­ing its third nu­clear test. The ear­lier tests were con­ducted in 2006 and 2009. Shock waves from what the West­ern world calls a ‘Rogue state’ went far, and so are the long-term im­pli­ca­tions not only for the neigh­bour­hood but also for nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion as a whole. This un­der­ground det­o­na­tion picked up on seis­mic in­stru­ments was of­fi­cially an­nounced by North Korea as us­ing ‘minia­turised de­vice’. Still the sole su­per­power and the global po­lice­man United States was the first to re­act, con­demn­ing the event strongly. The young heir Kim Jong-un is ob­vi­ously in full com­mand. This test comes just weeks af­ter the unan­i­mous UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion against Korea’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gramme was passed in De­cem­ber 2012. Are there sig­nals in the tim­ing of the test which was con­ducted only a day be­fore the “State of the Union Ad­dress” by the US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Is this timed to trig­ger a re­ac­tion from the in­com­ing South Korean Government?

Pre-launch ac­tiv­i­ties were also some­what sus­pi­cious. They kept cre­at­ing a flurry of ac­tiv­i­ties at the mis­sile launch site to di­vert in­ter­na­tional satel­lite’s at­ten­tion. Seoul had been cau­tion­ing the world for about a week. The tra­di­tional ‘event’ warn­ing was given by the ‘ Regime’ to Washington and Bei­jing at the eleventh hour. Kore­ans are known for keep­ing the world guess­ing.

All En­com­pass­ing Ca­pa­bil­ity

A nu­clear war­head mated on a long-range mis­sile makes it a lethal com­bi­na­tion. The US, Rus­sia, China, Ja­pan and South Korea all feel im­me­di­ately threat­ened. With other rouge states like Pak­istan and Iran at dif­fer­ent lev­els of nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, has the world gone out of the civilised con­trol? Do we now start deal­ing with North Korea as a full-fledged nu­clear state? Do we keep pass­ing UN res­o­lu­tions which show unan­i­mous re­solve, but al­ways seem to fall on deaf ears? Will any amount of sanc­tions have no ef­fect on the ground? Can China be per­suaded to ex­ert overt/covert pres­sure?

The type of test con­ducted has its own dy­nam­ics. North Korea has shown ca­pa­bil­ity, in both; plu­to­nium pro­cessed and en­riched ura­nium routes. In­ter­na­tional en­force­ment of ura­nium based de­vices is as dif­fi­cult as it is easy to process and hide th­ese de­vices. It is also easy to trans­fer the de­vices. Could Iran and North Korea be talk­ing? Is the world most help­lessly al­low­ing a mon­ster to be­come a de­mon? How does one di­a­logue with a reclu­sive regime that has cut off its peo­ple from the rest of the world? Does the new US Sec­re­tary of State have his plate full, but has no fork and knife to cut the steak?

What is the real strat­egy be­hind the tests? Is it to cre­ate con­di­tions and take a high ground for bar­gain­ing a great fi­nan­cial package from a po­si­tion of strength? Is be­com­ing a nu­clear power the am­bi­tion of the ‘fam­ily’ which oth­er­wise rules a closed fam­ished state? Are there de­signs over­look­ing the ‘Ar­mistice’ line to brow­beat South Korea and then uni­fi­ca­tion and be­yond? Is there a de­sire to free it­self from de­pen­dence on big brother China? The Chi­nese have been con­cen­trat­ing on re­tain­ing sta­bil­ity in the Penin­sula so that they could emerge as a power.

Tough Times Ahead

In the last 23 years on-and-off ne­go­ti­a­tions have not brought re­sults. Per­haps it is time for Seoul to re­verse the con­fronta­tion­ist ap­proach of its pre­de­ces­sor and Pres­i­dent-elect Park re­duces the ver­bal as­sault. But for how long can the world carry on with mea­sured ap­proach? There should be no knee-jerk re­ac­tion to be­gin a pol­icy of pla­ca­tion or rushed ne­go­ti­a­tions. Con­sid­er­able im­prove­ment in ABM ca­pa­bil­ity by po­si­tion­ing more mis­siles in Alaska and Ja­pan could put pres­sure on China to arm-twist Py­ongyang. The new lead­er­ship in Seoul and Tokyo need to quickly take stock with Washington in view of the new sce­nario. Also Pres­i­dent Obama needs to have one-on-one en­gage­ment with the in­com­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. There are tough times ahead with no easy an­swers on the hori­zon. Hard kill is not an op­tion. Chi­nese will have a big role. How­ever, some ac­com­mo­da­tion will be re­quired. The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

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