North Korea’s nuclear tests
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.