Head­ing for Dis­as­ter

North Korea’s lat­est nu­clear test has given the global com­mu­nity enough rea­son to fret.

Southasia - - International Nuclear Arms - By S. M. Hali Group Cap­tain (R) Sul­tan M. Hali, now a prac­tic­ing jour­nal­ist, writes for print me­dia, pro­duces doc­u­men­taries and hosts a TV talk show. He is cur­rently based in Is­lam­abad.

In terms of its nu­clear ob­jec­tives, North Korea has be­haved like the bad boy of the block and has been de­fy­ing in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions, mak­ing its nu­clear weapons pro­gram a cu­ri­ous mix of de­fi­ance, de­ceit and stealth.

Of­fi­cially known as the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea ( DPRK), North Korea was a sig­na­tory to the Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT) but with­drew in 2003, cit­ing the fail­ure of the United States to ful­fill its end of the Agreed Frame­work (a 1994 agree­ment be­tween the states to limit the DPRK’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, be­gin nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions and help the DPRK meet its en­ergy needs through nu­clear re­ac­tors). On Oc­to­ber 9, 2006, North Korea an­nounced that it had suc­cess­fully con­ducted a nu­clear test for the first time. Both the United States Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS) and Ja­panese seis­mo­log­i­cal au­thor­i­ties de­tected an earth­quake of 4.3 mag­ni­tude in North Korea, cor­rob­o­rat­ing some as­pects of DPRK’s claims. On Jan­uary 6, 2007, the North Korean government an­nounced that it had devel­oped nu­clear weapons; an ad­mis­sion, which shocked the world. Fol­low­ing its 2009 sec­ond nu­clear test, pos­si­bly at the site of the first nu­clear test at Man­tap­san, Kilju County, in the north-east­ern part of North Korea, it be­came ev­i­dent that the coun­try had ac­quired a small stock­pile of rel­a­tively sim­ple nu­clear weapons. North Korea is as­sumed to have at least six nu­clear weapons but its mil­i­tary ura­nium en­rich­ment pro­gram could po­ten­tially boost the stock­pile to as many as 48 weapons by 2015.

No amount of sanc­tions, threats or ca­jol­ing by the in­ter­na­tional watch­dog, IAEA, could de­ter DPRK to sway from the path it had cho­sen. Diplo­matic ef­forts at keep­ing a lid on DPRK’s nu­clear ob­jec­tives have been com­pli­cated by the dif­fer­ent goals and in­ter­ests of re­gional neigh­bors. While none of the par­ties de­sire a North Korea with nu­clear weapons, Ja­pan and South Korea are es­pe­cially con­cerned about DPRK’s counter-strikes fol­low­ing pos­si­ble mil­i­tary ac­tion against it. The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China (PRC) and South Korea are also ap­pre­hen­sive re­gard­ing the eco­nomic and so­cial con­se­quences should this sit­u­a­tion cause the DPRK government to col­lapse.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been flex­i­ble and demon­strated more will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate with DPRK than the

pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion and has in­di­cated that de-nu­cle­ariz­ing the Korean penin­sula is a pri­or­ity. A Fe­bru­ary 2012 bi­lat­eral meet­ing in Bei­jing re­sulted in an agree­ment to halt ura­nium en­rich­ment in ex­change for U.S. food aid, which has now been can­celled. The agree­ment in­cluded a mora­to­rium on long-range mis­sile tests. Ad­di­tion­ally, the DPRK agreed to al­low IAEA in­spec­tors to mon­i­tor op­er­a­tions at Yong­byon, its nu­clear sci­en­tific re­search cen­ter. The United States reaf­firmed that it had no hos­tile in­tent and was pre­pared to im­prove bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships, and agreed to ship hu­man­i­tar­ian food aid to North Korea. How­ever, af­ter DPRK’s ex­e­cu­tion of a provoca­tive long-range mis­sile test in April 2012, the U.S. ter­mi­nated the agree­ment and re­fused to pro­ceed with the promised food aid, thus de­te­ri­o­rat­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

On Fe­bru­ary 11, 2013, the USGS de­tected a mag­ni­tude of 5.1 seis­mic dis­tur­bance, re­ported to be a third un­der­ground nu­clear test. With­out men­tion­ing the ex­act yield, DPRK has of­fi­cially re­ported it as a suc­cess­ful nu­clear test with a lighter war­head, which de­liv­ers more force than be­fore. The lat­est devel­op­ment has re­ceived in­ter­na­tional dis­ap­proval and cen­sure. UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-Moon con­demned the test call­ing it a “clear and grave vi­o­la­tion” of Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions. As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) called on North Korea to com­ply fully with its obli­ga­tions to all rel­e­vant UNSC res­o­lu­tions and to its com­mit­ments un­der the Septem­ber 19, 2005 Joint State­ment of the Six-Party. The EU’s for­eign pol­icy chief Cather­ine Ash­ton stated, “This nu­clear test is a fur­ther bla­tant chal­lenge to the global non-pro­lif­er­a­tion regime,” adding that it poses a threat to in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity.

NATO con­demned it in the strong­est terms while Pres­i­dent Barack Obama called the test “highly provoca­tive,” say­ing that it “un­der­mines re­gional sta­bil­ity.” He vowed to take ac­tions to de­fend the U.S. and its al­lies. The United States sent air­crafts equipped with sen­sors that may be able to de­ter­mine whether it was a plu­to­nium or ura­nium weapon. Even the tra­di­tional friends of DPRK, Rus­sia and China, have voiced se­ri­ous con­cern. Rus­sia “de­ci­sively con­demned” the nu­clear test call­ing it a vi­o­la­tion of North Korea’s in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions while the For­eign Min­is­ter of the PRC, Yang Jiechi de­clared that China “res­o­lutely” op­poses the lat­est nu­clear test con­ducted by the DPRK. Fol­low­ing the nu­clear test, even Iran, which has been chas­tised by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for its al­leged pur­suit of nu­clear weapons, stated through its For­eign Min­istry spokesper­son, that all nu­clear weapons should be “de­stroyed.” There are ap­pre­hen­sions that if North Korea is let off the hook, Iran may take a cue from the test and press on with its sus­pected pur­suit of nu­clear weapons plead­ing that “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gan­der!” How­ever, it is hoped that the Ira­ni­ans will dis­play more re­spon­si­bil­ity.

As men­tioned ear­lier, the DPRK’s stance of food and en­ergy short­age may avert se­vere sanc­tions by the UN for the time be­ing. While the ac­qui­si­tion and use of a work­ing North Korean long-range nu­clear weapon is con­cern­ing to many states, the more im­me­di­ate dan­ger lies in North Korea’s lack of nu­clear se­cu­rity and safety stan­dards. DPRK’s re­fusal to al­low IAEA in­spec­tors into its nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties cre­ate a very plau­si­ble sce­nario for a nu­clear ac­ci­dent; no one is cer­tain re­gard­ing the stan­dards of safety mea­sures be­ing prac­ticed, if any. This leads to ad­di­tional ques­tions about nu­clear ma­te­ri­als safety and se­cu­rity and the po­ten­tial for ter­ror­ist groups to steal or gain ac­cess to sen­si­tive weapons ma­te­ri­als. Out of 32 coun­tries thought to have nu­clear weapons ma­te­ri­als, North Korea ranks last in safety rat­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, many nu­clear weapons ex­perts are con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of North Korea sell­ing or pro­vid­ing sen­si­tive nu­clear ma­te­ri­als or weapons de­signs to other coun­tries and in­dulge in nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion. North Korea’s nu­clear ob­jec­tives re­gard­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of nukes are ob­vi­ous but re­main­ing out of IAEA’s loop is a cause for se­ri­ous con­cern.

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