- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

North Korea has been threatening to go nuclear for quite some time now. Its neighbors and the Western powers thought that they could restrain the reclusive state by engaging it in negotiations, which later faltered. This belief was finally shattered on Monday, when Pyongyang announced its arrival in the nuclear club. Technological collaboration between North Korea and Pakistan has been occurring with regard to nuclear and missile technologies. With the exposure of Abdul Qadeer Khan’s network, we have learned more about China’s crucial role in this. Pakistan and China have already displayed their nuclear capabilities. With their active support and collaboration, it was not very difficult for North Korea to go forward.

Western powers, especially the United States, are still finding it hard to digest the new reality, which has dramatically altered their security calculations on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia. Some U.S. security experts have publicly doubted the success of the North Korean test in the hope of diminishing its impact. But as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated, while a test may not be very successful, the announcement of one by the regime is itself an important “political claim.” The Western powers have to come out with a suitable response to this political statement which they appear to be lacking at the moment. What is worse, they may not find it easy to formulate an international response under the auspices of the United Nations to North Korea’s nuclear foray, because China and Russia, two permanent members of Security Council, view the whole development differently.

The United States, Britain and France all want a resolution drafted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which makes sanctions mandatory and poses the possibility of military enforcement as a last resort. On the other hand, Moscow and Beijing are opposed to this, and want U.N. action to be restricted to sanctions.Though China has officially criticized the nuclear testing by North Korea, it is only for the purpose of being “diplomatically correct.” It would have been impossible for North Korea to undertake such a venture without the encouragement of China.

China aims to achieve several goals by encouraging North Korea to go nuclear. A nuclear North Korea is bound to upset the strategic balance on the Korean Peninsula, which will weaken South Korea and Japan in relation to Pyongyang and Beijing. With this, China has also managed to open another front against the United States through the action of proxies. Nuclearization of the peninsula will also help the Chinese and Pakistanis to achieve one more objective: creating hurdles in the path of a successful U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Though the United States has said it views India, Pakistan and North Korea differently, there is little doubt that the latest development will provide the vociferous nonproliferation lobby in the United States a lever to oppose the nuclear agreement with India.

Western powers are still trying to come to terms with a nuclear East Asia. The panic in the world community can be gauged from the fact that even an earthquake tremor in East Asia now makes people think that North Korea has tested once again. This demands a strong response from the world community. For the time being, the United States has ruled out the military option, probably due in part to the American military’s engagement in other trouble spots like Iraq and Afghanistan.

But unfortunately, the other, more acceptable option — economic sanctions — appears to have lost its efficacy. Sometimes sanctions actually strengthen the regime against which they are imposed, as their impact is felt directly by the people and leaves rulers untouched. The adversity faced by the people forces them to rally around the regime which the sanctions are supposed to weaken. Even where the sanctions are successful they take a long time to work. If the international community is seriously interested in restraining North Korea, sooner or later it will have to think of some tough measures, or else the DPRK regime could go out of control.

Anand Kumar is an independent researcher and writer based in New Delhi.

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