North Korea's Nukes: What Next?
Monday's test marks the culmination of a year of futile international diplomacy aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula. North Korea's official announcement, reported by the government-controlled Korean Central News Agency said the test "will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the area around it," according to a translation by Reuters.
While the United States was focusing on Iran's less-advanced nuclear program this summer, Pyonyang was test-firing ballistic missiles, provoking denunciation but no unified response from the rest of the world. Now, with six-party talks all but dead and the U.S. taking the lead in pushing for sanctions, North Korea's neighbors are considering what to do next.
Military strikes against North Korea's weapons of mass destruction are unlikely, according to international online commentators. Japan seems likely bolster its armed forces and tighten relations with China. South Korea is expected to cut back on the cross-border economic ties it hoped would restrain Pyongyang. But Russia and China have little interest in pursuing economic sanctions to punish the reclusive communist regime, say observers.
The Chinese government condemned the test in harsh terms but several analysts say China feels less threatened than other nations.
"North Korea nukes have their uses for China," says the Hong Kong-based Asia Times.
"The emergence of North Korea as a nuclear power - the only other in East Asia apart from China itself - is perceived in Beijing as an evil that can be contained and even rendered useful as a counterweight to the United States military presence in the region."
The China Daily called for "cool-headedness" and for a return to negotiations without mention of sanctions.
"We suggest that the DPRK stop more excessive actions that will push the situation on the Korean Peninsula to a more dangerous edge," said the state-controlled news site. "What the country can and should do is to return without preconditions to the Six-Party Talks that have been seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis stemming from its nuclear programme."
A leading Chinese expert says China need not succumb to "blind pessimism" about a nuclear North Korea.
Shen Dingli, dean of the Institute of International Studies at the Fudan University, who predicted last week that North Korea would follow through on its threat to detonate a nuclear weapon, cites five reasons why North Korea believes the United States will not take military action.
"They are: first, the DPRK's nuclear deterrent effect; second, the deterrent effect of the DPRK conventional forces; third, the opposition of South Korea and Japan, the allies of the United States; forth, the opposition of China, Russia, and other countries; and finally, the restraining effect on the United States due to the Iraq situation, the Iranian nuclear challenge, and the chaotic situation surrounding Lebanon and Israel."
Dingli, writing for the U.S.-based Nautilus Institute, is also skeptical about scenarios of a regional arms race in which Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear arsenals in self-defense.
"If Japan and South Korea develop their own nuclear programs in disregard of their military alliance relationship with the United States due to a DPRK nuclear test, this will only show that they no longer believe in U.S. military protection ... The United States may not control the DPRK's nuclear tests, but it still has the ability to prevent its East Asian allies from independently taking the path of developing nuclear weapons."
China's approach, Dingli says, should be to manage, not alienate, its nuclear neighbor.
An Alarmed Japan
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had just met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and was arriving for talks in Seoul when news of the nuclear test broke.
"A North Korea with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles constitutes a grave threat," Abe said. "Japan will now consider harsh measures."
"North Korea's show of defiance will likely have a major effect on [the] national defense debate in Japan with calls to expand the missile defense system over Japan or for the government to reserve the right to stage pre-emptive strikes," say the editors of Asahi Shimbun.
The test offers chance for China and Japan, longtime adversaries, to reconcile, says the Daily Yomiuri in Tokyo. The test came on the heel's of Abe's visit to Beijing, the first visit of a Japanese leader to China in five years.
"How China tackles the problems posed by Pyongyang's nuclear test will be a litmus test" of Beijing's intentions, say the editors. China has previously insisted that it would not talk with Japanese leaders unless they stopped visiting the Yasukuni shrine where Japan's militaristic past is honored. China's "more flexible stance" offers hope that the two countries can cooperate in dealing with North Korea, they write.
The test, says Asia Times' Donald Kirk, "has altered the landscape of alliances and enmities in East Asia, suddenly putting Japan in common cause with two terrible foes, China and South Korea."
Meanwhile, an association of victims of the 1945 U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki joined the chorus of international entities condemning North Korea.
South Korea Seeks Harder Line
The most likely scenario, according to the Korea Herald, is "stepped-up measures through the United Nations."
"This would entail an overall freezing of North Korean financial accounts worldwide and a ban on North Korean trade in international seas. Both would tighten the noose around the already destitute state."
Professor Ryoo Kihl-jae at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told the Korea Times that he expects the North will soon call for a new diplomatic forum in which it can discuss nuclear disarmament or ways to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula with the United States.
Meanwhile, recriminations around the government's so-called "sunshine policy" of attempting to use economic and cultural ties to elicit North Korean restraint are growing more bitter.
"More than 40 million people living in South Korea are on the verge of being taken hostage by the nuclear weapons of the North... " said the editors of the Korea Times. "Our lenient North Korean policies of giving cash and assistance unilaterally are much to blame for having caused this situation."
Before Monday's test, the Chosun Ilbo daily wrote that North Korea "did not feel the strength of international cooperation when it test-fired its missiles in July this year. The Roh Moo-hyun administration only provided excuses for the missile tests, saying they were 'politically motivated' and continuing a variety of inter-Korean projects. As a result, North Korea did not budge an inch even when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1695 with a unanimous vote in response to the missile tests."
A nuclear North Korea tilts the balance of forces in region against Moscow, one analyst told the Interfax news agency. Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the Center for Defense Information, said the test may push the United States, South Korean and Japan into a closer alliance, tantamount to "the revival of the military-political alliance of cold war times."
The Moscow Times notes that leaders of the State Duma blamed North Korea's decision on the United States.
Gennady Yevstafyev, former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service's arms control directorate, said Russia should now seek to prevent Washington and its allies from overreacting to the test and imposing a blockade of North Korea, which would alienate the country completely.
"The only hope for North Korea to enter talks again in the long term is to avoid this extreme reaction," Yevstafyev said, adding that economic incentives and security guarantees could eventually convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program if talks resume."
Gennady Sysoyev of Kommersant criticized Russia's reluctance to take harsh measures, noting that the Kremlin has the same approach to Iran.
"As Moscow would say, pressure and sanctions against authoritarian regimes are counterproductive, since these measures will only oblige these countries to cut themselves off from the rest of the world. Since it then becomes impossible to influence these regimes, this move is extremely dangerous."
Actually, Sysoyev writes, Moscow is "preserving the hope of consolidating and strengthening its own position" with both countries.
More World Reaction
India condemns North Korea: "Indian officials insist Pyongyang's legal or political status could not be compared to India's position as a country outside the NPT[Non-Proliferation Treaty]. India, the officials said, had never violated its safeguards agreements. 'Please don't lump us with North Korea. India has been transparent, clear. We are separate, distinct. It is ridiculous to compare us to them,' a senior official said."
-- The Hindu
Pakistan denies Dr. Khan's role: "There is absolutely no link between the nuclear test conducted by North Korea or what might have gone on between Dr A.Q. Khan and North Korean government," said Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam. "North Korea's programme is plutonium based and Pakistan's is mainly uranium based."
Iran faults U.S. policy: "Decaying as it already was, a crucial part of US foreign policy went up in nuclear dust on Monday in the mountains of North Korea...For a whole lot of valid reasons, the western covenant 'believe our doctrines or go to hell' has been consigned once more to the thrash can of history. There's a lot of explanation the US and its assorted allies should make about their own nuclear ambitions before preaching to others."
-- Iran Daily
Israel sees a wakeup call: "It is imperative that the West and Israel quickly sober up and stop deluding themselves that the Iranian nuclear program can be stopped. Just like India and Pakistan before it, North Korea proved once again that diplomatic pressure, economic temptations, threats of military action, or sanctions could not stop fanatic regimes of totalitarian states from obtaining the bomb, if they are determined."
-- YNet News
Hans Blix's case for global disarmament: "There is a crying need for a revival of global-disarmament efforts, with further development of and respect for the United Nations. There might be a better chance to dissuade others--including North Korea and Iran--from developing nuclear weapons, if the nuclear states began, themselves, to move away from these weapons and, thereby, strengthen world security."
-- Outlook India
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