With nuclear capable intercontinental ballistic missiles in its arsenal and with hardly any workable U.S. military options to disarm North Korea, nuclear North Korea is being perceived as a threat to the peace and stability of the whole world. The way Saddam Hussien and Muammar Qadhafi have met their ends further dissuade North Korea to give up its weapons. It appears to be a classical military strategy of escalating to de-escalate-to initially escalate to unacceptable levels as to force one’s adversaries to make concessions in areas they otherwise would not. There is a great deal of power disharmony and American indecisiveness. Hence, North Korea is bound to benefit from such a scenario.
North Korea withdrew from Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003, which led to six-party talks to diffuse the situation in Korean peninsula. Since then, North Korea has played the great powers against each other, exploiting their respective strategic calculations vis-a-vis North Korea and each other. The unwillingness on the part of major powers of the world to commit sustained political and diplomatic capital, individually and together, to the Korean peninsula, have escalated the crisis.
China is worried about the potential work of North Korean refugees into its territory and also uneasy about a reunified Korea which will undercut its rising regional predominance. And if the Korean peninsula is able to undermine United States, Russia and China will only rejoice at that.
Japan and South Korea are the real victims of this crisis as they will be the first to face North Korea’s wrath. The lack of a firm commitment from Washington on security commitments could potentially prompt them (Japan and South Korea) to develop their nuclear arsenal, which would all the more destabilise the international stage. The ability to compromise and reach a solution to deal with the crisis has significantly reduced with the arrival of Mr. Donald Trump as the U.S. President. Further, there are deal-breaking tendencies of Mr. Donald Trump. His tiade against the Iran nuclear deal which was the result of long negotiations is sending wrong signals to the international community. Be it Pakistan, Iran or North Korea, isolating states only aggravates the crisis. China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States and Germany reached a historic nuclear deal in 2015 despite pressure from within US and countries such as Israel to use force against Tehran. Also, the disarmament platitudes of the five nuclear weapon states and no pro-gress on their disarmament commitments have eroded the faith of the non-nuclear states in the global nuclear order. Use of force and international sanctions against North Korea will only lead to immeasurable human suffering within North Korea and in its neighbourhood. North Korea’s historical grievances have to be taken on board and involve regional powers including China and South Korea to reach out to North Korea and reviving the dormant Six Party Talks at the earliest. Even as China and Russia approved the sanctions including an 89% curb on refined petroleum imports into North Korea, stringent inspections of ships transferring fuel to the country, and the expulsion of thousands of North Koreans in other countreis (who send home crucial hard currency) within two years, they continue to state their preference for diplomatic engagement.
North Korea has reiterated its goals : reach ‘strategic parity’ with the US by creating a credible nuclear deterrent and compelling opponents to conclude a peace treaty with it, recognise sovereignty and independence of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and provide security guarantees to enable the country’s economic development. North Korea has maintained that without a ‘nuclear deterrent’, the hostility of the US and many of its allies towards North Korea will result in crushing down the country. North Korea has stressed that before the early 2000s, North Korea was the only country in North-East Asia to not possess or deploy nuclear weapons, and upon achieving nuclear parity with other parties, the balanced reduction and eventual denuclearisation of the whole area is not impossible.
North Korea’s isolated dictators have long believed that nuclear weapons will ensure regime survival against US military power, enabling it to unite the Korean peninsula on its own terms. Military options against North Korea might not succeed as North Korea has retaliatory options. The country has hidden key facilities, and its missiles becoming more mobile, they are harder to target.
Airstrikes on nuclear facilities, coupled with cyber attacks and perhaps commando raids, could do some damage, but since the programme is entirely indigenous, it could be repaired soon enough. America is accustomed to eruptions of hostility with North Korea, but in the past year, the enmity has reached a level rarely seen since the end of the Korean war in 1953. In the six years since Kim Jong un assumed power, at the age of twenty-seven, he has tested 84 missiles more than double the number that his father and grandfather tested.
Brinkmanship, according to Thomas Schelling, who pioneered the theory of nuclear deterrence, is the art of “manipulating the shared risk of war.” In 1966, he envisaged a nuclear standoff as a pair of mountain climbers, tied together, fighting at the edge of a cliff. Each will move even closer to the edge, so that the other begins to fear that he might slip and take both of them down. It is a matter of creating the right amount of fear without losing control. In 2003, when Muammar Qaddafi agreed to surrender his nuclear, chemcial and biological weapons, Bush promised others who might do the same that they would have an “open path to better relations with the United States’. Eight years later, the US and NATO helped to overthrow Qaddafi, who was captured, humiliated and killed by rebels. At that time, North Korea said that Qaddafi’s fall was a “grave lesson” that persuading other nations to give up weapons was “an invasion tactic.”
In this maze of public statements from North Korea and America, the seeming binary options are weirdly reminiscent of the nuclear standoff of the cold war, when the only choices seemed to be a conflict with massive loss of life or surrender to the adversary’s demands. US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, in September, 2017, said that the United States wants to resolve the standoff with North Korea diplomatically. Even the Trump government clarified that it is not seeking to overthrow North Korea’s government. The Trump administration has also maintained that the United States will continue working with allies like China and Russia to diplomatically deal with North Korea on curbing nuclear threat. Apart from calling for dialogue, the Russian and Chinese envoys reiterated the need to scrap America’s THAAD deployment in South Korea, and urged Seoul and Washington to halt military drills in the peninsula.
In 1994, US came perilously close to a second Korean war because of North Korea’s nuclear programme. Today again that crisis is approaching. A war in 1994 would have been terrible but it was avoided with diplomacy (the Agreed Framework, from which the US and North Korea withdrew in 2002). The immediate goal of diplomacy is to lower tensions, cutting through the chest-thumping public statements by talking face to face. Any progress would probably come in small amounts, such as a temporary halt in missile tests, or renewed family reunions and talks with South Korea. If initial steps prove productive, more consequential topics—such as limits on North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons, inspections and economic issues can be considered.
A pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s military facilities would have nothing like the limited scope of containment or punishment conveyed by the recent American cruise missile strike on Syria. To accomplish anything meaningful, an American strike on North Korea will have to be on a huge scale. Even then, it would likely fail to eliminate all of North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons. Then, it will bring a military response from North Korea with its nuclear arsenal still intact, putting South Korea and Japan at imminent risk. In his summit with the Chinese leader, President Trump clearly became aware of the complexity of the situation as seen by the Chinese regime : North Korea is not a mere client state of China, and a Chinese attempt to use its economic leverage like cutting off essential food and oil supplies to pressurise the North Korean dictatorship can bring unpredictable consequences, including a collapse of the North Korean regime that would send millions of North Korean refugees streaming across the border in China.
Considering that US is withdrawing from the world stage citing its ‘America first’ policy; China is fcussed on becoming a superpower in the vicinity of North Korea; South Korea and Japan are aligned with US which seeks to cut it off from international scene via sanctions against it. North Korea is well within its rights to develop a viable nuclear deterrent to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. US can not be trusted. It brokered the deal with Iran and then is on the verge of breaking it, despite assurances from the UN that Iran is following the agreement meticulously. Major powers of the world including US, China, Russia have only toppled the countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and so on. North Korea is not fooling itself into believing that US will bring the light of democracy and remove dictatorship and in the end will leave the country wartorn.
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