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Nuclear politics and North Korea

June 23, 2009 2 comments

North Korea’s impending ICBM launch towards Hawaii scheduled to happen early in July is keeping more than the United States on toes! This communist nation, emboldened by the success of two successful weapons tests, has been making bold overtures and issuing warnings of a nuclear strike in the region. It claims that the United States has based several nuclear strike capable missiles in neighbouring South Korea in an attempt to threaten its existence, a claim that is yet to be verified!

Increasing isolated by the international community and losing grip over its already teetering financial state, North Korea must realize the importance to deviate from its current nuclear posture and concentrate more on the economic and social situation that currently prevails in the country, something that needs to be addressed very urgently.

Having pulled out of  the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, North Korea put to operational track, its two reactor plants located at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center aimed at producing weapons grade plutonium. However due to outdated Russian technology and several other constraints, production was significantly low and could not aid in building what North Korea wanted as a full fledged, long range nuclear weapon.

And then came into light the Abdul Qadeer Khan proliferation network, which according to US intelligence admittedly gave huge amounts of technological knowledge and support to the red brigade, a claim that was reinforced following an admission by the the Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharaf, which stated that Khan had indeed provided centrifuges and their designs to North Korea.

Now, at the backdrop of two successive nuclear tests, US President Barack Obama has described the North Korean action as a threat to international peace, which is mature communication unlike the terming of it as a part of the axis of evil by his predecessor George Bush! Following his condemnation of the tests which he called were a blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, he said “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants action by the international community. We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the six-party talks as well as other members of the UN Security Council in the days ahead.”

Despite international pressure to abandon the nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang continues to embark upon the project citing that it is under threat from South Korea and its allies, which includes the United States. A statement that followed the May 29th tests, which reads “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way as requested by its scientists and technicians. The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control and the results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology”, indicates Pyongyang’s belief that it needs to add a nuclear force to its stable of weapons in order to neutralize a threat that it sees originating from the United States.

Currently, as the deadline for the launch of a new missile is around the corner, President Obama’s call for peace, saying “there is another path available to North Korea, a path that leads to peace and economic opportunity for North Korea” is an offer to Pyongyang to return to the talking table, which it must do, for nuclear engagement is certainly not a viable humanitarian option!

American Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s statement that “we are in a good position should it become necessary to protect American territory” comes as a measure of American confidence in defending the United States in the event of a missile launch toward Hawaii. However, the problem lies in not just defending but also effectively containing the crisis which could outline to the world as to how the US administration counters a national security threat and also pulls it off with diplomatic effort rather than by force!

There are several challenges that will be faced by this young administration in this process, the most significant of all being, the need to deter North Korea from carrying out the threat that it so emphatically claims to do! In the event that the launch takes place, the United States needs to work in close coordination with the United Nations to determine the kind of consequences that Pyongyang would need to face for such an action. This action should not be aimed at the civilian population who continiue to struggle in poverty. The United States also needs to reshape its policy, based on talks and exertion of diplomatic pressure, rather than apply the same old and spent formula that past governments have been applying on Pyongyang! Most importantly, America needs to reiterate its commitment to the process of achieving a nuclear free zone in the region and help promote a healthier relationship between the neighbours by creating a conducive arena for bilateral talks aimed at stamping out many deadlocks that have risen in the past and stayed on!

About two hours and fifty seven minutes ago, Pyongyang issued warning statements asking ships to avoid parts of its eastern waters beginning 25th June, for a period of 16 days, citing that it is in the process of conducting a military drill. Now this worries me a lot! Warnings of such nature in the past have indicated heavy military activity as was seen recently during two subsequent events,  the test launch of a short range missile and the nuclear test that followed!

I’m wondering if the 4rth of July celebrations across the United States are going to witness what might come to be known as a North Korean display of fireworks?