DPRK, US in showdown

The United Nations Security Council has greeted North Korea’s entry into the elite nuclear club with threats of imposing military sanctions and a clampdown on international financial deals thought to finance the South-East Asian nation’s atomic programme.

As expected, the latest developments have served to further complicate North Korea’s stormy relationship with the United States, with the latter calling for firm action against Pyongyang.

US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, taking a cue from his President, last week warned that any attack by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on South Korea or Japan would be seen as an attack on America.

Opinion is divided on what the effects of the underground test ‘ described by North Korea’s KCNA news agency as a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people” ‘ with some doomsayers predicting an all-out nuclear arms race culminating in mutually assured destruction.

The North Korean government maintains that its newfound strategic capability will ensure its own security while also guaranteeing peace and stability in the region.

Interestingly, it is the established nuclear powers and their key allies who are most vocally opposed to that country’s new nuclear status.

Countries with nuclear ambitions of their own have, on the other hand, expressed their solidarity. State radio in Iran praised North Korea, and called the bomb test “a reaction to US threats and humiliations”.

However, observers doubt North Korea would attack “any country any time soon” but would only want to use its nuclear status as a “bargaining chip with the West and as a deterrent in case of American plans to launch a military attack on Pyongyang”.

Ordinary people have also expressed scepticism that the socialist country plans to attack any country as it would have the most to lose.

Historically ‘ apart from the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 ‘ nuclear arms have been used as deterrents rather than as tactical weapons in actual combat.

The situation is unlikely to change with North Korea joining the nuclear club that already enjoys the patronage of the US, Britain, China, Russia, France, India, Israel and Pakistan.

While the West has played out the prospect of an Asian arms race, some observers are of the view that South Korea and Japan are unlikely to follow a similar path anytime soon.

Instead, North Korea’s nuclear bomb test should be viewed as “an act of defiance against American authority and a possible start in the shift in global power dynamics”.

Canada-based Zimbabwean academic Kuthula Matshazi was of the view that there had always been an arms race in Asia involving China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel and hence North Korea was “110 percent correct to pursue a nuclear deterrent”.

“If they did not have a nuclear weapon they would have been bombed a long time ago because they continuously thwart US influence in that region. They are perfectly right to defend themselves.”

Matshazi agreed with Israeli Institute for Defence director Munya Murdoch’s assertion in 1994 that any country that renounced the opportunity to acquire nuclear capability was damning itself to vassal status.

Matshazi said: “In fact, all countries in the world need to have nuclear weapons to deter the US who, in 2002, introduced the concept of pre-emptive strikes. They can strike any country that they think is a danger to them.

“If the Americans are worried about nuclear weapons, they should observe the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty they refused to recognise last year and on many occasions before.”

Matshazi, like other observers, questioned what gave states like the US, Britain and Russia the right to stop others from having nuclear power when they themselves possessed it in abundance. While admitting that it was dangerous having a nuclear-armed North Korea, the world was already in grave danger because of America’s aggressive neo-conservative foreign policy and any country should reserve the right to defend itself.

There is another school of thought that posits that the world is actually safer with more nuclear powers as they would continue to keep each other in check.

Proponents of this view believe the threat of a domino effect entailing Japan and South Korea seeking nuclear capability as a deterrent were slim and no arms race would follow North Korea’s tests.

Daniel Pinkston of the American Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies was quoted saying: “I don’t think we will see an immediate domino effect with Japan and South Korea seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, but this certainly complicates the situation.

“The situation is very serious and it does have the potential. There would be a number of tit-for-tat steps. And each step of the way the choices that are made determine where we end up.”

The North Korean nuclear test could, in fact, be the foundation for better regional dialogue and a more unified effort to put pressure on Pyongyang, argued Nicholas Szechenyi of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“It is very easy to leap to the notion of an arms race in the region, but from Japan’s perspective, preventing the spread of weapons is the main objective,” Szechenyi told the international media early last week.

A salient hope being shared by some people is that this could signal the beginning of the end of America’s unilateralist policies, especially with politically neutral countries like India and Pakistan possessing nuclear arms and other anti-US nations such as Iran and Egypt saying they want nuclear capability.

Zimbabwe-based political analyst Donald Muyengwa said this turn of events was a simple reaction to an “unjust political dispensation characterised by US double standards that in themselves are a threat to international stability”.

He said: “No country in recorded history has dominated and bullied other countries forever. The US dominance is surely going to end and if war is going to be part of that eventuality, then mankind should be very worried because in this age of weapons of mass destruction like nuclear power, the costs to humankind will be unprecedented.”

Another political scientist, Godwine Mureriwa, also a journalist, indicated that North Korea was merely trying to assert itself and if war were to break out, it would be more a consequence of continued American unilateralism as opposed to Pyongyang’s aggression.

He said: “Anti-US forces are increasing with each day and as President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe insinuated while addressing the UN General Assembly last month, even the ‘Davids’ can one day turn the tables against the ‘Goliaths’ of this world. It would appear that globalisation is leading the world to a Hobbesian war of everyone against everyone, as one seeks one’s security by plotting the most brutal way to destroy the other.”

Mureriwa said in such a context no country would want to be denied the very weapons that their enemies drew strength from.

Ordinary people’s views have been more cut and dried. Itai Manzou, a worker in Harare, Zimbabwe, said she was opposed to continued nuclear proliferation for the simple reason that it would, by its very nature, end in war.

She said: “Why are they making bombs if they are not going to be used in wars? While it is not fair that only countries like America have these bombs, the world doesn’t become safer when 10 other countries also have them. The United Nations should look at ways of getting rid of all the nuclear weapons in the world.”

All the possible outcomes aside, what is clear is that the US and North Korea are headed for a political showdown that will have immense ramifications on international relations. American, Russian, Chinese, British, South Korean and Japanese leaders have already come out in full opposition to the test though there has been emphasis on diplomatic approaches. Japan and South Korea have also pointed out that they will not seek nuclear capability as a direct response.

However, a military option is highly unlikely as China would most probably veto any such decision at the Security Council.DPRK, US in showdown

October 2006
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