North Korea: A Pariah State?
by T P Srivastava on 24 Sep 2017 1 Comment

The world has never ever been closer to a nuke strike by a tiny but belligerent nation publicly admonishing and challenging the surviving super power. Will the eccentric, unpredictable and flamboyant young leader of North Korea decide to cross the rubicon? Will the strike be deliberate or by an error, time alone will tell.  But one thing is certain: US will think not once but 55,000 times before taking military action against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea regime (US lost 55,000 American soldiers in the Korean War).


American diplomacy’s continued belief is that the best and most effective way to make a nation-state toe US diktat is by isolating that particular nation. The isolationist approach practiced in the case of North Korea has not only failed in containing hatred towards the US, but has resulted in North Korea becoming a ‘rogue nuclear weapons state. As on date, both nations are involved in a game of brinkmanship, provocation and counter-provocation, but with a difference.


Washington is displaying an outstanding politico-intellectual deficiency in dealing with a situation created by its past policies. Fiery statements by the current US president Donald Trump indicate a dearth of political acumen. On the other hand, the eccentric North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, is busy lighting up the skies with weekly launches and nuclear tests threatening to launch a nuclear tipped missile.


A peep into history without going back to the Korean War of the 1950s, and looking only at events in the 21st century, we can easily see that the US has been instrumental in creating a ‘pariah state’. As the twentieth century drew to a close, the then Secretary of State Madeline Albright invited Vice Marshal Cho Myong Rock, a close confidant of Kim Jong Il for a meeting, which was so cordial and successful that Pyongyang had sent a invite to the then US President to visit North Korea. The George W Bush regime, however, suddenly showed aversion to continuing the dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and declared North Korea as part of the ‘Axis of Evil’.


The visit of Japanese Premier Junichiro Koizumi to Pyongyang on 17 September 2002 was the last high level diplomatic visit to the country. After Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly’s meeting with DPRK officials, US-North Korea relations headed south. The US unilaterally decided to renege on the agreement to provide two light water reactors, and suspended oil shipments. The DPRK regime retaliated by declaring the agreement as null and void and recommenced work to operationalise the Yongbyon reactor and withdrew from the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on 10 January 2003. The most telling and disastrous event was to follow. Pyongyang announced that the 1992 bilateral agreement with South Korea, to keep the Korean Peninsula free from nukes, was abrogated. Washington had achieved the impossible.


The rest is history. Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test on 9 October, 2006 and began to fast pace the launch vehicle programme as well. On 5 April 2009, the regime launched its first satellite. The era of imposing sanctions and more sanctions commenced. But with every set of new sanctions imposed on North Korea, the regime’s resolve to throw a ‘bloody punch’ at the US at a time of its choosing only became stronger.


On 4 September 2017, Nikki Haley, permanent US representative at the United Nations, read out a prepared statement at the Security Council meeting called by UA, Japan and other nations to discuss the “Threat to International Peace due to North Korea testing a ‘Hydrogen Bomb’ on 3 September 2017”. Her remark that “North Korea was begging for war” reflected US hypocrisy when dealing with nations of the so-called ‘Third World’. The term ‘third world’ is an obnoxious coinage by an American economist to designate ‘poor and deprived’ nations, including India.


In Washington’s eyes, all nations testing nukes after 1 January 1967 are ‘rogue’ nations, though no nation other than America has ever used a nuke against an adversary. In Korea, the Americans drew an east west line on the 38th parallel after the Korean War and created the so-called ‘pariah state’.


What does North Korea want from America? First, that America will not resort to help or create situations for a regime change in North Korea; second, a ‘non-aggression or no war pact’; and third, removal of numerous sanctions imposed over the years.


During the six nation meet involving China, USA, Japan, Vietnam and both Korean nations in 2012, North Korea agreed to most of the terms laid down, including dismantling some nuclear facilities. That events took a diametrically opposite route is entirely due to US presence and continued weapon induction in South Korea, the latest being induction of THAAD in South Korea to which China and Russia have reacted adversely. With the proverbial ‘stiff upper lip’ it can be said that if THAAD capability were genuine, Israel would have opted for THAAD rather than its Iron Dome.


To digress a little on weapon capability and performance, we may look at the effectiveness and capability of the much-hyped THAAD. If the US believes that THAAD is indeed capable of intercepting and destroying virtually all incoming missiles, why should it worry about an unproven ballistic missile of North Korea? The reality is that all 16 intercepts of the target ballistic missiles, starting from Star Wars programme till date, including THAAD, have been conducted under highly controlled conditions. In each case, the date of launch, window of launch and place of origin of the target missile was known to the interceptor missile location. The only variable was the missile trajectory. The US and all other nations developing the so-called ballistic missile defence system know fully well that in reality, the scenario will be different, hence the worry. If North Korea decides to target mainland US or Japan, protection is not guaranteed.


US actions subsequent to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea have created instability in the region not seen since the Vietnam war. China has given patronage to North Korea. Recent Chinese assertions show Chinese efforts to diffuse the situation, despite the tweets by President Trump. The latest fiat issued by the United States, that no country in the world should have business dealings with North Korea, is another example of projecting US hegemony over other nations. At the peak of the Cold War, US philosophy was ‘Those who are not with us are against us’, specifically aimed at India, a proponent of non-alignment.


North Korean affection towards Pakistan resulted in the supply of Nodong series missiles (christened Ghauri by Pakistan). Pakistan ballistic missiles have only eastward direction of launch. India has no reason to alienate a nation merely because America wants us to do so. The extremely unstable situation in the Korean peninsula is due to failure of US diplomacy, and Iran may follow suit sooner than later.


Indian diplomats must bear in mind the past affiliation between Pakistan and North Korea. The latter’s missile technology will interest Pakistan, which has still not been able to build a proven and indigenously built launch vehicle of sufficient range. Any Indian support to the US-led anti-North Korea stand could hurt our national interests. If Nikki Haley can say that US would like to assist in resolving the Jammu and Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India, perhaps New Delhi could take the lead and try to douse the fire between North Korea and USA. This might be welcomed by China and Russia and might persuade North Korea to stop sale of launch vehicles to Pakistan.


Over the past seven months (February-August 2017) Kim Jong-Un has ordered over a dozen launches of ballistic missiles of various ranges and two nuclear tests. He has asserted his resolve to strike targets not only in the Korean peninsula but also mainland USA. At the same time, Washington’s capability to protect even Seoul is questionable. Long range North Korean artillery can obliterate Seoul in the event of an all-out war.


An American pre-emptive strike on North Korean nuke facilities is unlikely to succeed in totality as North Korea has made the development of nuclear weapons and launch vehicles a national aspiration. Pyongyang will not hesitate to deliver a nuke if pushed to the wall, as demonstrated by its launch of an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). Washington does have the option to ‘do nothing’, as it did when Pakistan went nuclear.


North Korea continues to be governed by an eccentric leader. That is why Ernest Moniz, energy secretary in the Obama administration, advocated a persuasive rather than confrontationist approach by the US to firstly reduce the ‘heat’ and secondly, to diffuse the situation for long term stability. Moniz was a key member of the team that negotiated the US-Iran nuclear deal.


Preemptive options are not limited to strikes on nuclear facilities. Regimes can be overturned. But removal of Kim Jong-Un from the scene might result in greater chaos and lead to uncontrollable violence. This also runs the risk of the ‘nuclear button’ falling into the wrong hands. It is clear that sanctions and US-style diplomacy is unlikely to stop the North Korean nuclear programme. The world needs to look for new solutions.


The author is a former director of the Union Ministry of Defence; the views expressed are personal

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