Thursday, September 21st, 2017
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Is the world on the brink of an all-out nuclear war? The US, Britain, France, Japan and South Korea have requested an urgent meeting following the detonation of a hydrogen bomb for a long-range missile by North Korea. The request came amid reports that Pyongyang is preparing another missile launch, after two in July, of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The situation on the Korean Peninsula has given birth to fears about catastrophe on an unprecedented scale. The present situation is strongly characterized by growing belligerence on the part of North Korea and absolute lack of prudence on the part of world's only superpowers, the US. China, the world's second-largest economic power, stands to lose more in economic terms than any other country should prospects of a war turn into grim reality. It is fact that Beijing is the key stakeholder insofar as the crisis is concerned. That Beijing can play the most decisive role in breaking the deadlock is also a reality. Underscoring the need for diplomatic talks to address the crisis with North Korea, China has rightly declared at the UN Security Council that it will not allow chaos and war on the Korean Peninsula, according to the Chinese envoy to the UN. The situation is deteriorating constantly "as we speak, falling into a vicious circle," he added. The Russian ambassador has called for diplomatic talks, terming dialogue as the only way to settle the crisis.

Russia has highlighted the gravity of the situation by saying that there is "an urgent need to maintain a cool head and refrain from any action that could further escalate tensions." In an expression of convergence of mutual strategic interests, Russia supports China's proposal for a freeze on North Korea's nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a suspension of US-South Korea military exercises.

Unfortunately, however, the US has spurned the proposal with disdain, raising fears of breakout of a nuclear war. Washington, according to the Russian ambassador, believes that it was time to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea by enacting the "strongest possible measures." Washington's argument that if a rogue regime "has nuclear weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your guard. No one would do that. We certainly won't" does have the force of persuasion. But it lacks appreciation of the fact that some of the most menacing sanctions against North Korea have not worked in the past, and they won't work in future either. The Islamic Republic of Iran is another example where US-backed crippling economic sanctions only strengthened the resolve of subsequent governments in Teheran to attain nuclear technology. US sanctions on Iran have greatly contributed to the Middle East turmoil, indirectly dividing the region on strict ethnic, sectarian and religious lines bifurcating the region into two major camps of "Sunni Islam" and "Shia Islam."

Insofar as Pakistan's purported role in equipping North Korea with nuclear power is concerned, the world has ultimately realized the fact that North Korea does not owe its nuclear prowess to Pakistan at all for two broad reasons. First, North Korea's nuclear technology is much better than Pakistan's. Second, North Korea was self-reliant largely because of its highly qualified pool of scientists. East Asia watchers must be aware of the fact that throughout the 1950s, 60s and even much of the 70s, Pyongyang was ahead of Beijing as far as the standards and facilities of scientific knowhow and facilities in the two countries were concerned. That North Korea was no pygmy militarily either. It is a well-established fact that while showing reluctance to agree to a Soviet-China defence treaty Soviet leader Josef Stalin had told Chairman Mao that China would face aggression from none, except for Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of the present leader Kim Jong-Un.

While the US is required to show a great deal of prudence by calling off military drills on the peninsula, China must exert its influence on North Korea, which is almost solely dependent on its giant neighbour diplomatically and economically, to abandon belligerence immediately. Russia, in the meantime, should also work towards persuading the North Korean leader to take initiatives aimed at greater peace on the peninsula and beyond. These steps initiated by North Korea's neighbours - China and Russia - could pave way for the beginning of concrete talks on the resolution of the crisis. North Korea, in the meantime, must show appreciation of the fact that both of its supportive neighbours are veto-wielding powers in the Security Council. It cannot afford to lose either let alone both.

the author