Wednesday 21 March 2018

West must back China to blunt North Korea threat

Editorial Comment

It's fast becoming the Cuban Missile Crisis of our time as wrangling between Pyongyang and Washington continues to escalate following news of North Korea latest nuclear test - an audacious Hydrogen bomb five times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

Details of the explosion measuring 6.3 on the Richter Scale have heightened tensions in South Korea and neighbouring Japan who are now deploying 'sniffer' jets to detect further North Korean nuclear activity. Kim Jong-un's actions have massively imbalanced the entire region and towering neighbours China may hold the key to stability.

Up to now, pretty much all that has gone on in the Korean Peninsula has been dismissed as nothing but posturing but with comparisons now made with Nagasaki - an incident that sent shockwaves throughout the globe and continues to spark debates on morality - the world is now taking notice.

According to Japan, North Korea's latest nuclear bomb is 10 times the strength of a test it conducted in September 2016 and North Korea claims it now has the capability to launch a 'H-Bomb' via intercontinental ballistic missile. To date, all of North Korea's six nuclear tests have taken place at its underground testing site in Punggye-ri which makes verification difficult. But this is now a major threat to peace in the Pacific region and follows recent threats to the US Island of Guam and the firing of a missile over Japanese territory.

Yes, it spells a clear and present danger to international stability; however a full-scale conflict could yet be avoided. One has to surmise that the long-term aim of Pyongyang is to establish itself as a major international player and this needs to be explored along strategic lines.

One of the most established norms in international politics suggests that countries with nuclear weapons do not go to war and one must assume North Korea's aim is to become part of this international balance of power. For example, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons between 1994 and 1996 - a move that led many experts to suggest that Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 would not have happened had Ukraine retained its nuclear threat. This kind of 'counter-power' is not lost on Kim Jong-un and many feel this is the kind of outcome he most desires.

Of course, a key dynamic in all of this is the danger of a reactionary response from Donald Trump. The world waits in trepidation as two emotionally divisive leaders face off.

In the west, the belief is we must refrain from engaging in threats with North Korea and explore more diplomatic channels. Sanctions are the primary weapon that must be used against North Korea. Up to 80 percent of North Korean trade is with neighbouring China, making Chinese President Xi Jinping the most important player right now in helping to curb North Korean intransigence. This looming crisis needs to be cauterised from within the Pacific region - the kind of resolution that doesn't require one of Trump's late night Tweets.

The heightened sense of anxiety and concern expressed by South Korea is also to be expected as millions of lives are now under threat. But they too must be encouraged to withhold from the kind of knee-jerk response North Korea desires. China is the key player and the west should use all its diplomatic resolve to ensure it curbs Kim Jong-un.

New Ross Standard