UPI Editor Emeritus
Washington (UPI) Oct 10, 2006
The worst that could happen is that North Korea decides, for some lunatic reason, to use the nuclear weapon it now claims to have, whether on Tokyo, Beijing, Vladivostok or the American military bases in South Korea. But far more likely, and the second-worst that could happen, is that these various worried neighbors take their own steps to prepare a credible deterrent against the rogue state of North Korea.
China and Russia already have nuclear weapons, and so does the U.S. military. But South Korea and Japan, and possibly Taiwan a little further to the south, are all threshold nuclear states. They are familiar with nuclear technology and have highly advanced scientific and engineering capabilities.
Japan has long been reckoned to be a few weeks away from a nuclear weapon. South Korea is probably in the same league. Taiwan had to be very strongly pressured by the Carter administration in the 1970s to suspend its own secret nuclear weapons program. The strongest cause to worry is not that the North Korean regime invites the obliteration of its country by using its new nukes (presuming that Sunday's suspiciously low-yield test is in fact a credible weapon) but that it could open the floodgates of nuclear proliferation in Asia.
Asia already has four nuclear powers in China, India, Russia and Pakistan. It may already have a fifth, in North Korea. And there is alarmingly strong reason to believe that the ayatollahs on Iran are determinedly on the way to making Iran a sixth.
From understandable instincts of self-protection, the other advanced industrial nations of Asia would be very strongly tempted to follow suit. Singapore and Australia would have little technological difficulty in becoming nuclear powers. Vietnam and Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines might take somewhat longer to develop a credible weapon, but now that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is visibly unraveling, the constraints against an Asia of 10 or a dozen nuclear states are eroding very fast.
The problem here is that most of the nuclear deterrence theory that was developed during the Cold War depended on the dominant role of two rational actors who each had a very great deal to lose, the United States and the Soviet Union. One very happy result of the Cuban missile crisis was that Moscow and Washington sat down and began to talk seriously about the implications of the nuclear balance. Within a year of the Cuban crisis of 1962, they had negotiated a ban on nuclear tests in space, and from there they built up the whole complex edifice of arms control negotiations, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, the Pals (permissive action links) that safeguarded the weapons against accidental or rogue launch.
We have become so accustomed to this stabilized nuclear relationship, in which the rational countries of France and Britain were happy to join, and by whose loose rules China has tacitly agreed to abide, that we now take it for granted.
The world has been lucky in that the most recent nuclear proliferation of India and Pakistan joining the club is also a direct deterrence relationship between two countries who have strong diplomatic and military links to the nuclear pioneers, the United States, Russia and China. This one-on-one deterrence relationship between India and Pakistan tends to be reasonably stable, and the senior nuclear powers have made considerable efforts since India and Pakistan came alarmingly close to war in 2002 to improve their command and control systems and to establish a nuclear doctrine that reduces the chance of surprise.
None of these controlling structures of systems apply to North Korea, and to the regional nuclear proliferation it is likely to provoke. North Korea already breaks most of the rules of responsible government. It routinely counterfeits the money of others; it allows its own people to starve by the hundreds of thousands; it runs concentration camps of political prisoners; it has engaged directly in acts of terrorism and it lies and cheats in international negotiations. North Korea cannot, on its record and without dramatic changes in its behavior, be trusted to be a responsible member of the nuclear club.
This is not to say that it cannot be deterred, but effective deterrence will almost certainly mean that its near neighbors who feel themselves at risk will have take out some nuclear insurance of their own, and this is the real problem. The presence of four or five or six or more nuclear powers in the same region complicates the diplomacy massively. The kind of stability that defined the U.S.-Soviet relationship, and has begun to define the India-Pakistan relationship, cannot be relied on when statesmen have to weight the responses of four, five, six or more other nuclear powers, most of them new to nuclear doctrine and strategic theory. The sheer complexity itself become destabilizing.
Worse still, such new nuclear powers will each for some time deploy only the most rudimentary delivery systems, initially from aircraft and then from short and medium-range missile (like India and Pakistan) which raise their dreadful prospect that they may have to use their nukes in a crisis or risk losing them. With only a handful of nuclear weapons at two or three airbases or a few missile sites, they become highly vulnerable to the kind of surprise attack that invites them to launch their own retaliatory strikes on warning. They have no second-strike capability.
All this is highly destabilizing, not just of the region, but of the mental balance and rational thinking of the local statesmen who suddenly have to confront the realities of living in a nuclear standoff in which their nation, their population and their entire culture can in effect be obliterated overnight.
This is what proliferation means. It takes us from the stability of the kind of nuclear marriage that came to characterize U.S.-Soviet relations into the emotional chaos of an orgy. It is now upon us in Asia. It is almost certainly coming to the Middle East, where even the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons has Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey thanking very hard about their own nuclear options.
The world has become a much, much more dangerous place.
earlier related report
So, was Kim Jong Il's nuclear test irrational and unreasonable?
"No," says Joo Song-ha, a defector from North Korea.
"It is the most realistic choice the North Korean leader can make to break the current hardships," said Joo, who sought asylum in 2001 in South Korea after graduating from the North's prestigious Kim Il Sung University.
Kim Jong Il's top priority is the survival of his kingdom, which is facing growing external pressure and worsening economic troubles at home in the wake of U.S.-led financial sanctions, Joo said.
"By conducting a nuclear test, Kim wants to boast his leadership and tighten his grip on the people suffering from economic woes," Joo said.
Announcing the nuclear test on Monday, the North's state media said it "marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA (North Korean People's Army) and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability."
The nuclear test was conducted "at a stirring time, when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim Tae-hyun, a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul's Chung-Ang University, agrees that the North Korean leadership has much to gain internally and externally by proving its nuclear capabilities.
"The nuclear weapon test was partly aimed at satisfying the country's military, the backbone of Kim Jong-Il's iron-fisted rule," he said. "The North Korean leader needs the military's backing now more than ever in the face of mounting outside pressure."
Kim Woo-sang, a Yonsei University professor, also said the North's self-proclaimed nuclear test was designed to tighten domestic control over the people by fanning the sense of the prestige and pride of the leadership.
To maximize political gain, the North timed the nuclear test to coincide with the eve of the founding anniversary of the country's ruling Workers' Party -- Oct. 10 -- and on the day following the anniversary of Kim's rise to the Party's top post, Oct. 8.
Jeong Se-hyun, a prominent North Korea specialist who served as Seoul's pointman on the North, said the North's nuclear test was also aimed at deterring what it calls threats of U.S. aggression.
"Kim Jong-Il believes nuclear weapons would serve as an unparalleled deterrent to protect his regime," he said. No nuclear-armed country has been attacked yet by a fellow atomic power, Jeong said.
Kim has been concerned about possible U.S. military actions on the North. He was shocked and frustrated by the fall of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. When the U.S.-led war started in Iraq in March 2003, Kim vanished from public view for six weeks, sparking speculation he was hiding in a bunker for fear of attack.
The North's announcement of its nuclear test is also aimed at influencing the outcome of next month's U.S. mid-term elections by playing up the perceived failure of U.S. policy toward the North, analysts say.
The North wants U.S. Democrats to wrest control of Congress from the Republicans in the elections and soften the U.S. stance toward Pyongyang.
Analysts say that North Korea is expected to seek to sustain itself with the nuclear deterrent until the Bush administration is replaced.
Bae Jin-soo, a research professor at Korea University in Seoul, said Pyongyang does not believe the United States could launch a military strike on the North under a United Nations led by South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-noon.
Ban was unanimously selected on Monday by the U.N. Security Council as the new U.N. chief to succeed Kofi Annan, who steps down at the end of December. Confirmation of his appointment awaits a General Assembly vote. Ban's country has long been opposed to any military strike on North Korea, which could raise military tensions on the divided peninsula.
The North is also ready to endure tougher financial sanctions caused by the nuclear test, analysts say. The country has long sustained economic and diplomatic isolation, which has raised doubts about the effectiveness of economic sanctions on it.
Kim would rather seek to use tougher sanctions to fuel anti-U.S. sentiment and create a war mood, under which Kim would crack down on any dissidents. North Korea has a long history of responding to outside pressures by tightening its grip on the people, rather than seeking change.
"From Kim Jong-Il's point of view, the nuclear test can be an optimal choice to boost the survivability of his regime by reducing threats within and without," said Kim of Yonsei University. "Thus, any countermeasures against the North's nuclear test should be made after understanding the North's nuclear strategy."
earlier related report
"North Korea has turned into the ninth nuclear power," Sergei Ivanov, who is also deputy prime minister, told journalists, adding that North Korea's nuclear test is a serious blow to the nuclear non-proliferation regime,
"Such events arouse justifiable fear and indignation," he said.
He said Russian experts have no doubt that the explosion was a nuclear one, but refused to give details.
"We have our secret methods, but I will not discuss them," he said
The minister said no dangerous substances in the atmosphere have yet been detected following North Korea's nuclear test.
"No traces of substances harmful to humans have been detected in the atmosphere," he said.
Ivanov said that Russian experts made a precise evaluation of the nuclear explosion's strength, without specifying the figure.
The Russian Defense Ministry put the figure at 5-15 kilotons of TNT equivalent Monday, while initial U.S. estimates were substantially lower.
earlier related report
India was the first to claim that it had conducted a nuclear test because it knew that Pakistan was preparing for a similar test. Pakistan said the same with regard to India.
It does not matter now what they said or did, because we cannot turn back the clock. India and Pakistan have the bomb, and North Korea may acquire it within a few years.
The experience of Pakistan, which is not a very rich country, showed that a considerable amount of time passes between the first test and the delivery of the first few nuclear warheads to the army.
North Korea is poorer than Pakistan, and so it is impossible to forecast how long it will take it to produce warheads for the army. Its recent nuclear tests were not very successful, but it will definitely create the bomb sooner or later.
Worse still, Iran and several other countries, possibly Japan and South Korea, may also build the bomb in response to their neighbor's actions. Current international law stipulates few punishments for a country that dares to create nuclear weapons. The non-proliferation regime provides for a voluntary commitment by signatories not to transfer nuclear technology to other countries, which are forbidden to seek such technology if they have signed the non-proliferation treaty.
India has not signed it, and North Korea has withdrawn its signature. They cannot therefore be officially punished for their fully independent nuclear weapons research. Every country may decide what sanctions it will impose on the offending country, but only within the framework of bilateral relations. Such sanctions may include cessation of trade or diplomatic relations. The use of bilateral or multilateral military force against such countries is inadmissible without the decision of the U.N. Security Council.
The Security Council discussed North Korea's nuclear tests when Pyongyang announced its intention to conduct them. Last weekend, the council coordinated a draft statement urging it to give up its nuclear test plans and return to the six-country disarmament talks.
However, the statement did not refer to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which covers "measures not involving the use of armed force". Should it be considered that such measures "have proved to be inadequate," it may be decided to use armed force.
The United States' proposal to include the reference in the statement was rejected, which is logical. All possible non-military measures against North Korea have been tried, including by Pyongyang itself, which has completely isolated itself from the international community.
The next conceivable step would be the suspension of humanitarian food aid, or a transport blockade by South Korea, Russia and China. But these measures would not be reasonable, since they would precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe for innocent Koreans.
Other suggestions, such as the United States' idea of using warships to patrol the North Korean coast, would be useless.
Over the past few years, diplomats have been looking for ways to close the legal loophole in international law that Pyongyang has used. Traditionally, a carrot and stick policy has been suggested, which involves convincing or forcing nuclear aspirants to terminate their weapons programs, for example by accusing them of an imaginary sin.
In my view, the international community has brandished the stick once too often. The war against Iraq has shown North Korea and other countries that having the bomb, even in international isolation, is safer than negotiating with those who hold the stick. Even the six-country talks, where all the regional powers pledged to provide additional guarantees to U.S. promises to Pyongyang, have not allayed North Korean fears.
In short, the world should not have brandished the stick and should have offered sweeter carrots. This is the conclusion to be drawn from years of international efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem.
Now everyone, including the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China, is angry. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who usually controls his emotions very well, said at a meeting with government members: "Russia roundly condemns the test in North Korea, which has inflicted great damage on the non-proliferation process."
Chinese diplomats have said Pyongyang's action was "shameless," a word they have not used with regard to anyone for years.
Harsh actions are possible now, including military ones, if only to show that Pyongyang's challenge will not go unanswered. It will be much more difficult to prevent such actions now, which is why the official spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded that North Korea immediately return to the non-proliferation regime and has called on all countries concerned to show restraint.
In this situation, the global powers should revise their non-proliferation policy of the past few years. Russia warned them, both privately and publicly, that putting pressure on Korea or Iran would not have the desired effect. It also reminded the world that some countries voluntarily abandoned their nuclear status, referring to South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Russia and the United States successfully took joint action to convince these countries to make that decision. And they did not use the stick to attain their objective.
(Dmitry Kosyrev is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article was reprinted with permission from the news agency.)
Source: United Press International
Source: RIA Novosti
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