If the possibility of a nuclear war sounds like a good plot for a blockbuster film, then North Korea could soon turn that plot into a reality.
On the 9th of September, North Korea shocked the world with its illicit nuclear detonation. It caused a tremor of 5.3 in magnitude, much more powerful than the atomic fallout at Nagasaki to end WWII. Although North Korea claims that their nuclear arsenal’s presence is to, ‘secure genuine peace given the threat of the U.S.’ nuclear armament’, it is clear that its existence intimidates both the Asian countries and the West. The world now faces a hard time devising effective measures against this rogue state.
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, North Korea remains a communist state. Isolated, it resorted to developing its own nuclear deterrent as a means of fending off intruders in the post-Cold War era. In the 17 years of his dictatorship, Kim Jong-il had tested over 16 missiles and bombs. Then, on October 10, 2006 he carried the first underground nuclear test. His son, Kim Jong-un, accelerated the country’s nuclear development once he came into power, in 2011. Within five years, North Korea had tested 33 ballistic missiles and 3 nuclear bombs.
Presently, North Korea poses an increasingly alarming threat. Dictator Kim aims at producing ‘a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads with higher strike power’. The new missile tests could reach the United States on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. According to a North Korean monitoring site 38 North, abnormal activities were observed in Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site after the detonation in September. North Korea expert, Victor Cha argued that ‘this is very clearly a serious effort at amassing real nuclear capabilities that they can use to deter the U.S. and others’.
Despite this, the United States has continued its policy of ‘strategic patience’. In essence, strategic patience is Obama’s policy of escalating sanctions with the aim of halting North Korea’s nuclear advances. Mirroring the United States’ foreign policy, the United Nations has been imposing its own sanctions with increasing severity. The travel ban restricts North Koreans from entering other countries. The ban also ostracises North Korea from business or cultural exchanges with the outside world. To further avert a possible nuclear crisis, the United Nations has frozen North Korea’s assets and banned the country from exporting coal for foreign exchange earnings. No arms, light weapons, aviation or rocket fuel should be traded with North Korea.
As a secondary strategy, peace talks have yield little results. The closest attempt would be the ‘2012 Leap Day Deal’, which sought to reward North Korea with food aid for a ban on uranium enrichment or weaponry tests. Weeks later, North Korea pulled out the deal when it launched a satellite. Apart from peace talks, the West subsidises media broadcasts in North Korea. Stations such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia disseminate news about the outside world, hoping this will lead to the eventual fall of the autocratic regime. Information, Obama stressed in a YouTube interview, would ‘bring about change’ and ‘over time you will see a regime like this collapse’.
Yet, repeated nuclear tests prove that ‘strategic patience’ fails catastrophically. These strategies only skirt around the problem. Armament expert Daryl Kimball believed that this strategy only meant to save the country from any ‘significant political risk of engaging with the North’. The Obama administration avoided any stringent, punitive measures such as sea interception. Blatantly, South Korean journalist Daniel Kim considered the strategy to be ‘inaction’.
If these strategies managed to achieve something, China and Russia have halted any further progress. Following the nuclear testing, China agreed to join hands with the United States to ‘co-ordinate on denuclearisation in North Korea’, including the observance of sanctions imposed by the United Nations. However, China has not stuck to its promise. Since the start of the ban on imported coal from North Korea in April, China’s cola imports have surged by 60 per cent to 2.5 million tonnes by August.
Then there’s Russia. Once a communist country, Russia has been supporting North Korea through reciprocal deals. Approximately 25,000 North Korean labourers are hired to work in Russia on construction and logging industries. As a result, North Korea earns over £1.6 billion (USD$2 million) in foreign exchange earnings from Russia, China and Mongolia combined. During the recent nuclear dispute, critics have even speculated that China secretly provided the much-needed nuclear bomb materials. Both China and Russia continue to flout the sanctions and rules agreed upon, thereby aggravating a highly volatile situation.
Given the ineffectiveness of response by the international community, a serious crisis from North Korea arguably looms on the horizon. Here and now, South Korea and Japan, allies of the United States, are within North Korea’s missile range. In 10 years, North Korea could threaten the West Coast of the United States. In this globalised world, any nuclear threat concerns almost every country. It is no longer possible to remain aloof and only consider your own country’s interests. Based on the principle of the butterfly effect, a nuclear fallout on Asian soil may bring more than a tornado on the other side of the globe.
Dealing with the nuclear threat is not a choice between inaction and action, or pacifism and war. If one opts for inaction, the world will still have war. Days after the impeachment of the South Korean President, Park Geun-hye in early December, North Korea ordered a full-scale military drill against a mock-up of her house. Any country could presently trigger a nuclear reaction from North Korea. Now is the time to take action against this nuclear desperado.