North Korean threat and spectre of a conflict
Is peaceful coexistence with neighbours and paying immediate and urgent heed to food problem the main responsibility of the regime or is it developing nuclear weapons to threaten everyone around and live in the state of constant crisis to realise the short-term narrow interests the ultimate goal? The altruistic and rational answer would seem obvious but that may not be the chosen path, writes Omar Khasru
NORTH Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons programme in a recent deal. The announcement of the agreement was made on February 29 simultaneously in Pyongyang, North Korean capital, and Washington, DC. This was supposed to pave the way for the resumption of stalled talks and a possible nuclear disarmament treaty with the North Korean regime.
Less than two months after that promising and hopeful announcement, North Korea issued a new, ominous and specific threat to its neighbour, saying it would reduce South Korea to ashes in less than four minutes. The only possible and viable way to carry out such wholesale destruction, unless it is an empty threat, would be by nuclear arms. That would indicate that the North has an array of such destructive weapons stashed away.
No other country in the civilised world even under the worst possible circumstances would issue such intimidating warning to another country. No other country in the modern day threatens a neighbour of total obliteration and devastation, with the possible exception of Sudan against the newly created South Sudan. But the stealthy and enigmatic North Korea does this almost routinely, except this time the serious threat is more specific, more sinister and more stern and strident.
The grim statement on April 23 was made on state-run television, interrupting regular programming, amidst rising tensions in the Korean peninsula. The menacing threat, disrupting regular TYV viewing, was an obvious attempt to add zeal, urgency and importance and a clear cut ‘we mean business’ message.
Earlier in the month, despite stringent objections from the US, Japan and South Korea and disregarding warning from the international community, North Korea launched a long-range rocket on April 13. The rocket disintegrated minutes after launch and fell into the sea.
The White House press secretary said the failed launch ‘threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own commitments.’ He added, ‘North Korea is further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry.’
Under a recent food pact with the United States, North Korea agreed to refrain from long-range missile launches and nuclear tests. In exchange, the United States would provide a year’s worth of healthy and high protein food for children younger than 10 and pregnant women.
In order to demonstrate its compliance to the deal North Korea insisted that the rocket was merely to put a weather satellite in orbit and not a missile. The US and South Korea, however, considered it a ballistic missile test in disguise. Such launches by North Korea breach UN Security Council resolutions.
The United States decided to call off the food aid as a result. The White House aides expressed their frustrations after the rocket launch soon after the food deal was agreed upon. The North Koreans’ ‘blatant disregard for their commitments makes it impossible for the United States to provide the nutritional assistance — for the North Korean people,’ said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.
Aid workers with first hand knowledge and familiarity with the chronic malnutrition and starvation in North Korean countryside were deeply disappointment. Some have questioned whether food aid should be linked to a missile ban. Withholding of US food aid would exacerbate and aggravate the suffering and malnourishment.
‘I have real questions about whether we should have linked humanitarian food assistance to the nuclear missile programme in the first place,’ said Mike Green, a former director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the Bush administration. ‘It is not the fault of the average North Korean who needs the food, who is at starvation level, that the regime is developing nuclear missiles.’
But, unfortunately, that is the way international politics, conflict and retribution work. The sanction against any regime, from Saddam Hussein to Bashar al-Assad, from Iran to North Korea, the last two accused of clandestinely developing nuclear weapons despite serious international concerns and trepidation, almost never adversely impact the privileged ruling elite but enhance the distress and misery of the common people manifold.
International leaders had urged North Korea to cancel the launch, but North Korea refused to back down, insisting the operation is for peaceful purposes. Similarly, Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purpose to produce energy and the enriched uranium will not be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Why would a country with vast and the second highest known reserve of crude oil need nuclear plants to augment the supply of energy is a relevant question. And a game of hide and seek in terms of visit and inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency would also seem a bit suspicious.
Unlike North Korea, economic woes are infinitely less prevalent and pervasive hunger and malnutrition among the population does not seem rampant in Iran. The moral question is does a country, with widespread poverty and malnutrition, have any justification to waste valuable resources on developing nuclear weapons to intimidate neighbours and impede world peace to glorify the might of an insensitive and mysterious regime.
North Korea earlier in the month also commenced the extensive and long drawn out elaborate celebration of the birth of nation’s founder and the originator of the dynastic rule, Kim Il Sung. Named as the ‘Eternal President’, Kim was born in August 1912. About 33 years later, following North Korea’s liberation from Japan, he had pledged to build a nation on wealth, strength and knowledge.
His grandson, Kim Jong Un, is now North Korea’s ‘supreme commander’, a title he has recently assumed, following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. Elaborate and extensive 100th anniversary celebrations of Kim Il Sung’s birth have been planned for years.
State TV showed large number of North Korean troops as they marched in tight formation. Music was interspersed by coordinated chants. Kim Jong Un addressed the crowd in his first televised speech since becoming the North Korean leader. His remarks elucidated stirring applause from the assembled throng.
Much of the 20-minute speech focused on the importance of the revolution headed by his grandfather. It was full of bluster, claims of success and promise of a rosy future and ultimate victory of the revolution. Among other issues, including the strength and importance of North Korea’s military, he vowed never to let the citizens go hungry again.
Therein lies the dilemma and the dichotomy. Is mitigation of the hunger and malnourishment the main concern or is it augmentation of the influence, authority and the privilege of the armed forces, especially since the troops are the main source and pillar of long and unhindered stay at the helm, the main priority.
Is peaceful coexistence with neighbours and paying immediate and urgent heed to food problem the main responsibility of the regime or is it developing nuclear weapons to threaten everyone around and live in the state of constant crisis to realise the short-term narrow interests the ultimate goal? The altruistic and rational answer would seem obvious but that may not be the chosen path.
For months North Korea has lambasted South Korean president Lee Myung-bak and his regime for insulting their leaders and criticising a new cruise missile system capable of striking anywhere in the south. South Korea described the North’s actions as a ‘grave provocation’ and said it would respond with ‘appropriate countermeasures’.
A recent South Korean intelligence report said that North Korea is planning a new nuclear test in the area where it staged previous atomic blasts. The report noted that the two previous rocket launches that purportedly were intended to put satellites into orbit were followed a few weeks or months later by nuclear tests.
The South Korean vow of countervailing measures and the intelligence report suggesting an impending North Korean nuclear test to defuse the embarrassing failure of the rocket launch, among other things, may have mightily irked the North Korea, bent on displaying the resolve and power of the new young supreme leader. Hence the alarming threat to annihilate South Korea within minutes.
South Korean officials responded, urging North Korea to stop the threats. ‘We urge North Korea to immediately stop this practice,’ an official spokesman told the Associated Press. ‘We express deep concern that the North’s threats and accusations have worsened inter-Korean ties and heightened tensions,’ he added.
So the turbulent region, perhaps the whole world, is in a wild see saw ride between peaceful coexistence combined with meaningful negotiation to resolve outstanding issues on the one hand and issuing serious threat against a neighbour followed by counter threat and the possibility of impetuous reckless action that may endanger the fragile peace. The hope is cooler, rational reasoning and saner actions will prevail
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