[Viewpoint] Patience on North’s nuclear politics

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[Viewpoint] Patience on North’s nuclear politics

The already vast North Korean nuclear problem seems to be getting even worse. Following its long-range rocket launches and nuclear tests, North Korea engaged in additional tests and launches of long- and short-range missiles within a two-day time-span this month, as if they had nothing to do with stricter sanctions against North Korea by the international community, including the United States and United Nations.

Why? It is mainly due to the North’s preference to focus on internal variables related to the health of reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

It shows that the North has no time to look to the left and the right to see what is occurring. Pyongyang aims to help Kim’s successor to the throne within the shortest possible time, and prevent a power vacuum from occurring in the country, in case of Kim’s untimely death.

In other words, the tests are intended to strengthen national unity, by drawing on the “symbols” of military-first politics. Therefore, the international community faces no need, for the time being, to be alternately pleased or upset about the unpredictable behavior of the North Korean regime and have a hostile “eye for an eye” response.

Instead, as shown in the responses of the United States and the United Nations against the North’s provocative missile launch, a low-key policy featuring neglect and self-control may be a solution to resolving the crisis.

In fact, reflecting back on international alliances surrounding the North Korean nuclear issue, we need to ponder whether or not they were simply mechanical responses.

As shown in the examples of a forced investigation of the North Korean ship Seosanho in December 2002 - which served as a motive to launch the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative - or BBC ChinaHo, regarded as one of the major successful examples of the PSI since its launch, the U.S. can exert its power on the North by calling for the participation of allies or member states under other existing international export control institutions, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

The most pivotal legal basis is United Nations Security Council resolution 1540, passed in 2004, which concerns the export control of weapons of mass destruction. The other three WMD resolutions (1695, 1718, and 1874) regarding North Korea are nothing but more concrete versions of the aforementioned resolution.

An important constraint exists in relation to China’s role, and it has been overlooked so far ?? China’s traditional siege mentality.

Following the dispute between China and the Soviet Union in the 1950s, China has suffered from an obsession that it is mobbed by the former Soviet Union’s “iron ring,” connecting Islamic Central Asian countries, India and Vietnam, or is surrounded by Taiwan and hostile forces such as Korea, the United States and Japan in Northeast Asia. Once Korea is reunified by the South’s free democratic forces if the North collapses, China is afraid that its vital buffer zone will disappear.

The recent outburst of violence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region has something to do with China’s security sensitivities, as a U.S. Air Force base to support the mission in Afghanistan is already established in China’s Islamic neighbor Kyrgyzstan.

Considering the present circumstances, no response may provide a best solution. Overreacting to the North’s attention-getting gestures is exactly what the North wants. Having the patience to endure this difficult time is the most appropriate measure.

More than 40 to 50 nuclear tests are required to develop appropriately working nuclear weapons. It is not such a simple task for the North, a country with a relatively small territory.

In addition to the North’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons, another daunting task facing South Korea is the risk of emergencies involving the 20 nuclear power plants here, from which the radioactive contamination would have destructive power comparable to that of a nuclear weapon.

Therefore, the two Koreas should seek ways to conclude a treaty on banning mutual attacks against nuclear power facilities, as in the agreement between India and Pakistan in 1991, for short-term and long-term periods pursuant to the “additional protocols to the landmark Geneva Conventions” on humanitarianism in 1977.


*The writer is a Professor of International Politics in Myongji University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Gyung-Soo
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