Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
THE Korean peninsula’s strategic environment has become complex, ambiguous and unpredictable. The recent developments in the North East Asia alarmed about the probability of the escalation of the conflict. The brinksmanship between Pyongyang and Washington is inching the region towards nuclear Armageddon. The latter announced that United States military was ‘locked and loaded’. The former expressed its confidence in its defensive fence and also demonstrated a capability to inflict unacceptable damage on both the US and its regional allies. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not take President Trump blunt warning—fire and fury—seriously. He responded in kind. He demonstrated his deterring capability by continuing nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles tests. On September 3, 2017, Pyongyang conducted sixth nuclear test on its Punggye-ri testing site. North Korean claimed it had successfully tested a missile-ready hydrogen bomb.
Importantly, a few American scientists questioned the competence of North Koreans missile-ready hydrogen bomb skill and arrogantly declared it a mere propaganda. They are questioning the North Korean miniaturizing capability i.e. to shrink down nuclear warheads to fit on long-range ballistic missiles. The claims of the American scientific community, however, failed to diminish the worries of United States regional allies. The Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono stated: “The government confirms that North Korea conducted a nuclear test after examining information from the weather agency and other information.” According to the South Korean officials and independent nuclear scientists the yield—the amount of energy released by the weapon—to be 100 kilotons. The two intercontinental ballistic missiles tests in July 2017 and recent hydrogen bomb test provided North Korea capability to hit confidently targets at the mainland of the United States.
Admittedly, the engineering of hydrogen bomb is a cumbersome task. The sucessful testing of Hydrogen bomb by North Korea underscores the technological advancement of North Korea. Many analysts opined that ‘even if Pyongyang is exaggerating its atomic achievements, scientific evidence showed that it had crossed an important technological threshold. It conducted a test of a device, which is almost seven times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Undoubtedly, it is a city-buster. The hydrogen bomb provided Pyongyang a capability to destroy the major part of a city with even inaccurate intercontinental ballistic missile.
Washington, certainly, is immensely disturbed. A small regional actor is questioning the might of United States and also intimidating its regional allies. President Trump stated North Korea is “very hostile and dangerous to the United States.” He added, “North Korea is a rogue nation.” The statements of President Trump indicate about the probability of military action against North Korea. Is military adventurism against a nuclear weapon state a wise decision? The military operation against North Korea would be devastating. The American strategic community needs to act cautiously and rationally. Its open secret that Surgical strikes against North Korea will unleash nuclear duel in the region. Russian Federation and China had expressed their reservations over the hydrogen bomb test by North Korea. Paradoxically, both states condemned the testing of North Korea, and also stressed on the dialogue process to resolve the current tension between North Korea and United States. Conversely, Trump administration considers dialogue process an act of appeasement. President Trump opined, “appeasement with N-Korea will not work”. His judgment carries weight. In 1994 Washington had tried to engage Pyongyang. Both signed Agreed Framework. Intimidating attitude of American ruling elite frustrated the Authoritarian North Korean regime. Pyongyang quashed the agreement. And also withdrew from Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003. Since than, N-Korea’s nuclear weapon programme is on positive trajectory.
The Japanese and South Korean ruling elites seem confident about their defensive arrangement with the United States. South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated: “never allow North Korea to continue advancing its nuclear and missile technology.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he “would not tolerate.” In reality, Washington, Tokyo and Seoul had failed to cap and roll back the nuclear weapon program of Pyongyang. Consequently, the people of Japan and South Korea are feeling vulnerable. Hence, nationalist political parties have been pressurizing both the governments to develop their indigenous nuclear capability to check the blackmailing of North Korea. To conclude, the vulnerable Americans to the North Korean city busters may not allow their Congress and Administration to strike North Korea for the security of South Koreans and Japanese. Indeed, alliance is constituted for maximizing ones advantageous rather than enticing ones decay.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
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Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal