Korean Peninsula On Powder Keg
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
With the test of intercontinental missile by North Korea on May 13, peace and stability in the Korean peninsula has become a matter of concern for entire humanity. The inexorable way with which North Korea is pushing its limits to emerge as a nuclear power and the zero some approach of the western countries in dealing with this threat indicates that the Korean peninsula is being crafted as a theatre of a new global war.
Sanctions and militarisation
Since the 1953 armistice between North and South Korea, the situation in the Korean peninsula has never been as dangerously close to war as it is today, and North Korea is not only to blame. There is a strong tendency in international diplomacy to depict North Korea as the sole factor for the development of this situation. But a close observation of the unfolding situation reveals that the policy of the USA and western capitalist countries to strangle North Korea by imposing unending sanctions and militarisation of South Korea as a counterbalance is responsible for the situation.
North Korea is living as a beleaguered nation under constant threat of war with the US-backed South Korea whose defence capability has been shored up with the presence of American army on its soil. As the armistice signed in 1953 was never replaced by a permanent peace treaty the two countries are technically in a state of war. The clouds of hostilities are gathering ever darker since the past few years and western powers are contributing to further aggravate the situation through their policy of exerting more intense pressure on North Korea.
The sustained tension in the Korean peninsula has fluctuated between a period of conciliation and bellicosity in the relation with South and North Korea.
From 2000 onward, the relation between the two countries had improved considerably for some time raising hope that the Korean crisis could be averted through negotiated settlement. There were emotional moments of family reunion for people separated since the Korean war of 1950-53. Even the leaders of the two countries considered bete noir for each other for a long time had shaken hands during the Pyongyang Summit held in 2007. This period even saw the inauguration of a freight train across the border.
But the relationship between the two countries took a downturn the same year when North Korea sank a South Korean ship killing 40 sailors onboard. South Korea, together with the United States, has been building immense pressure on North Korea since. They have even managed to rally Japan and major European powers against it.
In addition to the constant threat it faces from the 28,500 US military stationed in South Korea, it has also been brought to bear the crushing UN sanctions. In the whole world, China remains the only strategic ally of North Korea. Of late China, too, has started to show signs of exasperation with Korea in the face of its policy bordering on brinkmanship. Despite China’s displeasure, however, Korea remains unfazed and the hostile exchange of war rhetoric between the US and North Korea has kept the Korean peninsula as volatile as ever.
In the face of extreme isolation to which North Korea has been pushed to and the constant threat of invasion from the US, the former has decided to tenaciously cling to nuclear deterrent. Beginning its pursuit for nuclear power from its first nuclear reactor built at Yongbyon in 1965 with Russian assistance, North Korea has been secretly trying to attain nuclear capability.
The world was aware of its intent, but was overtaken when North Korea announced in 2004 that it had developed nuclear weapon by enriching plutonium. Instead of starting serious process of taking steps for de-escalation of tension, the western world derided the Korean achievement as false rhetoric. It put additional psychological burden on the Central Asian communist state to prove itself.
Earlier in 2004, US President Bill Clinton had signed an agreement with North Korea to freeze its quest of nuclearisation in exchange for foods. Korea was pursuing a relentless militarisation at the cost of famine, starvation and death of its people. But the world took the policy of keeping the North Korean people famished and naked instead of helping them to understand that building fortress in isolation was not the best strategy for survival. As a result, North Korea thought that the only way for its survival was to acquire nuclear capability. In 2006, North Korea announced its first test of nuclear weapon.
North Korea’s progression towards nuclear power status reached a new height in 2015 when it announced that it had developed nuclear weapon capable of hitting the United States. It was a grave signal, but the western world did not believe that Korea was capable of doing this. The tendency to disparage Korea was so deep that when Korea announced its successful launch of a missile from submarine, the western world mockingly said that it was a dummy missile fired from a floating platform to hoodwink the world.
Instead of formulating pragmatic policy of finding ways of engaging North Korea in fruitful dialogue, the US pursued a policy of trying to bring it on its knees with a show of overwhelming force. In response, North Korea has displayed greater defiance unleashing a string of missile tests and nuclear explosions culminating in an announcement later that year of an explosion of a hydrogen bomb, but as usual the western world took it as a hoax.
There was a possibility of luring Korea away from the disastrous course if the United States had agreed to supply fuel, foods and light water reactor which it had demanded for peaceful use of nuclear energy. North Korea had given significant gesture shutting down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which was described even by IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei ‘a good step in the right direction’.
But the US’s policy to arm South Korea and its steps to deploy Terminal High Altitude Defence System in that country provoked North Korea to reassemble the plant and continue with its nuclear programme. It was only when North Korea detonated an underground nuclear device with a yield of over 10kt, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, remarked that the cause of making North Korea abandon its nuclear programme was ‘a lost cause’.
North Korea has continued to conduct nuclear tests even after Donald Trump assumed power in America in January 2017. The scale and magnitude of nuclear tests from North Korea have gone up in proportion to the extent of sanction and military pressure from the western countries against it. Recently the US tried to scare North Korea by sending Warship Carl Vincent, but it soon pulled away when North Korea threatened to sink it.
The Korean peninsula has turned into a powder keg by the side of an oil depot. A single spark can lead the world to a nuclear Armageddon putting the whole world at the risk of being caught into a global conflict.
North Korea is now a de-facto nuclear power and as Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said it is the result of the western policy of intimidation. Now the situation has reached such a stage that any attempt not to recognise it as a member of nuclear club is to refuge to recognise a conflagration which has already started to shoot flames into the sky. The US and its western allies should take responsibility for taking the crisis to the present state.
The United States policy of pampering South Korea at the cost of bringing North Korea on its knees has pushed the Korean peninsula to the point of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Further demonising and cornering of the besieged country may prove to be fatal miscalculation. The US and its western allies should refrain from hounding North Korea too much lest it should resort to extreme weapons bringing great catastrophe to the entire humanity.