Korean Crisis: Cool Heads Should Prevail


Hira Bahadur Thapa



The launching of Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) last month has invited fury of the international community. This time the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution applying the toughest ever economic sanctions against the DPRK. Indeed, North Korea also known as the DPRK has been fast moving to gain nuclear capabilities. Its recent tests of missiles of various ranges are seen as North Korea’s attempt to acquire delivery capacity. Though not confirmed by the experts internationally about the range, the July 28 ICBM, launched by North Korea, is believed to have the power to reach the continental US, including Los Angeles.



Despite the fact that North Korea has been found testing missiles continuously since February 2017, the latest test has really alarmed the world, and in particular, the US because these two countries are technically at war, having fought 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted with UN armistice but no peace treaty was signed to signify the formal end of the war. Some commentators have cast doubt on the efficacy of the August 5 UN Security Council resolution that has slapped sanctions considering the past history of enforcement. About half a dozen UN resolutions have been passed in the past that seek to punish the regime of Kim Jong-un. The impact of those resolutions has not been felt. Otherwise, North Korea would have hesitated to proceed with rapid advancement of its nuclear weapons and deliverable long range missiles.

Nevertheless, there is optimism this time. The passage of above resolution has gained the support of all the fifteen members of the Security Council. Most of the times powerful countries like China and Russia either have blocked the adoption of the resolution or tried to undermine by abstaining in the UN vote.

This is why US president Donald Trump expressed his euphoria after the adoption of the UN resolution saying that it was great to have both China and Russia behind the vote. His remarks suggested that with the backing of these countries the economic measures envisioned in the resolution to pressure North Korea to sit for dialogue to peacefully resolve the nuclear and missile crisis would be implemented effectively.

It may be relevant to have a review of the sanctions resolution, in tabling which the US tried to make sure that China, North Korea’s benefactor, would go along.

Rick Gladstone of The New York Times (August 6) has commented that enforcement of the sanctions that restrict North Korean exports like coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood would slash the country’s revenue by one third, which is $ 1 billion. If true, this would have very negative impact on North Korean economy.

Furthermore, in an effort to squeeze North Korean economy the sanctions include a restriction on Foreign Trade Bank and the number of workers abroad which would limit the remittances flow into Pyongyang.

While the US administration is hopeful to have the most expansive sanctions resolution enforced with North Korea’s two neighbours and allies like China and Russia, the militant response coming out of Pyongyang to the UN resolution only heightens the tensions in the region.

Historically, North Korea has been responding with another conduct of nuclear test and tests of new missile and this time may not be an exception based on belligerence shown by the authorities, as reflected in the official statement issued last Tuesday.

Although the American administration believes that new resolution’s effective enforcement will pressure North Korea to abandon work on nuclear field because it would feel the real pain of economic hardship, doubts have been expressed by experts if that will happen in reality.

One of the analysts maintaining reservation on the effects of sanctions resolution is Jae H. Ku, director of US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. He has said, “I don’t think this is something that will bring North Korea to its knees”. (The New York Times August 6)

But the tone of US officials attending the recent ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila, including mainly of Susan A. Thornton, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, suggested that the resolution has the higher chance of enforcement and, thus would achieve the goals of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula short of war. She was quoted (The New York Times) “ The fact that the Chinese were helpful and instrumental really in setting up this set of sanctions, this really sweeping set of international  sanctions, shows that they realise it’s a huge problem that they need to take on and is a threat to them”

No wonder then that China’s dashing foreign minister has also been quoted in the press that he delivered a clear message to his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho when they together attended Manila ASEAN meeting a few days ago. Wang said to Ri “Do not violate the UN’s decision or provoke the international society’s goodwill by conducting missile launching or nuclear tests”.

Notwithstanding this the militant response and counter response between North Korea and the US threatening each other of fire and fury indicate the escalation of tensions, and in the opinion of some observers it has become one of the most serious foreign policy challenges as yet of the Trump administration.


Nuke threat

Following the passage of the most stringent sanctions resolution by the UN Security Council, the official statement from the North Korean government came through its foreign minister, which was widely quoted in the world press. It said, “if the regime’s supreme dignity is threatened, it will preemptively annihilate the countries that threaten it, with all means, “including the nuclear ones”.

Last Tuesday president Trump was quoted, whose words are seen as the most threatening ones in response to North Korea’s bellicose statement. He has threatened to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangered the US. (The New York Times August 8) Some have tried to see parallel between this speech of president Trump with that of former president Truman, who delivered a stunning threat to Japan in the run-up to the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima in 1945. Conspicuously, now Trump’s speech is aimed at a nuclear power of Asia though illegitimate, then Japan did not possess nukes unlike to North Korea.

Given the exchange of such rhetoric with threats of military action the situation in the Korean Peninsula is more destabilising. Naturally, the South Korean president Moon Jae-un has cautioned that military action won’t resolve the nuclear issue. The tensions erupted in the region needs cooler heads to prevail so that peaceful diplomatic approach to resolve the nuclear crisis becomes the order of the day, which would help gradual deescalation and prevent the possible war.


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