North Korean Nuclear Threat Always ImminentPolitics / Propaganda Apr 12, 2013 - 05:12 PM GMT
North Korea’s young president-for-life may be creating a crisis atmosphere, in a strategy to force the US and other Security Council "declared nuclear" nations to recognize his nation as a nuclear weapons power. Alternate reasons for the belligerant North Korean stance are not in short supply - and notably include internal or domestic political issues, ironically due to slowly growing, but nevertheless real economic improvement in this totally isolated country.
Official announcements and newswire comments from South Korea, Japan, the US, China and Russia cover the spectrum of views, but the outlook has in past weeks constantly moved closer to military action. This would almost inevitably be nuclear.
As US and South Korean officials have many times warned, any apparent North Korean nuclear or missile testing preparations, seen by spy satellites, can always cover its real military preparations and mask its real intentions. North Korea is a master of nuclear chess games, rather than roulette.
As of April 12, US Secretary of State John Kerry has refused all consideration of allowing North Korea into the closed 5-nation "Declared Nuclear Power" group, the Security Council 5. North Korea is far from the only "non-declared" nuclear power, such as India or Pakistan, which does not accept this de facto exclusion.
One major problem is that leader Kim Jong Un’s motivation for his threatening rhetoric and military posturing may be "only economic", or mainly economic, hinged on UN sanctions against North Korea and North-South Korean economic cooperation or the lack of it. At present, averting war on the peninsula without emboldening the repressive North Korean regime and accepting its nuclear weapons is the main goal.
OUTDATED NUCLEAR RHETORIC
As we know, the global race for drone war capability now includes more than 75 nations actively developing their drone strike forces. In the US case, probably the present world leader in military drone strike capability, its approximately 7 500 armed drones already exceed its conventional USAF military airplane numbers by 50%. Attack on nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel storage facilities, nuclear waste processing centres, and other high damage potential installations, such as "Seveso-type" industrial plants, in enemy countries, is entirely feasible and relatively low cost using drones. Without massive and exorbitantly expensive "hardening" of all so-called civil nuclear facilities, and other prime high damage potential sites, any nation with such installations on its home territory is a soft target.
Nuclear war has already changed.
Claims, probably well founded that North Korea wants to be designated a nuclear power, bringing a major political victory for leader Kim, are already outdated by technology. His vaunted nuclear capabilities can be "taken out" quickly and cheaply by drones (and cruise missiles), anytime.
Allowing Kim to hype his repressive nationalism and further empower his unpopular regime are easy to see as "red lines in the sand", not only for the US, but South Korea and Japan in particular - two countries with large so-called civil nuclear facilities and almost instant "two screwdriver turns" technological capabilities of producing domestic national nuclear weapons, if they wanted.
Some U.S. intelligence officials agree. They see Kim as a Cold War-minded leader, who has likely concluded from the examples of Libya’s Muammar Khaddafi, who abandoned his nuclear program, and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashr al-Assad, whose nuclear facilities were destroyed by Israeli air attacks, that having a credible nuclear and missile arsenal is necessary to ensure his family and his regime’s survival. By developing and stationing fully-fledged nuclear weapons - on his home territory - he is invulnerable to invasion, overthrow and occupation. If attacked, he blows up his own country.
Nuclear deterrence has a new meaning!
To be sure, pyschological spin can be added to the analysis. Kim may be primarily posturing in the direction of China, showing that he is in the same mould, the same lineage as Mao Zedong and possibly even further back, to the Cold War heydays of Josef Stalin. At the time, as the quickest check on global geopolitical history will show, the threat of nuclear war was permanent.
NEW TWISTS, NEW DANGERS
Since arriving in power, Kim has already developed other fodder for his propaganda apparatus. One twist can be linked to his youthfulness - all analysts agree that Kim is far more unpredictable than previous leaders, including his late father, Kim Jong Il. For them, backing down was always an option, their confrontation strategy always had an exit option. The Young Kim may have "race memory" delusions of Stalin and Mao, but he is also an fan of US Major League basketball and rap music. Playing "contrarian" is part and parcel of the new North Korea.
North Korea’s threats to carry out "pre-emptive nuclear strikes" against the US (meaning Guam), but also against South Korean and Japanese so-called civil nuclear power plants, industrial centres and major urban areas, has already created evacuation fear in case of war. In brief, this is “psychological warfare", according to South Korean President Park Geun Hye’s official spokeswoman, this week.
General Motors had $8.9 billion sales volume in South Korea in 2012, the most among US owned major publicly traded companies. Othr exposed corporations in the US include Qualcomm semiconductors and National Oilwell Varco the Houston-based maker of oilfield equipment. In a context of rising uncertainty for business and the risk of unintended escalation, hopes that Kim does not want war remain relatively strong.
One back-out option for Kim may reside in the examples of India and Pakistan, which in 1998 simultaneously tested nuclear devices. Since the, both countries have assembled major arsenals that have brought nuclear balance of terror to the subcontinent, with all attempts at UN sanctions by the Security Council-5 sidelined by economic interests.
Unlike those nations, North Korea was a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which bars nuclear weapons development, but it withdrew in 2003, citing US threats, particularly President George W. Bush’s 2002 “axis of evil” speech. The present context of North Korean development of nuclear weapons and long-range nuclear missiles poses a threat to the US and its allies, but this threat disguises the "regime preserving" role of developing and stationing nuclear weapons on North Korean soil to stymie any attempt at military regime change attempts.
While American officials are looking to China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, to use its economic and political clout to rein in Kim and prevent armed conflict, the real context of nuclear roulette in the Korean peninsula and East Asia has to date been poorly analysed.
By Andrew McKillop
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.
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