Fair to say we live in strange times: Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, the first to do so in over six centuries, while a meteor shower rained down on the Urals, and Paralympian/Olympian Oscar Pistorius has been murkily implicated in the tragic shooting of his wife. Lastly, but certainly by no means least, there is the formidable prospect that the world’s most secretive state has been testing nuclear weapons.
Recently North Korea signalled it’s exciting third foray into the ongoing development and testing of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. As reported by KCNA, North Korea’s propaganda platform, the continuation of their nuclear programme is part of an ongoing strategy protecting their “safety and sovereignty against the US’s aggressive behaviour”. This newest weapon is also thought to be lighter and higher yield than those previously tested, which points to the possibility of eventually launching a rocket-mounted atomic missile. This would give North Koreans the scope to potentially target the Western coast of America if they so choose. Nuclear war doesn’t seem so farfetched perhaps?
The overwhelming urge to restore world order however, through enforcing as many crippling sanctions that the UN can muster, is currently far outweighed by a more precarious political situation fast developing in North-East Asia.
…a change in attitude to the way in which they treat their rebellious neighbours…
Most noticeably, there are the permanently tense relations within the Korean peninsula. A change in political leadership in South Korea, expected later this month, will predictably bring a change in attitude to the way in which they treat their rebellious neighbours. An already hard-lined South Korean Government is likely to only worsen under the threat of nuclear dispute.
Meanwhile, the pursuit of nuclear power has also upset one of North Korea’s only political allies along the solitary road to communist utopia, China. Following previous nuclear testing in October 2006 and May 2009, China had urged North Korean leaders to suspend any further testing, hoping that these pleas had not fallen on deaf ears with the emergence of their new dictator, the young Kim Jong-Un. Despite this act of defiance, however, it is unlikely that China will willingly act to clamp down on North Korea through altering existing trade or financial agreements, given the very probable scenario that this could lead to more defiant and reckless behaviour from the North Koreans.
…it is they who can truly wield the power to tactically diminish the potential threat of a trigger-happy North Korea…
So what is to be done? The consensus seems to be a wait and see tactic, preventing further deterioration of relations, whilst also buying time to plan out an appropriately defensive response. The most suitable allies for the West in order to do so, however, seem to be already at odds: China and Japan have become increasingly hostile over the ongoing claims to ownership of the Senkaku/Diayou islands. As the most powerful countries in this region, it is they who can truly wield the power to tactically diminish the potential threat of a trigger-happy North Korea. Yet whilst this seemingly irrelevant dispute remains a thorn in the side of the Western allies, it is becoming ever more apparent that only after these Sino-Japanese relations have been improved can the very prickly issue of North Korea be dealt with: here is where the real challenge lies.