Like a boy with his new found toy, North Korea didn’t mince words when it threatened the United States and its allies of a nuclear attack if the US starts moving against it militarily. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, described by Philippine president Rodrigo Roa Duterte as “crazy,” is busy patting his generals in their backs after successfully testing its second Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) last month. That ICBM, says North Korea, could reach any city in the US mainland. In response, the US had flybys over the Korean peninsula, with several fighter jets of the South–the nemesis of the North since the fifties.
ASEAN member states already issued a strong worded communique not just against the North but also its strongest economic-political ally, China. China is using its newly found economic and military power at the South China sea. It has built and reclaimed portions of the Spratlys group of islands, within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, a violation of internationally recognized conventions on the law of the sea.
ASEAN member states told China to stop reclaiming those islands which are being claimed by several ASEAN member-states, including the Philippines. The Philippines won an arbitral ruling before the UNCLOS, but the present Duterte administration has refused to enforce it, saying that it would affect relations with China. RP-China relations have been thawing since Duterte assumed office as Philippine president, unlike that of his predecessor who refused to allow China’s intrusions into Philippine claimed territories.
The Asia-Pacific region is confronting serious security issues. There is a rising Islamist threat down South of the Philippines which could spill over Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore. Philippine security forces are hard pressed trying to resolve the serious threat posed by local terror groups allied with ISIS.
Then North Korea comes in, brandishing its nukes and threatening the entire world with it. The United Nation’s Security Council has just approved the imposition of economic sanctions against the rogue state, which it responded with a stern warning. North Korea even went as far as attending the ASEAN foreign ministers summit, again, issuing a threat that it would blow the US out of the map, including those who will support it.
North Korea is toying with the most dangerous toys of the world, and allies, China and Russia are not even lifting their fingers. China is using its North Korean card as leverage against the US and its allies, Japan, Australia and Europe. While Russia waits in the fringes; waiting for this issue to seriously escalate into a major global issue, before finally taking part in convincing the North to tone down its rhetoric.
Analysts say North Korea is just months, even weeks of figuring out how to put a nuclear warhead in those ICBMs and by the time, economic sanctions affect the Korean economy, it might be too late. Of course, the US will not allow this dictatorial regime to attack its borders. Basing on its defense policy, the US might strike North Korea first which will definitely usher in Third World War.
The rise of North Korea as a nuclear power is the result of the absence of a regional hegemon at this side of the world. When the North was still small, global powers such as the United States, Japan and the rest of the world thought that the best way to deal with it is to ” allow diplomacy” in engaging North Korea. For decades, the West thought of fostering a peaceful co-existence with the North. Western and Asian democracies poured foreign direct investments into the South, making it a global economic powerhouse. Several chaebols in the South, meanwhile, in the spirit of brotherhood, hired labor from the North. The West allowed the North to develop its economy. The North maintained supply contracts with China, Russia and other non-aligned countries. Instead of seeing their economy go down the drain, the North Koreans survived and even flourished inspite of threats and sanctions.
Analysts misread North Korea. Western analysts thought that North Korea would not be able to sustain a conjugal dictatorship with the Kims. They underestimated Kim Jong Un. They thought that this small, portly, young man with a weird haircut pales in comparison with his father who steered the North from near destruction to reconstruction.
The West also did not account the North Korean’s resolve and stubbornness. North Koreans are proud of their accomplishments which they got while under threats coming from the West and several Asian states. During the nineties, the West was made to believe that a drought would bring the dictatorship to its end. The West waited for months, and then years, and no coup d’etat against the North Korean leadership happened.
Charges of corruption were hurled against state actors in North Korea, but no one among the leaders moved against the Kims. It seems that North Korea’s governance model is different from other models, probably supported by strong elite families who make up majority of the Party, and interlocking interests is the bond that holds everything together.
Economic sanctions would not seriously harm the North because it is a self-contained, self-reliant state. Using technologies, the North is now able to sustain food production sufficient for the needs of its constituents. Government convince its citizens to live an austere life, free from the worries of the Western world, which it depicted as “moribund” and ” decadent.”
Time is running out. Unlike a decade ago when there were several Western diplomats who know the North like the palms of their hands, there is simply a dearth of scholarship about the North now that diplomats could use to contain this threat coming from there. A re-study is in order.
There is, however, a growing consensus among global actors that a different approach should be seriously considered in the world’s engagement with North Korea. I think several leaders should probably read and replay what General Douglas Macarthur suggested when American forces were about to strike hard against the North Koreans in the fifties Korean war. Seeing what is happening now, it would probably be prudent to re-consider the Macarthur solution. Sometimes, war is necessary as a response against certain global catastrophe.