M A I N   N E W S

N.Korea can now blackmail US
News Analysis by K. Subrahmanyam
Specially written for The Tribune

The North Korean nuclear test was unique in its being announced before hand. In the case of China and Pakistan preparations for the tests were known to the world before hand. Yet they did not make an official announcement of their intention to test. North Korea is also the first country that was a member of the NPT and endorsed the indefinite and unconditional extension of the treaty, then withdrew from the Treaty and has now conducted a test. North Korea does not cite nuclear threats from neighboring powers as the justification for its acquisition of nuclear weapons. The US threat to bring about a regime-change in North Korea is the prime motivation for Pyongyang to arm itself with nuclear weapons as an insurance against such a move.

The immediate impact of this test will be on South Korea, Japan and the US. The South Koreans were aware that the North Koreans had nuclear weapons. They have taken a soft stand vis-à-vis North Korea. Whether they would reconsider their own nuclear stand is to be seen. They have US security treaty protection. One of North Korea’s demands is that US troops should leave South Korea. Things may shape up either way. South Korea may decide to strengthen its defence ties with US or South Korea may opt for an independent posture and nuclear weapons on its own. There will be immense pressure in Japan to revise its pacifist constitution, arm itself and go for a nuclear arsenal. The new Prime Minister Abe is an advocate of revision of the constitution and a more assertive role for Japan in international politics. Certainly this nuclear test will have a decisive influence on his views.

In the US the North Korean nuclear test will come in handy for both Democrats and Republicans as an issue for the forthcoming elections. The Democrats will point out that this is a signal failure of the hard-line policy of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld group of neo-conservatives. The frequent talk of regime change in North Korea, reference to it as a member of the ‘axis of evil’, a refusal to enter into bilateral talks and above all not carrying out the obligations under the six power understanding to liberalise sanctions that drove North Korea to a corner led to this test. Along with Iraq and Afghanistan this is a major foreign policy failure of the Bush administration.

President Bush and the Republicans are likely to argue that the test which could not be prevented justified the US missile defence programme and its war against terror in which the jehadi groups are likely to attempt to get nuclear devices and materials from terrorist states like North Korea. With the North Korean test, the terrorist threat to the US homeland, it will be argued, has increased and therefore the US needs a tougher national security regime. Only George Bush and the Republicans can provide that and not the Democrats. It is difficult to say at this stage how the US public opinion will decide on this issue.

For North Korea, the model was Pakistan. It obtained part of its nuclear technology from Pakistan — the uranium enrichment technology. It saw that a nuclear-armed Pakistan could resist all kinds of US pressures and in addition, can blackmail the US for substantial military and economic aid. Pakistan is also able to resist all attempts at regime change. The US has to reconcile itself to a military ruler and his prescribed regime in the country. The US cannot get access to Dr A.Q. Khan, the world’s greatest proliferator, for interrogation. The US is forced to accept the cock and bull story that all proliferation took place at the initiative of that one man, Dr Khan, and the successive Pakistani government and Pakistani chiefs of army staff did not have any knowledge of proliferation emanating from Pakistan. Though the US President thundered that any nation giving safe-haven to Osama bin Laden will be treated as an enemy, he is hale and hearty in Pakistan issuing video and audio manifestos from time to time. The Taliban, ousted from Afghanistan five years ago, has regrouped and reequipped itself and is now on the offensive against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. All terror plots in Europe and the US have trails leading to terrorist training camps in Pakistan. Yet the US is unable to discipline General Musharraf but has to yield continuously to his demands for economic and military aid.

The reason for this US behaviour is the implicit blackmail of Pakistani rulers that any regime change in Pakistan and any instability in that country may lead to a situation when nuclear weapons or materials may fall into the hands of terrorists. The US has no answer to this threat. North Korea has drawn appropriate lessons from this. If they acquired nuclear weapons they can blackmail the US on similar lines. Not only that would stop the US from talking about regime change in North Korea, it could lead to North Korea obtaining increased economic assistance from the US. North Korea already has a reputation of dealing with terrorists and regimes that seek nuclear weapons. North Korea can blackmail implicitly or even explicitly that if its economic assistance demands are not met it would be compelled to raise resources through the sale of nuclear technology to state and non-state actors. Having yielded to Pakistani blackmail, what will the US do with respect to such blackmail from Pyongyang?

The North Korean test is bound to have immense influence on Iran. It is another country which the US President included in his axis of evil and with which he refuses to have direct negotiations. Here also there is talk of regime change. As of now unlike North Korea, Iran has not withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, though it threatens to do so, if too much pressure is applied on it.

The only instance of a country having nuclear weapons giving it up was the case of South Africa. That was because there was a regime change in that country caused by domestic factors and the outgoing white minority regime did not want the incoming black majority to have nuclear weapons. Pakistan and North Korea have found that the greatest utility of nuclear weapons is its capability to insure against regime change attempted by external pressure. It is also useful to blackmail major powers for economic aid. These aspects were not discussed in the nuclear deterrence theology of the United States.

Even as North Korea breaks out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and Iran threatens to do so, it becomes necessary to strengthen the wider non-proliferation regime. Lifting of technology denial restriction on India and incorporating India in the wider nonproliferation regime becomes more desirable from the nonproliferation point of view. India has neither broken any treaty obligations nor has it indulged in proliferation and therefore it cannot be compared to Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. India’s nuclear weapons are needed for deterrence and not to protect it against regime change. Nor are Indian weapons used to blackmail other nations.



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