North Korea and US came close to a clash in the year 2017 over North Korea’s nuclear program. The North threatened to attack the US while the US threatened to “totally destroy” the North. The war rhetoric had almost
set the stage for the nuclear clash between the two countries . However, good sense prevailed to prevent the catastrophe.
The small communist state of North Korea (situated in the neighborhood of Japan and South Korea in the East Asia) is reported to have conducted
several missile tests throughout 2017 . The tests were carried out in the garb of the state narrative : defence against the US attack.
The North conducted its sixth nuclear test on 3 September 2017, stating it had tested a hydrogen bomb.The test was conducted under ground and it
sent tremors as far as to China . The United States Geological Survey (USGS) in its report said that an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude occured not far from North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
South Korean authorities reported that the earthquake appeared artificial, consistent with a nuclear test. The USGS and China Earthquake Networks Center reported that the initial event was followed by a second smaller earthquake at the site.
The nuclear test enabled North Korea to become a powerful nuclear armed state. Yet the nuclear tests have won the isolated regime no recognition but only condemnation at the international level.
Seemingly under pressure because of the North’s unpredictable regime, the
US administration threatened strong reaction and managed to impose a series of economic sanctions slapped against the communist state through the United Nations. US President Donald Trump asked Russia and the North’s only ally China to play a positive role in making Kim Jong- Un’ s country toe the line.
Further, Trump paid a visit in Nov/ Dec last year to many East Asiancountries including China. The high level visit had diplomatic implications
in connection with North Korea.
However, the North showed no signs of diplomatic engagement with the US or with any of the allies of the US. It continued its nuclear program.
Meanwhile, the North’s leader Kim Jong- Un and the US President kept on exchanging insults against each other. While Trump called Kim a ‘ little
rocket man’ , Kim called Trump ‘ a dotard’. Moreover, they threatened to strike each other’s country.
Kim openly threatened America that his nuclear weapons were capable of hitting most of the continental United States. In return, Trump threatened to ” totally destroy” the North.
In such a situation, there were fears that if Kim really struck America, the world would witness a nuclear war. Consequently, human species across the world would suffer the repercussion.
Though experts kept on asking Kim for restraint, he went on test -firing missile after missile . With the world fearing nuclear war, Kim kept on laughing as he watched nuclear tests being successfully conducted. He
feared none: everyone feared him.
Even the US was pushed on to the back foot . Despite its huge fund of war winning experience, the superpower status and the potential to defeat the North, the US was on tip toes to ensure that the world community took
steps to stop Kim.
A question : Why is America concerned over North Korea’s nuclear capability? There are three strong reasons:
One, America has its all- weather allies like Japan and South Korea
situated in North Korea’s neighborhood. Besides, there is North’s key ally China in the close vicinity of North Korea. China is a veto holding major
power and its regional influence is on the rise. The US’s national
interest sees China as a “revisionist power” seeking to replace the US as a global leader. A strong North Korea can increase China’s regional influence .
Consequently, the US’ s allies will have a weaker position in the East Asian region. In such a situation, the US influence may decrease and its national interests maybe compromised in the region.
Two, America fears that Kim Jong- Un’s regime may sell the nuclear weapons as well as the technology to Iran. Iran is America’s main rival in the Middle East region. The nuclear weapons can enable Iran to dominate the Middle East . That can harm the interests of Saudi Arabia and Israel (two main US allies) . Therefore, America’s position and national interests
will be challenged in the region.
Three, America fears that Kim’ s regime may sell the nuclear weapons to non- state actors whose target is America. The United States sees North Korea as a poor country with little natural resources and a weaker economy . To strengthen the economy, Kim may trade in nuclear weapons and nuclear technology with non- state actors.
Having said this, it remains to be seen how America deals with the North Korean challenge.
But a big question is : can the world powers manage to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme? It should not be forgotten that Kim Jong Un is playing a guessing game with the world. His behavior may trigger a war with the US.
However, war is not an option because it may lead to nuclear exchange as both the countries posses nuclear weapons. Though these weapons act as deterrents and are not used for war, yet nothing can be guaranteed. A country can go to any extent to achieve its national interests. To meet its
national interests, the US dropped two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively .The United
States aimed at ending the war that Japan had unleashed in Asia in 1931 and extended to the United States .
The world needs peace, security and stability .War can not bring peace but dialogue can. The international community needs to bring North Korea and the US on to the negotiating table so that the spark of war is put out immediately. Otherwise, the spark may spread to trigger
nuclear war , involving the entire world. That war will destroy us ,
destroy humanity and destroy everything.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.