Editorial & Opinion

World on edge

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The temblor felt in parts of northeast China last week wasn’t due to natural causes. It was the result of an underground nuclear explosion over the border - the latest test blast by North Korea, coming only eight months from its last test in January. This one, according to experts, appeared to be the most powerful yet with an explosive yield estimated at about 10 kilotons, enough to trigger a quake magnitude of 5.3.

The first North Korean nuclear test in 2006, from what was thought to be a 2-kiloton bomb, had a quake magnitude of 4.3. The latest developments show that the reclusive country with a penchant for bloodcurdling war rhetoric is fast gaining the technology to arm itself with nuclear weapons, despite the multiple sanctions the United Nations has imposed on it to contain its ambitions. After the fifth test, North Korea said the nuclear warhead it detonated was designed to be mounted on ballistic rockets to produce a “variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power.”

A North Korea achieving that kind of capability would be a nightmare scenario for the planet. The country remains a highly secretive, volatile entity with a poor track record in adhering to international agreements over disarmament and disclosure of its nuclear activities; the more powerful its technology becomes, the less incentive it would have to scale back and be curtailed by yet one more round of economic and political sanctions by the international community.

In fact, the current punitive measures in place appear not to have deterred Pyongyang. Following North Korea’s announcement last January of a nuclear test involving what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb, the usual condemnations from the UN Security Council and countries such as the United States, Japan and South Korea made the rounds. Even China, North Korea’s staunchest ally, said it “firmly opposes” the test and that North Korea should “stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse.” For good measure, China joined a UN Security Council decision imposing a new set of sanctions, including “banning Pyongyang from exporting most of its natural resources, prohibiting the supply of aviation fuel and the sale of small arms to North Korea, and requiring the inspection of all North Korean planes and ships carrying cargo abroad,” according to a CNN report.

But all for naught so far, it appears - just as all the other previous talks and deals with North Korea have fallen by the wayside. In 2005, America, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea negotiated with the country for a suspension of its nuclear activities in exchange for badly needed food aid. North Korea complied for a while, even publicly dismantling a nuclear facility in Yongbyon to show that it was fulfilling its part of the bargain.

But in February 2013, whatever thaw was achieved evaporated once again when North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, which had a quake magnitude of 5.1, bigger than its last nuclear blast in May 2009 at 4.7. The implication was clear: Despite ostensibly agreeing to disarmament, or at least a slowdown, North Korea simply went ahead with its clandestine nuclear activities.

Three years and two more nuclear tests later, each one more powerful than the last, North Korea is in a position to once again rattle the world and, worse, leave it with dwindling fresh options toward a less dangerous pass. China has once again joined the chorus of condemnation against the latest test. But that would be as far as it would go, based on the strategic calculation that an erratic North Korea that is nevertheless dependent on it for aid and resources is preferable to the specter of Kim Jong-un’s regime falling and the two Koreas reuniting as a democratic, Western-oriented country, which would then pose a challenge to Beijing’s own dreams of domination in this side of the world.

In response to this latest provocation, the UN and America say they are considering a new round of sanctions - a threat North Korea has dismissed as “meaningless” and “highly laughable.” South Korea, in turn, has ratcheted up its own rhetoric, saying it has in place a plan to annihilate Pyongyang if it is attacked: The North Korean capital “will be reduced to ashes and removed from the map,” it vowed.

This is a dangerous escalation all around. The world is on edge, and living on a prayer that North Korea will see the light and ease up on its game of brinkmanship. Inquirer.net

 

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Cynthia V. Reyes DMD