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North Korean h-bomb : Transforming regional spat in global tension

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North Korea or DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea) has once again pushed the button on its fourth underground nuclear test. This time North Korea used more sophisticated technology than its previous attempts. The test, which came just two days before North Korean leader Kim JongUn’s birthday, was initially detected as a 5.1-magnitude tremor at the main Punggyeri nuclear test site. The weapons yield was initially estimated at between 6 and 9 kilotonnes, similar to the North’s last nu- clear test in 2013.

The first US hydrogen bomb test in 1952 had a yield of 10 megatons. A hydrogen, or thermonuclear, bomb uses fusion in a chain reaction that results in a far more powerful explosion than the fission blast generated by uranium or plutonium. While a hydrogen bomb is much more powerful than an atomic bomb, it is also much harder to make. In a hydrogen bomb, radiation from a nuclear fission explosion sets off a fusion reaction responsible for a powerful blast and radioactivity. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country conducted a hydrogen bomb test as a self-defensive step against a US threat of nuclear war and had a sovereign right to do so without being criticized. Kim noted the significance of the timing of the test as being held in the year of the party congress, “which will be a historic turning point in accomplishing the revolutionary cause of Juche”. Juche is the North’s home-grown state ideology that combines Marxism and extreme nationalism established by the state founder and the current leader’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

 

The previous tests were conducted in 2006, 2009 and 2013 and all of them were carried out at a test site called Punggye-ri, also known as P’unggye-yok, in a remote area in the east of the country, near the town of Kilju. Although United States and weapons experts doubted Pyongyang’s claim that the device was a hydrogen bomb. This test by North Korea marks another milestone in the short, but increasingly eventful reign of young leader Kim Jong Un. The test also threatens the already fragile security situation in the region. North Korea has also warned the top US military commander stationed in South Korea that his forces would “meet a miserable destruction” if they go ahead with scheduled military drills with South Korean troops. These statements have made the region tense and tentative. But considering the fast changing equations, very soon the regional spat may pose a threat to global peace. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear states and scaling up by existing nuclear powers could make the world more vulnerable and increase insecurity.

The issue looked more complex when we see North Korea as a backward and totalitarian country known for its opacity, paranoia and unpredictability. While the Obama administration was able to successfully defuse the Iranian nuclear impasse, it has summarily failed to address the North Korean nuclear challenge. The so-called six-party talks, as part of which China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US negotiated with North Korea to terminate its nuclear weapons programme, collapsed in 2009 after six years of fruitless efforts to contain Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Moreover, UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions which imposed sanctions on North Korea have had no impact on the country’s conduct.

What North Korea wants?

  1. It is to be mentioned that North Korea is seeking a peace treaty with the United States, China and South Korea to formally end the Korean War and will not stop its nuclear tests until it gets one. The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice.
  2. Now, North Korea wants those three sides and South Korea to sign a treaty. The main objective is to persuade the United States to enter into four country negotiations to end the war so that there can be everlasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

Possible implications:

  1. South Korean president Park GeunHye condemned what she described as a “grave provocation”. South Korea will come closer to USA. South Korea is in talks with the United States to deploy US strategic assets on the Korean peninsula, a day after North Korea said it successfully tested a hydrgen nuclear device. After North Korea last tested a nuclear device, in 2013, Washington sent a pair of nuclear capable B- 2 stealth bombers on a sortie over South Korea in a show of force. The bilateral flight mission over Osan Air Base, some 100 kilometres from the North Korean border, demonstrates the strength of the alliance between the United States and South Korea and the resolve of both nations to maintain stability and security on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea is a major US ally, and also Japan.
  2. The underground explosion angered China, which was not given prior notice although it is North Korea’s main ally, pointing to a strain in ties between the neighbours and has sup- ported sweeping UN sanctions on North Korea for its weapons development. But so far, Beijing has not been willing to totally cut off Pyongyang. China has been reluctant to take tougher action. It is to be noted that China was an important reason why UNSC did not act against North Korea’s “withdrawal” from NPT despite the treaty,
  3. The US House of Representatives House pushed ahead on legislation that seeks to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test by expanding sanctions on Pyongyang.
  4. The test has alarmed Japan. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “North Korea’s nuclear test is a serious threat to our nation’s security and we absolutely cannot tolerate it.” Japan lifted part of its own sanctions against North Korea since the two countries reached an agreement that Pyongyang agreed to reinvestigate the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it allegedly abducted four decades ago.
  5. The only country with some influence in Pyongyang is Russia, with whom the West has no meeting of minds on a variety of geopolitical issues, particularly after the conflict over Ukraine.

Impact on India: rattled India, which has already been concerned over the reclusive communist country’s clandestine nuclear and missile cooperation with Pakistan. China has equally contributed to both North Korean and Pakistan in realizing their nuclear bombs. The strengthening of North Korea’s nuclear profile can affect India’s security interests. India conveyed its “deep concern” over North Korea’s claim that it tested a thermonuclear weapon, which is also known as “Hydrogen Bomb” or “H-Bomb”. It is a matter of deep concern that North Korea has again acted in violation of its international commitments in this regard.

In the ultimate analysis, the H-bomb test would definitely foster steeper polarization between US, West, Japan, South Korea and probably India on the one hand and Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea on the other. These develop- ments could upset the various equations in the World.