Leading article: Diplomacy remains the only viable way forward

Share

The nuclear test announced by North Korea yesterday, and subsequently verified, has ended three years of international uncertainty and unleashed a predictable furore. Pyongyang has taken to its logical conclusion the defiance it registered when it walked out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty three years ago. If Kim Jong Il's hermit kingdom was not already a pariah state, it certainly qualifies as one now.

And, as a succession of national leaders made clear yesterday, there is a host of reasons for grave concern. North Korea is a totalitarian state; it is closed to the outside world and its regime is believed to be fragile. Its ruler, Kim Jong Il, has chosen to spend what resources his country has on developing a nuclear weapon, rather than improving the welfare of his people - who would be on the brink of starvation, were it not for food aid from, among others, the United States.

None of this contributes to stability, not in the world at large, nor - more particularly - in the immediate region. South Korea, Japan and China, and to a lesser extent Russia and the United States, are justified in their alarm. It is scant consolation that North Korea has so far proved incapable of firing a weapon-bearing missile with any accuracy. If Pyongyang has been persistent enough to explode a nuclear device, it could one day test an effective missile.

Yet the West, and the US in particular, must take some responsibility for this turn of events. This is not because, as some have claimed, of any provocation the Iraq war might represent - this is not a concern to Pyongyang. It is because we paid too little attention to North Korea and showed lamentable inconsistencies in our policy. Overtures begun by Bill Clinton towards the end of his presidency were halted by his successor, George Bush. Thereafter, too little effort was made to distinguish North Korea's fears from its aspirations, boasts and open blackmail. Nuclear threats eventually produced food aid: what conclusion was Kim Jong Il to draw?

Now that Pyongyang has alerted the world to the danger it could present, however, cool heads and calm judgements are in order. This latest development is only as destabilising as we allow it to be. Potentially, it could alter the balance of power in North-east Asia. But it does not mean that North Korea is about to declare war on anyone; it has stressed the defensive purpose of its new lethal weapon.

Nor is this necessarily the end of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - although the prospect of a nuclear arms race accelerating in North-east Asia is a threat that cannot be ignored. Until now, the almost 40 year old treaty has stood the test of time remarkably well and, as Iran's difficulties show, acquiring a nuclear capacity of any kind is far from simple. Regionally, South Korea already enjoys the protection of the United States, as - less publicly - does Japan. China is already a nuclear power. In the longer term, though, Japan could reconsider its non-nuclear status. The country's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has promised a more assertive foreign and defence policy. As his visit to Beijing has just shown, however, he also favours a rapprochement with China that could be of great benefit in diplomacy with North Korea.

For all the strong words voiced yesterday, diplomacy is still the only realistic course. With the six-party talks, a mechanism is in place, and the UN is already involved. A ban on North Korea's export of nuclear materials and expertise would be a sensible first measure. If North Korea is intent on making itself into a nuclear-armed fortress, it can hardly complain if it is treated as one. This is no reason, though, why the talking should stop. Indeed, it is more necessary than ever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Misleading Translations: the next 40

John Rentoul
Syrian refugee 'Nour' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project