Leading article: North Korea might have made a fatal mistake

By alienating China, Pyongyang has lost its final supporter

Related Topics

The Korean crisis is growing in intensity. Monday's nuclear test by Pyongyang has been followed by the suspension of a truce that ended the peninsula war more than half a century ago. Of course, it is nothing new for North Korea to present a hostile face to the world. But this crisis feels particularly dangerous because it is so hard to see what game Pyongyang is playing.

In recent years, bellicose gestures from the regime have been interpreted as efforts to extract aid from its neighbours and drag America to the negotiating table. Yet this cannot be the explanation now because a US delegation has visited the region this year. The channels of communication are already open.

It has been suggested that this crisis could be the result of an effort by Kim Jong-Il to shore up his authority at home or to engineer a smooth succession to his favoured son. Yet this explanation also fails to convince since, by conducting another nuclear test, Pyongyang has alienated China, its only ally on the international stage. This opens up another terrifying possibility: that these nuclear manoeuvres by Pyongyang represent not reasoned policy, but frenzied paranoia. The world managed to avoid nuclear Armageddon during the Cold War because the Soviet Union could be relied upon to act in a rational manner. If the same assumption cannot be used with respect to North Korea, the danger posed by this crisis rises considerably.

So what should the world's response be given these deep uncertainties? Many diplomats with experience of dealing with this 1984-style regime must be tempted to despair. The world, led by the United States, has tried everything to bring North Korea in from the cold over the past 15 years. President Clinton sought engagement, but to no avail. President Bush adopted a more hostile approach, branding North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and extending the regime's isolation. But this did nothing to subdue Pyongyang, which responded with its first nuclear test in 2006. Finally, in his inaugural address, Barack Obama offered America's enemies, including Pyongyang, a fresh start. But that hand has been slapped away this week.

What else is there to try? The international community, for want of any better ideas, is stumbling down the path of fresh sanctions and a plan to search all shipments from the North to prevent the regime smuggling nuclear material out of the country. Such activity, of course, is stoking Pyongyang's paranoia further.

Yet grim as the situation is, it is possible that a door of opportunity has opened this week. Pyongyang's alienation of China could prove a fatal mistake. If Beijing halts deliveries of oil and food to its economic basket case of a neighbour, its days would be numbered. China has been loath to take any action to destabilise North Korea in the past because of its fear that the regime's collapse would unleash a wave of starving refugees across its borders.

But Beijing might now decide that this would be the lesser of two evils. If such a shift in thinking is possible, the most astute response from the rest of the international community would be to step back and let China discreetly pull the plug on its old client.

It might seem a vain hope as the drums of confrontation grow louder in North East Asia, but what seems like a spasm of dangerous irrationality from Pyongyang could turn out to be the beginning of the death throes of this loathsome regime.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent