Leading article: North Korea returns to its game of nuclear blackmail

Engagement remains the only realistic means of containing Pyongyang

Share
Related Topics

So closed is Pyongyang that it is impossible to say with any certainty what North Korea's bellicose gestures towards the outside world indicate about the internal politics of the regime. Yesterday's underground nuclear test has been interpreted by some as evidence of a power struggle sparked by Kim Jong-il's recent stroke. Another theory is that the regime conducted the test to cover up the embarrassment of its failed long-range missile launch last month.

Either explanation could be true; or both could be wide of the mark. The unfortunate reality is that there exists no North Korean "Kremlinology" with which to analyse power shifts in the upper echelons of the regime. Interpretations of North Korean politics are based to a large extent on educated guesswork. However, what we do know is that whenever North Korea is in danger of slipping off the international agenda, Pyongyang tends to pull a stunt like this to reclaim the world's attention. In the absence of any other evidence to the contrary, we have to assume that North Korea is playing its traditional game of nuclear blackmail.

The question is: how should the region and the wider world respond to such provocation? Global leaders were, once again, united in condemnation of the North's behaviour yesterday. Barack Obama warned that Pyongyang "will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction". These sentiments were echoed in Russia, China and across Europe. And an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council censured Pyongyang.

But the truth is that the international community's options are limited when it comes to dealing with North Korea. The application of military force carries too many risks. The North Korean regime is dysfunctional but, with its million-strong army, it still has the capacity to inflict horrific damage on any invading force. Moreover, the South Korean capital, Seoul, lies well within missile range of the North's artillery. A repeat of the 1950-53 war could trigger the very nuclear catastrophe the West seeks to prevent.

As for sanctions, they have been shown to be ineffective. The Bush administration tried squeezing Pyongyang in this way in the former president's first term, only for Pyongyang's first successful nuclear test back in 2006 to force Washington back to the negotiating table.

And, of course, the drawbacks of diplomatic engagement have been plain for all to see too. The world has been promising Pyongyang aid in return for disarmament for more than a decade, yet still it finds itself menaced by this throwback Stalinist regime. And, ominously, there are even signs that China is losing influence over its former Communist ally.

Yet the world has no other viable option but to keep plugging away with the policy of engagement though the Beijing-hosted six-party framework. Of all the approaches available, this is the one that came closest to delivering success when Pyongyang agreed to close its nuclear reactor two years ago. Engagement also offers the most effective means, in the immediate term, of containing the North Korean nuclear threat.

In the longer-term, we must hope that this vicious regime collapses under the weight of its own incompetence and that those nations which have offered the hand of friendship to the people of the North will be able to engineer a peaceful re-unification of the Korean peninsula.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive - Hair & Beauty - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company supplies the ultim...

Recruitment Genius: Design, Marketing and Media Manager

£27000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

£17447 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation is a leading centre fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman runs down the street  

Should wolf-whistling be reported to the Police? If you're Poppy Smart, then yes

Jane Merrick
 

Voices in Danger: How can we prevent journalists from being sexually assaulted in conflict zones?

Heather Blake
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence