Nuclear test & Western ‘tremors’

Print edition : March 08, 2013

An official in Seoul points out Kilju on the map, where North Korea conducted the nuclear test. Photo: REUTERS

AFTER weeks of speculation, North Korea has gone ahead with its third nuclear test. On February 12, Pyongyang announced that it had conducted a successful test of “a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with more explosive force”.

The statement said that the test was in response to the “outrageous” hostility displayed by the United States after the North Korean satellite launch two months ago. The United Nations Security Council had imposed additional sanctions on the beleaguered country in early January. Pyongyang has long been demanding lifting of the sanctions that have devastated its economy and direct talks with Washington to resolve the impasse on the Korean Peninsula.

Since the 1960s, North Korea has been looking for a nuclear deterrent to protect itself from its enemies, most notably the U.S. Recent events in Libya and elsewhere have made the North Korean government more nervous about American intentions. “Regime change” in Pyongyang has been high on the American agenda, especially after former President George W. Bush put the country in the so-called “axis of evil”. At the same time, North Korea has, on several occasions, strongly signalled that improving ties with the U.S. is one of its top priorities. The two countries were actually on the verge of normalising relations during the last days of the Bill Clinton presidency.

In 2005, North Korea had agreed to roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for energy aid and diplomatic recognition from the West. After the collapse of the six-party talks in 2008 and the imposition of more sanctions by the West, North Korea hardened its stance. Relations with South Korea had also soured with the coming to power of a right-wing government in Seoul. There were serious military incidents between the two sides in the last couple of years. North Korea has been demanding the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The U.S. and Korea are still technically at war.

The most vociferous criticism of the North Korean tests has come from the West, with Washington leading the chorus. President Barack Obama singled out Pyongyang for criticism in his State of the Union Speech on February 12. Although the U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the North Korean nuclear test, Russian and Chinese criticisms of Pyongyang have been comparatively muted. India said that Pyongyang had reneged on its commitments to the international community. The most sensible reaction came from Iran. “We need to come to the point where no country has any nuclear weapons and at the same time all weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arms should be destroyed,” a spokesman from the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.

John Cherian

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