By Dr Shireen M. Mazari
The North Koreans
finally conducted an underground nuclear test on
Monday, October 9 -- after having given clear notice
of this intent to the international community at
least a week in advance. In fact, ever since the
Bush Administration came to power and undermined
the 1994 Framework Agreement the Clinton Administration
had signed with North Korea, there had been a certain
inevitability to what eventually happened on Monday.
The Bush Administration had shown a deliberate reluctance
to accommodate the North Koreans through diplomatic
negotiations despite the limitations of the military
option for the Korean peninsula. Instead of accommodation
and negotiation, the US and its core state ally,
Japan, had hardened their stance against North Korea.
The only hope that
the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula could
be resolved peacefully was the initiation of the
Six Party Talks that were a Chinese diplomatic initiative.
For the Chinese, this was a major shift in their
traditionally low-key approach to external issues
and it showed not only a more confident China, but
a China that was now prepared to take a lead role
in its immediate region at least. That is why the
success of the Six Party Talks was crucial for China
within the context of international diplomacy, just
as it was critical for the US to ensure that China
did not succeed on this count.
If one examines the
course of these talks, one will see how the US played
along but gave not an inch of flexibility, which
could have allowed this diplomatic move to succeed.
The test by North Korea has of course shown the
failure of these talks and with it of Chinese diplomatic
efforts. That is why China has reacted strongly
to the North Korean test, calling it "brazen".
After all, by conducting this test, North Korea
defied the advice of its closest ally and supporter
-- one who had staked a lot on the success of diplomacy.
For the US, the North
Korean test has allowed it to undermine China at
the diplomatic level in its region and to put pressure
on China to go along with a more punitive agenda
against not only North Korea but also possibly Iran
within the UN Security Council. The success of the
six party talks would have led to pressure on the
US for accepting a similar framework of negotiations
in the context of Iran -- something the US is still
not prepared to do given its continuing trauma from
the Iranian Revolution. Clearly, the North Korean
test has worked to the advantage of the US, especially
at the diplomatic and strategic levels.
Yet it would be a
mistake for the US and its allies to pursue a more
hard-line approach towards Iran unless the US wants
to use the nuclear issue as a pretext for redrawing
of the borders of this region. In that case, it
may want to push Iran into a nuclear test. But such
political brinkmanship will bode ill for the rest
of the world, which may be less suicidal than the
Bush regime. The North Korean tests illustrate the
need to allow diplomacy succeed through a little
give on the part of the major powers.
Meanwhile, the North
Korean test comes at a time when the leadership
of Japan has passed on to a hardline revisionist
leader, Shinzo Abe, who is already seeking to alter
the Japanese Constitution so that Japan can become
a stronger military power. Now it has the political
rationale to justify such a shift. Even within the
nuclear context, Japan is sitting on over 10 tons
of plutonium and it has the largest fast breeder
program in the world, so for Japan to become a nuclear
power will require very little effort or financial
cost. And now the political taboo may also lift.
In fact, for the US this is the perfect opportunity
to seek the nuclearization of its core state ally
Japan for which it is seeking a permanent seat in
the UN Security Council. As we know, so far such
a membership seems to remain defined in terms of
The failure of the
six party talks will make China reluctant to undertake
such proactive initiatives in the future which again
suits US interests since a regionally more active
China threatens the continuation of unipolarity
-- especially given China's commitment to multilateralism.
That is why the US was not prepared to given an
inch in the six party talks even as it was keen
to keep them going to end in the inevitable failure
that finally happened. The US role in the talks
was one of duplicity and betrayal equal to the betrayal
the Chinese have felt at the hands of North Korea
-- a state they have supported against all odds.
The Chinese certainly have a dilemma on their hands
with the international community waiting to see
how far they are prepared to go in terms of punitive
UNSC action while ensuring the survival of the North
Korean state -- and all this with increasing pressure
from the US and its Western allies.
Apart from the Chinese,
the other state to suffer a major setback has been
South Korea -- at least in the short term. Not only
does it have to now deal with a possibly nuclear
weaponised North Korea, it has to face a militarily
resurgent Japan supported by the US. South Korea,
which gave up its nuclear program under pressure
from the US, will now find itself leaning even more
on the US, which will also undermine its efforts
to reach out to North Korea for an eventual reunification.
Once the generational turnover is complete in South
Korea, the desire for reunification may die out
As for the international
community, it has rightfully condemned the North
Korean action, which defied all international appeals
to the contrary. But a large part of the blame must
lie with this international community, which failed
to take action against the first proliferator after
the inception of the NPT. This was India which tested
in 1974 and which saw that the international community
was not prepared to take any punitive action against
it -- in fact, Western commentators like Britisher
Leanord Beaton lauded India's test. Instead, Pakistan
suffered the backlash, and this reflected the discriminatory
approach to nonproliferation that has since marked
the international community's approach to the issue.
This approach has been recently highlighted in the
nuclear deal the US signed with India which effectively
seeks to legitimize India's nuclear weapon status
outside of the nonproliferation regime.
Moreover, the Bush
Administration has totally undermined international
law and international norms of behavior by its unilateralist
actions in Iraq and in the policies of illegal confinements,
international abductions and renditions. Blair has
called the North Korean action "irresponsible"
and it is certainly that; but surely the Bush-Blair
combine have set the new benchmarks for such irresponsibility.
Of course, in strictly legal terms, North Korea
has not broken any of its international treaty obligations
since it left the NPT, legally, after giving the
required three-month notification in January 2003.
Article X:1 of the NPT allows a state to withdraw
if it feels its adherence to the treaty has jeopardized
its supreme interests.
The 90-day notice
has to include a statement of the extraordinary
events that are seen as jeopardizing its supreme
interests, but there is no requirement for the veracity
of its claims to be assessed by other member states.
North Korea cited the US singling of this country,
along with some other "axis of evil" states,
for a preemptive nuclear strike (in the 2002 US
Nuclear Posture Review) as well as a US threat of
a blockade and military punishment. So in strict
international law terms, the North Koreans have
not contravened any legal obligations even as they
have defied the international community, especially
their friends. But given the present US administration
and its Coalition of the Willing's political dispensation,
there seems to have been a certain inevitability
about the final act of North Korean defiance.
(The writer is director
general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in
Islamabad. Courtesy The News)