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جمعرات، 25 اپریل، 2013

Showdown on the Korean Peninsula

 Since the US-North Korea tussle began, Pyongyang has cut hotlines connecting it with the UN, US, and South Korea 

The tension on the Korean Peninsula is rising after the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) conducted a nuclear test on February 12. A few weeks later when the United States began its joint military exercises with South Korea, DPRK saw it as Washington’s scheme of imposing its hegemony over Pyongyang. North Korea’s supreme commander, Kim Jong-un, has increased its military arsenal at its border with South Korea, placing both countries on high alert. 

North Korea has been on a verge of attacking South Korea as their tussle, the Korean War, never found closure. The two archenemies of East Asia did agree for a ceasefire in 1953 when the two signed the Korean Armistice Agreement with the United States. In its latest threat, North Korea has warned that it will attack South Korea without any warning. Earlier, DPRK had even issued a threat to carry out missile attacks on the US, which escalated the US-North Korea tensions to new heights. North Korea placed its missiles on stand-by to attack the US but did not take the daring step knowing the possible consequences coming from the UN and the US. The US did take counter-measures by placing missiles at Guam, a territory under US control in the western Pacific. However, analysts suggest that North Korea does not have the firepower to launch a nuclear attack against the US, as it would take the DPRK years to manufacture a nuclear warhead that could attack Washington.

The US-South Korea military drills have angered Pyongyang before but this time the antagonism was beyond the line of no return. Although North Korea has been showing rebellious intentions since the days of the Cold War, the international community is concerned for its recent dissenting actions. DPRK conducted the nuclear tests even when China, its sole ally, was advising it not to, while the UN had given a stern warning to impose sanctions if Pyongyang took such a step. Following the nuclear tests, South Korea had to fortify its border patrols as a precautionary measure.

It seems as if North Korea wants to get Washington’s attention, which is why it conducted the nuclear tests in the first place. DPRK’s commander, Kim Jong-un believes that the US is exerting undue influence over Pyongyang and that Washington should give breathing space to North Korea. Pyongyang wants security guarantees from the US, to sign a peace treaty, and wants the US to remove its 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. Although these are practical demands, the US will not put Seoul in a vulnerable position by calling back all of its troops.

While the US is strengthening its ties with South Korea, Kim Jong-un views conducting training exercises with South Korea as Washington’s plan to overthrow the DPRK government. To what extent Jong-un’s apprehensions are correct is yet to be seen.

The international community is applauding South Korea for not kneeling in front of the DPRK. For the South, this is a matter of pride because since February 25, South Korea’s first woman president, Park Geun-hye, is running the country. In a warning even shocking to the DPRK, the South Korean Defence Ministry cautioned the DPRK it would face extinction if it ever used nuclear weapons.

Even if North Korea is showing belligerence towards the US and South Korea, the US State Department considers DPRK’s threats a mere hollow gesture to show dominance. Analysts are busy finding the target range that North Korea might have acquired following its latest nuclear test and if it can actually hit any part of the US. Studies suggest that North Korea’s threats need a concrete base, as it will take years before Pyongyang can acquire a nuclear warhead capable of being mounted on its missiles. Joseph Bermudez, a Denver-based scholar who has studied North Korea’s military strategies, believes that North Korea cannot win a battle against the US or South Korea. Bermudez believes that the North cannot arm its missiles with a nuclear warhead.

In spite of a North Korea-US conflict being improbable, the North does indeed have the power to attack the South with its diverse collection of missiles and artillery. However, South Korea did not take the North’s threats seriously by saying that they are DPRK’s practice of verbal intimidation.

Since the US-North Korea tussle began, Pyongyang has cut hotlines connecting it with the UN, US, and South Korea. Moreover, the DPRK has annulled the Korean Armistice Agreement.

Following the nuclear tests, North Korea has restarted the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre, which was inactive since 2007. The plant, which is equipped with a uranium enrichment facility, poses apprehensions for the US and the Southeast Asian region, whereas China is not willing for DPRK to go on with its nuclear plans. When the US is busy dealing with Iran, the North Korean threat might compel Washington to get over with Tehran at the earliest and focus on neutralising Pyongyang.


By Muhammad Omar 

The writer is a regular columnist for various English dailies and writes on regional issues
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