Seismic shift

30 05 2009

andrew_o'neilby Andrew O’Neil, ABC Unleashed (26 May 2009)

North Korea’s decision to conduct a second nuclear test this week will have significant repercussions for the future security of East Asia and the Asian region more generally.

In the short term, it will force regional states to dispense with the idea that Pyongyang’s nuclear program can be stopped. In the longer term, it will force these states to engage North Korea as a fully-fledged nuclear weapons power. Neither course is particularly palatable for any government in Asia. They both have the potential to dramatically – and irrevocably – recast Asia’s security environment. And, short of war to destroy the DPRK’s nuclear assets, they are both inescapable…

Make no mistake: the North Korean regime has an unbreakable strategic commitment to becoming an established nuclear weapons state in Asia. The sobering reality is that there is absolutely nothing the international community can do to prevent this from happening. So the fundamental question is: how should we engage North Korea as a nuclear-armed state?..

Ultimately, this is a test of the political resolve of the Obama administration and the extent to which Washington is willing to reinforce the credibility of extended deterrence in Asia. The second element of any new strategy must encompass constructive politico-security engagement with Pyongyang. This may sound like mission impossible in view of North Korea’s well established duplicity, but the temptation to further isolate North Korea in the wake of its second nuclear test must be resisted….

In dealing with an emerging nuclear state, one of the worst outcomes is deeper isolation of that country. Lines of communication must be kept open to avoid the ever present trap of misperception – pragmatism must rule over any desire to punish. Led by Washington, regional states must engage Pyongyang directly on issues relating to nuclear security and safety, including potential assistance to help safeguard against the accidental launching of nuclear weapons, and strongly pushing for a verifiable cap on the number of North Korean warheads….

The worst response to North Korea’s second test would be to try and resurrect the argument that Pyongyang can somehow be persuaded to de-link its nuclear weapons ambitions from its overall national security doctrine. The link is as “close as lips and teeth”, and persisting with the failed strategy of non-proliferation will only delay what is now inevitable: engaging North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.

See the full text here…

* Andrew O’Neil is associate professor of international relations at Flinders University. He is a chief investigator on the Australian Research Council project “Australia’s Nuclear Choices” and the author of Nuclear Proliferation in Northeast Asia: The Quest for Security (Palgrave Macmilan, New York, 2007).

North Korea: a silver lining

30 05 2009

BrendanTaylorby Brendan Taylor, ABC Unleashed (27 May 2009)

North Korea’s second nuclear test has drawn widespread international condemnation. Yet in the short run, little will change as a result of this development.

The international community will almost certainly impose a fresh round of sanctions against Pyongyang. But these measures will be very hard to enforce and will have little impact on a paranoid and reclusive Kim Jong-Il regime that seems intent on becoming Asia’s newest nuclear power. Ultimately, the world will have little choice but to try and coax North Korea back to the negotiating table. Another deal will be struck, which will subsequently be broken. In this nuclear crisis, the more things change the more they really do seem to remain the same.

Notwithstanding the international criticism which has been heaped on North Korea as a result of its latest nuclear test, however, the enduring ramifications of this development may not be altogether negative. Indeed, when viewed from a longer-term strategic perspective, there are at least three good reasons as to why there may well be a silver lining to the metaphorical mushroom cloud which currently lingers following Pyongyang’s latest provocation.

First, the nuclear test can only be good for relations between China and the United States….

Second, the North Korean nuclear test will also create further diplomatic distance between Beijing and Pyongyang…

Third, the North Korean nuclear test has also further diminished the prospects for any near-term reunification of the two Koreas…

Japan, however, seems destined to be the biggest loser in all of this. North Korea’s nuclear test will serve to further deepen Tokyo’s sense of insecurity vis-à-vis the missile and nuclear threat posed to it by the North. That is why Japan has taken such an assertive stance in responding to the test and why Tokyo is seeking tough measures through the United Nations…

See the full text here…

* Dr Brendan Taylor is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University. He is the author of American Sanctions in the Asia-Pacific (Routledge, forthcoming 2009).