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Sticks and carrots, what’s next? October 25, 2006

Posted by genchan in East Asia, Government, Politics.

North Korea’s attempt to go nuclear has recently been confirmed with a first test underground. US’s sniffer plane detected particles from the blast and later confirmed it was plutonium based. Still the blast impact was very low recorded as 4.2 magnitude compared to Pakistan’s at 4.8 and India’s at 5.4.

While the low yield may suggest an imperfect test, it more than confirms North Korea’s position as the 9th country in the world to possess nuclear capabilities. The other 8 being the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Israel. Iran might just make into the top ten soon. Presumably, more will follow.

While Iran continues to deny, North Korea (NK) has owned up to its nuclear ambition. Because  NK is part of the ‘axis of evil’ as the US President calls it, NK’s action is simply unacceptable and severely condemned.

This is understandable as nuclear weapons in the hands of a rogue state would destabilize the entire region. But to begin with, how did NK even manage to come so far? Iraq was taken down right away because of suspected WMD that didn’t even include nuclear while NK was spared. Obviously, geo-politics were in play.

In the case of NK, first there were carrots. Clinton brokered a deal to supply NK with two light-water reactors in replace of Yongbyon’s plutonium-producing reactor in 1995. Later in 1998, South Korea came out with its ‘sunshine policy’ and fed the North with more carrots – a total of more than a billion dollars’ worth of aid. 

Then came sticks. Unlike his predecessor, President Bush took a hard-line stance and by early 2002 the 3 countries Iran, Iraq and NK became known as the infamous axis of evil. Around the same time, CIA learned that NK has illegally acquired centrifuges for processing uranium of which NK admitted. The reactor plants and oil supplies to NK were halted. NK reciprocated by withdrawing from the NPT in Jan 2003. In replace of the NPT, the 6-party talks was set up.

Be reminded that 2003 was also the year that the US declared war on Iraq. So, several questions remain. Why Iraq and not NK? Was the Iraq situation more severe than the NK? Was the Iraq war meant to be a detterence to  Iran and NK? What would have happened to the situation in NK if Iraq was not invaded?

Iraq was thought to be an easier target, which obviously have been proven otherwise. It was also meant to deter Iran and NK from pursuing WMD, which has anything but led to the opposite result. Unlike Iraq lacking a strong ally, war with NK would at that time (and probably now) bring China, a regional power, into conflict and cause destruction to South Korea’s economy. Clearly, the stakes are higher.

The 6-party talks have gone nowhere and more sticks were added with an account freeze on NK’s Macau-based bank. Under the recent UN resolution passed by all the Security Council members (a vote of 15-0), more sanctions are in place with China and Japan freezing N.Korean accounts. Japan has also banned port calls by N.Korean ships.

So, what’s next? Will it cause NK to go into further isolation? How much impact will all these additional sticks have on the government in relative to its people? Will other countries like Japan change course and go nuclear? More importantly, what is stopping NK from selling what they know to terrorists? And what impact is NK’s test have on Iran’s nuclear ambition? A lot I would think – it has given Iran a strong impetus to push forward with its nuclear program against all odds.

Yesterday, it was reported that NK intends to end its nuclear quest and return to the talks. Japan’s FM Taro Aso has expressed pessimism and caution that more test could come.

One thing for sure is that the simultaneous actions of US’s sticks and South Korea’s carrots does not work. There has to be a more coordinated effort on how the five countries intend to deal with NK. There should be one clear message (not necessarily an ultimatum) and not several overlapping messages. 



1. Dmitri Marine - October 25, 2006

And actually today (well yesterday by now), China’s foreign ministry said that N Korea has not made a commitment to no more tests. What was reported over the weekend being only a report.


2. genchan - October 25, 2006

Ya, I read about that somewhere on the net too. I don’t think NK is going to commit to no more testing unless it feels it is being adequately compensated. I am sure more development to come on the NK issue.

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