The North Korea Issue

By Yanisa T , Thailand
The North Korea Issue

 In the past few months, North Korea has been displaying its offensive capabilities. This demonstrates the failure of the international community to halt or hinder North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The recent testing of the hydrogen bomb has upstaged the meet of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa or the BRICS meeting in China. The test has stolen the thunder from the high-level conference of world powers. This testing seems to demonstrate North Korea’s attempt to come out from China’s shadow and to distract other states from the BRICS meeting in China. More importantly, it demonstrates that North Korea is challenging the US and it does not fear the potential repercussions. Moreover, the ability for North Korea to acquire an H-bomb demonstrates the ineffectiveness of economic sanctions. A North Korean defector has revealed that goods can be easily smuggled into North Korea through its border with China which has rendered the economic sanctions ineffective.

North Korea’s recent provocations have evoked strong condemnation from China and Russia. Hopefully, North Korea’s recent actions would finally motivate China to respond more forcefully. It is clear that none of the major powers in the region would want to destabilize the Korean Peninsula. However, the deterioration of the relations between the US and the South Korean president is not conducive to the situation. At this point, both the US and South Korea cannot afford to be in disagreement. It is important that there is a uniform response by the US and South Korea. President Moon Jae In has sought to improve relations with North Korea to reduce the motivation for North Korea to develop its offensive capability. On the other hand, President Trump seems to be in favor of a strong response that may involve a military response. Despite South Korea’s reliance on the US, a pre-emptive military response would put South Korea in danger.

China and Russia agree that the stakeholders in the region should engage in dialogue with North Korea and reduce military activity that would provoke North Korea to respond violently. This seems to be a logical response to the reversal of the security dilemma and avoid conflict. On the other hand, from the realist perspective, how can we expect South Korea, Japan, and the US to stand down when they are threatened by the nuclear threat from North Korea? Moreover, if we consider domestic politics, would it be possible for the government to stand back and let the people perceive the government as being unable to protect its own population and reduce support. However, the recent protest against the life fire military practice and the deployment the missile defense system in front of the US military base in South Korea is a demonstration of public opinion that is against agonizing North Korea.

It is possible that the increase in North Korea military activity was due to the weakened position of the US with the chaos of the US politics and the disparaging relationship between President Trump and other world leaders. The disarray of the Trump administration might put international security in jeopardy. It is clear that President Trump does not have a firm grasp of the issue. We can only hope that the generals at the Pentagon would exercise their best judgment and prevent the destabilization of the region.

Russia has also been active in its response to the North Korea issue and has been in discussion with South Korea. It is surprising to think that the South Korea would be talking to an enemy of the US on the issue of North Korea. This further demonstrates the rising position of Russia as the US is becoming more unreliable. Moreover, the US president has attacked South Korea for its response to North Korea and wrongly accused South Korea for engaging in appeasement with North Korea. South Korea simply wants to engage in peaceful settlement of the issue rather than being involved in military action that the US president seems to have suggested. More recently, at the UN General Assembly, President Trump’s remarks about North Korea and Kim Jong Un has only exacerbated the situation.

The North Korean nuclear issue is one that cannot be solved unilaterally but by the engagement of stakeholders in the region. It is apparent that economic sanctions have not been effective thus, there needs to be an alternative solution that does not antagonize North Korea to increase their provocations. This issue is a complex one not only because of the disastrous consequences but because of the nature of the relationships of the stakeholders. South Korea and Japan are US allies but they do not get along. On the other hand, China and Russia are major challengers of US power. Consequently, an agreement on a solution can be difficult to achieve given the nature of the current world politics. We can only hope that these states would be able to cooperate based on this common threat.