Published : 2013-02-13 20:17
Updated : 2013-02-13 21:17
North Korea angered its neighbors ― South Korea, Japan and its ally China ― and the United States when it conducted another nuclear test Tuesday in defiance of U.N. resolutions. The beleaguered communist state did so apparently in the misguided belief that nuclear armament would provide protection for its regime headed by the young leader Kim Jong-un.
Contrary to its wishes, however, North Korea may hasten its implosion by making a costly attempt to arm itself with nuclear bombs and long-range missiles. Weapons of mass destruction can hardly provide foolproof protection against an ailing economy, as evidenced by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
South Korea condemned the nuclear test as an “impermissible threat to peace and security both on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.” U.S. President Barack Obama, who called the test a “highly provocative act,” hinted at forthcoming U.S.-led U.N. sanctions when he said, “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community.”
A more subdued response came from China, which said, “It is China’s firm stance to realize non-nuclearization for the Korean Peninsula and prevent nuclear proliferation and maintain peace and stability in Northeast Asia.” Still, North Korea will do well not to take the comment lightly, given that its ally did not look the other way, as it had done before.
As one expert on China pointed out, Beijing, which is championing denuclearization for the Korean Peninsula, may regard the test as an insult and endorse U.N. sanctions this time, as it backed the U.N. sanctions that followed North Korea’s December launch of a long-range missile.
As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China had on earlier occasions vetoed proposals for U.N. sanctions against North Korea for its provocative actions or threatened to veto tough-worded U.N. draft resolutions unless they had been watered down.
But Chinese support for the U.N. sanctions against the missile launch signaled a shift in China’s North Korea policy. The change coincided with the ongoing leadership transition to Xi Jinping. Still, it is yet to be seen what action China will take when the U.N. Security Council moves to sanction North Korea for its latest nuclear test.
In addition to spearheading the adoption of tough U.N. resolutions, Washington may take action against the wayward communist state alone and together with its allies, such as South Korea and Japan.
It should not come as a surprise if Washington decides to tighten the economic noose around North Korea’s neck. A bill banning food aid to North Korea is already awaiting action in the U.S. House of Representatives.
North Korea had been pushing Washington to take retaliatory action when it openly said it had considered the United States as the potential target of attack when it conducted missile launches and nuclear tests.
It is not the United States alone that is withholding food aid to North Korea whose population is chronically underfed, with what scarce resources it holds in its possession diverted to developing weapons of mass destruction. Given a World Food Program report that North Korea has received no food aid from any country since its missile launch, the chronic food shortage will undoubtedly be exacerbated in the coming months.
Should North Korea collapse anytime in the future, it would be triggered by the weight of its own economic problems rather than any outside security threat. Long-range missiles and nuclear bombs would be of no help in deterring an implosion that could come as a consequence of decades-long economic mismanagement. North Korea should have learned a lesson from the disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
As he rose to power in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had tried to pull the Soviet Union out of chronic economic stagnation by adopting glasnost and perestroika for reform. But it was too late to reform the obsolete Soviet system and keep it from collapsing under its own weight.
Kim Jong-un, now 30, will do well to be taught about the Soviet demise as he is too young to have first-hand knowledge about it.