By: AFTAB H. WAHLA
With a multitude of long-, medium- and short-range ballistic missiles in its arsenal; with miniaturized thermonuclear bomb and inclusion of intercontinental ballistic missile (IBMs) that can hit mainland USA in its deadly weaponry, provocative statements on almost daily basis and intermittent missile tests, North Korea has irrefutably attained the status of the nuclear power that was once feared and resisted fiercely by the US administration through political, diplomatic, economic and strategic means. Now that the worst nightmare of US and the governments of Japan and South Korea has come true, the questions are abounding: what’s the way forward; what type of deterrence would help to prevent North Korea from triggering conventional or non-conventional war with its neighbouring countries – Japan and South Korea; whether a host of economic sanctions would achieve the intended objective of squeezing the Pyongyang’s ability to sustain and expand its nuclear and missile programme or the complete diplomatic and economic isolation and subsequent economic strangulation would raise public grievances to such an extent that people would topple their ruler: Kim Jong-un – just like Gaddafi and other dictators of Middle East were ousted by their frustrated publics. All these strategic calculations, optimistic expectations and assumptions need threadbare discussion to avoid possible nuclear confrontation, split in global consensus against nuclearization of Korean Peninsula and the irrelevance of United Nations, its allied agencies and organizations.
One thing is very much obvious: Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s young, mercurial and ambitious leader would never roll back or abandon his nuclear and missile programme. The lessons learnt from Iraq and Libya would definitely influence his decision regarding surrendering or keeping the nuclear assets. Both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi gave in to the international pressure and completely rolled back their nuclear programmes. The outcomes were terrifying: Saddam Hussein was toppled, his country was invaded and subjected to an unending civil war on sectarian lines and he was hanged. But, despite a lapse of 13 years, US-backed Iraqi government is still struggling to establish its writ over the large swathes of the country. The same is the case with Libya, where the country was destabilized with the hollow slogans of democratization initially with public revolt and then with NATO and US air strikes that inflicted untold miseries and tribulations on the Libyans. Later on, Gaddafi was killed and a puppet regime was installed that is still fighting to extinguish the fire of the ensuing civil war. So, the nuclear surrender of both Iraq and Libya is not an encouraging example for Kim regime to follow, and he knows very well that abandoning the nuclear and missile programme would be tantamount to his removal, instability in North Korea and his arrest or assassination.
Until now the series of economic and diplomatic sanctions proposed by the US and moderated by Russia and China have been highly ineffective in achieving the intended aim of crippling the NK’s economy to financially choke off its nuclear and missile programmes. The eighth set of sanctions, backed by all members of the UN Security Council, including China and Russia, was aimed at further straining the NK’s economic resources. The UNSC resolution slapped a ban on NK’s textile export, fixed ceiling on deliveries of refined oil products and capped crude oil shipment at the current level. The previous sets of sanctions are already causing a loss of one billion dollars and if new sanctions are implemented with the crucial support of China, these would cost NK nearly three billion dollars. No doubt these sanctions are taking a heavy toll on the North Korean economy but the efficacy of sanctions in rolling back NK’s nuclear and missile programmes would depend on the cooperation extended by China – more than ninety percent of North Korean trade hinges upon China. In addition to the China factor, the resilience of Pyongyang to absorb the shocks of economic and diplomatic isolation has shown improvement over the years. So, it is likely that expectations associated with oil embargo are overblown and would not necessarily result into collapse of Kim regime or abandonment of the country’s nuclear programme. The satellite images and other intelligence reports reveal that Pyongyang is taking preemptive measures such as strategic storage of oil, and investment in other energy sources other than oil. Even satellite images hint that Kim regime has installed plants that would turn its vast coal reserves into oil through Fischer- Tropsch process.
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