Conflict won't deter belligerent N Korea

A fresh US warning to North Korea and the Chinese government’s description of the situation in the Korean peninsula as sensitive and frau­ght with risk show that the explosive situation that has developed there in the last few days continues without abatement. A series of events and verbal warnings in the last few days have escalated tensions. While the US moved an aircraft carrier to the Korean coast to intimidate Pyongyang, North Korea made a display of its missile strength and tested a missile which failed, though it was seen as an act of defiance. The deployment of the anti-missile system Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) by the US in South Korea is progressing fast. A fresh US warning by Vice President Mike Pence has come with references to US actions in Syria and Afghanistan and could, therefore, mean that Washington may not shy away from taking a similar action against North Korea.

The issue at the core of the situation is North Korea’s nuclear and missile programme which has progressed steadily through decades despite threats, pressures and various other actions by the US and other countries. Though all countries view Pyongyang’s programme with concern, responses and methods to deal with it have differed from country to country. China, which is Pyongyang’s only friend, is also against the programme, at least openly, but has not taken any effective step to persuade Pyongyang to stop it. Beijing is also not happy with US steps, like the THAAD deployment, which it thinks could be used against it. There are also doubts about the leverage China has on North Korea. Russia, which is not directly involved, is also against the nuclear programme but has warned against any unilateral US action against Pyongyang. Japan is also seriously concerned as it is in the direct line of North Koreas’s belligerence.

North Korea has till now shown no sign of abandoning or toning down its programme. The six-party talks from 2003 to 2009 did not achieve any result. Warnings about use of force have also accomplished little. North Korea, in response to the latest
US warning, has said that it would retaliate and there would be an all-out war. An escalation of the situation can hurt US allies and its own interests in the region. China would also not like it. While the rhetoric is worsening and situation seems to be sliding, there are few untested options for any of the parties. But confrontation and conflict will not resolve the problem, and may worsen it as North Korea is nuclear and unpredictable.

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