Friday, 13 October 2006

North Korea's nuclear explosion in doubt

No airborne radioactive particles have been found by either American or Chinese monitors.
The U.S. government remains uncertain of the nature of the underground explosion, although the air sampling tends to reinforce earlier doubts about whether the test blast was entirely successful, officials said. Data from seismic sensors indicated the explosion was smaller than expected.
This makes it highly unlikely that North Korea actually carried out a successful nuclear detonation. (Hat tip to my friends at Stubborn Facts.)

Although I have posted briefly on the North Korean nuclear situation here and here, I have been unable to really get into panic mode over the whole affair, in large part because the smallness of the seismic signature of the detonation inspired doubt from the very start. Those doubts now seem to be vindicated.

The world has been given a grace period to do something about North Korea before it starts selling nuclear technology to every terrorist group with sufficient financial backing. This was the clear danger from the very start, as not even Kim Jong Il is crazy enough to provoke a nuclear war with either its neighbours or the US. There are disheartening signs, such as Russia and China's pressure in the UN to keep reaction low-key in favour of diplomatic solutions, which has too often been UN-speak for accomplishing nothing whatsoever and giving tyrants a free hand.

On the other hand, Shinzo Abe, Japan's new right-wing, nationalist prime minister made his first foreign visit to China last week, just before the test and got along famously with his hosts (remember the saying: Only Nixon could go to China?) with one of their main points of agreement being the necessity of keeping North Korea in line. I find it encouraging that the first impulse has not been to start an antagonistic military build-up in the Far East between the two great regional powers.

So while the situation in North Korea is still a subject of grave concern, there is not yet any need to panic. Indeed, Kim may have done us all a favour by making it very difficult to ignore his shenanigans and galvanizing world opinion enough to accomplish something before critical mass is obtained. That's a bit optimistic on my part, I know.

[Read the comments.]

Technorati tags: , ,


Biomed Tim said...

It would seem like China and Japan are united in condemning N.Korea for its actions, but I actually think China and Japan have very different motivations.

While Japan is concerned about N.Korea as a military threat, I don't think China finds N.Korea threating at all. In fact, China wants to use the misbehaving N.Korea to keep U.S. on its toes. By maintaining a level of uncertainty in the security of the region, China makes itself indispensible in the multilateral talks, and thereby gaining more bargaining power in a myriad of other issues.

The only thing that China is worried about, is that N.Korea doesn't suffer any political disruption which may produce a sudden surge of refugees that would flood the China border.

Militarily, I think China knows that it can squash N.Korea anytime it wants, and wouldn't hesitate to do so if it needs to.

Janet said...

I think you're right, Tim. Very different motivations going on there. On the other hand, China would want to keep North Korea easily squashable, it seems to me, and if Kim gets a nuke (as I'm not at all convinced he has) it would be a lot harder. Very doable nonetheless, for China, but very unpleasant. If I were them, I would find that Kim is getting too big for his britches.

But I certainly can't claim to have any special insight into what they're thinking; that's just how it looks like to me from here.

Brian Dear said...

Japan's concern about a North Korean nuclear program stems from personal security. As you know, Korea and Japan have shared a difficult relationship and North Korean hostility to Japan is significant. China on the other hand, maintains a relationship with the North out of ideological solidarity. China's fears from a nuclear north result from the concern that, if North Korea becomes too dangerous, the risk of a North Korean collapse would present a threat to China's ideological standing. South Korea is one of China's largest trading partners, however North Korea provides an ideological buffer zone that prevents the Western-oriented South from advancing ideological reform in China. Japan fears for its life. China fears for its system.

Janet said...

Brian, would you think that a good part of China's interest in restraining North Korea would be to prevent a military build-up in Japan?


blogger templates | Make Money Online