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Wide Fallout From North Korean Test
[Analysis] Radiation from explosion may have been contained, but shockwaves will be felt elsewhere
Timothy Savage (yamanin)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-10-09 16:18 (KST)   
Just after 10:30 this morning, North Korea apparently set off a nuclear explosion in an underground site in Hamgyung province. North Korea's official announcement claimed that no radiation had leaked from the test site. This may or may not be true -- North Korea has never been renowned for its attention to safety -- but the political fallout from the test is likely to be widespread.

The first victim, much to the delight of critics of engagement, is likely to be what remains of South Korea's Sunshine Policy. While often attacked as "appeasement," the Sunshine Policy was in fact a well-intentioned but sometimes badly executed attempt to achieve slow-motion reunification by increasing Pyongyang's dependence on the South.

Over the long run, the policy is still in Seoul's best interest, and will likely be revived at a future date in some renewed form. But for the time being, continued economic cooperation will be politically impossible, both domestically and internationally, especially with a presidential election scheduled for next year. Instead, South Korea will have to turn its attention from trying to restrain the United States from military action in response to the test while projecting a public face of being in lockstep with Washington.

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Many have long predicted that a North Korean nuclear test might cause Japan to reassess its own nuclear options. While this is still possible in the long run, for the time being there's no reason to fear nuclearization of Japan. As long as Tokyo has faith in the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, it has no need to pursue an independent nuclear force.

Within Washington policy circles there has been increasing support for the idea of a nuclearized Japan to play the role of the "Britain of Asia." More likely, than this, however, is that the two allies decide to use the "Dutch option" of bringing U.S. nuclear weapons into Japan. Japan's anti-nuclear stance has been based since the 1950s on the "Three Non-Nuclear Principles," that Japan would not manufacture, possess, or permit the introduction of nuclear weapons. Declassified documents show that the U.S. frequently violated the third principle with the acquiescence of the Japanese government by bringing ships armed with nuclear weapons into Japanese ports. Scuttling the second principle as well thus won't require a major stretch.

Regardless of what happens on the nuclear front, the test will help to accelerate Japan's process of remilitarization, or "becoming a normal country," as it's popularly known. Kim Jong-il just effectively removed whatever domestic obstacles might remain to Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo pushing through his proposed revisions to the Japanese Constitution to remove the war-renouncing Article 9.

The United States now finds itself without many cards to play in reaction to something that it has seen coming for a long time. Having already played the sanctions card in response to the counterfeiting issue, the U.S. now has no more screws it can put to Pyongyang in response to the must more serious act of a nuclear test.

Nor is there much room for military action. In 1994, when the Clinton administration considered preemptive strikes against North Korea's nuclear facilities, they had a pretty good idea that all the plutonium was being held at Yongbyon. But over the last four years, Pyongyang has had ample time to not only weaponize the plutonium, but move it to any of thousands of potential underground sites, so there's absolutely no way the U.S. can be certain of taking out the weapons short of a full-scale, Iraq-style invasion, something that would be extremely difficult and costly even were the U.S. not overextended in the Middle East.

Domestically, Republicans will try to spin this as proof that the world is a dangerous place and that the Democrats can't be trusted to protect the American people. One can start bracing for the parade of "experts" appearing on Fox News to blame all this on the Clinton Administration for deciding to "appease" Kim Jong-il in 1994. But the fact is that the Bush Administration has had six years and plenty of warning, but failed to come up with a viable policy to prevent this from happening.

Moreover, it was the Bush government that ill-advisedly decided to scuttle the Agreed Framework, thus removing the restraints on the plutonium program under the justification that North Korea was pursuing a uranium enrichment program that, at its best, was years away from producing fissile material. Thus instead of the one or two bombs worth of plutonium that Pyongyang had during the Clinton years, it now has enough for an additional six to eight bombs. This allowed them to use some of their plutonium for the test and still have ample reserves to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. is considering naval action to inspect check ships coming out of North Korea for nuclear weapons. At best, this could prevent Pyongyang from selling its weapons abroad, but there's no reason to believe that it would be effective in getting North Korea to give up its existing arsenal.

With so few options, Washington will likely once again look wistfully toward Beijing. But if anything, the nuclear test proves that North Korea acts according to its own interests, and not China's, as Fudan Unversity's Shen Dingli recently pointed out.

Despite this, the cries will no doubt continue to emanate from Washington pundits calling for China to take action in response. Indeed, if there is one country that could squeeze North Korea to try to force it to give up nuclear weapons, it would be China, on which Pyongyang depends for most of its food and energy.

But China has always been reluctant to take this route, for fear of destabilizing a neighboring country. If anything, Beijing will be less willing to put up with chaos in a North Korea that has nuclear weapons. Indeed, regime collapse, long the dream of Washington hawks, is no longer in anyone's best interests, as the consequences of a collapsed state with loose nuclear weapons are simply too dangerous and unpredictable to be tolerated.

Ultimately, the biggest loser in the test is the global nonproliferation regime. North Korea has shown other would-be proliferators, such as Iran, a clear pathway to building a nuclear weapons program. They've also exposed weaknesses in America's nonproliferation policies. The nightmare that the Nonproliferation Treaty was trying to avoid -- that of a world awash in plutonium -- may now be upon us.
North Korea has joined the nuclear club. What do you think?  (2006-10-09 ~ 2006-11-13)
The Hermit Kingdom is a real threat to the world.
I'm more worried about Bush's reaction.
It's a ploy. They'd never use a nuke.
All nations have the right to self defense.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Timothy Savage

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