Fear over Pyongyang's 'absurdities'
Kim Myong Sik
The Korea Herald
Hundreds of men and women were sweating while doing railroad repair work in a flooded area of North Korea's north-eastern Hamgyong Province. They were moving big rocks and wooden poles manually to repair a railway that was washed away last week in what was described as the heaviest rainfall in 60 years. An excavator standing idle with its scoop resting on the ground, apparently out of fuel, was the only machine shown in the Pyongyang TV footage relayed by South Korean networks.
Some people in the crowd were in formal suits, indicating that they were office workers joining the emergency work under orders from the party. The North Korean video, an apparent attempt to generate international compassion and, thereby, inducing emergency relief, may well impress foreign aid workers and lead to the release of some food and medicine to the disaster area. Still, the parade of human ants in the flooded land conveyed the harsh reality of North Korea today, as did the sights of entire villages buried in mud up to the roofs, the result of deforested hills cut into terraced rice paddies.
It is hard to believe that a destitute country with such primitive industrial foundations and a regime ready to expose such weakness to solicit outside aid could pose serious threats to international security with nuclear bombs and long-range missiles.
Since Sept 9, I have had a fear of the future for the first time in my adult life. Upon hearing the news of another nuclear test with the biggest destructive power yet, I had an image of the greyish last scene of The Day After - the ABC feature film I saw while staying in the United States in 1983. The lead character, a medical doctor, returns to his Kansas home after a nuclear holocaust and finds the remains of his wife's wristwatch in the rubble as nuclear ash still falls.
This fear alternates with confidence in the uselessness of the arms of mass destruction the North has built at the cost of international isolation and tribulations for 25 million people. The confidence stems less from our military authorities' assurances of effective pre-emptive attack and second-strike capabilities than from my own accounts of absurdities in the North.
The past two decades - from about the time when Washington and Seoul bore the false hope in a negotiated settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue - were a time of great deception and surprises, with five nuclear tests and numerous rocket launches by the North. Yet, it was also a time of deepening internal absurdities in the North, with the collapse of its state-controlled distribution system and severe polarisation of the rulers and the ruled. Production shrank from one-thirtieth of South Korea's to one-fortieth.
The government of Ms Park Geun Hye has practically done nothing either in the direction of upgrading its defence posture or reducing tension through bold contacts with the North. After 31/2 years of inertia, the President decided to allow the US to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system here as a means to counter North Korean threats, with implicit plans to introduce more such systems on our own in the future.
We have to admit that pessimism has grown here since Pyongyang's latest nuclear test, with our political and military leaders failing to produce convincing diplomatic and strategic approaches to what has become a real and present danger. Our trust in the US conventional and nuclear arms deployed on and around the Korean Peninsula, ready to provide "extended deterrence" for us, cannot but be thinning.
However, we also hear a time bomb ticking in Pyongyang, a place lacking sustainability in terms of the system and practice of ruling, with ceaseless reports of high-level purges and barbaric executions. The aggravation of political, economic and external conditions there increases the imminence of a regime change regardless of how many long-range missiles they produce and equip with nuclear warheads.
No time to waste in keeping N. Korea in check
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) nuclear/missile adventure is dangerous not just for the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan. A nuclear-armed yet unstable neighbour will prove detrimental to China too, though it does not look like one now.
The key stakeholders should have stood together for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Beijing's latest indication to cooperate with Washington in the United Nations Security Council should have been a matter of course. Washington and its allies must be aware that no sanctions will succeed without Beijing on board. And a military solution can hardly go without violating the UN mission for peace.
For Beijing, collaborating with other players and making the UN Security Council work, and its resolutions bite, are necessary if the matter is to be handled within the UN framework.
Security Council members had pledged to take "further significant measures" if the DPRK conducted another nuclear test. Now is the time for them to honour that promise, and break what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called the "accelerating spiral of escalation".
With Beijing now agreeing to further "necessary" sanctions, there is at least a better chance for the security council to come up with what is badly needed to resolve this issue.
But the next question is: To what extent the key stakeholders can agree on how much "further" is "necessary"? This will determine whether there will be a strong enough regime of operational sanctions to discourage Pyongyang.
After all, such divisive issues as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system remain inescapable obstacles in any substantive discussion on regional security.
Divergent security concerns have divided not only the four immediate stakeholders, but also the Security Council, leaving ample room for Pyongyang to press ahead with its nuclear/missile programmes.The current situation brooks no more foot-dragging.
Bolster Japan-US cooperation
The Yomiuri Shimbun
It is essential for Tokyo and Washington to establish a closer cooperation system for conducting joint operations flexibly and expeditiously amid the increasingly severe security environment around Japan.
Defence Minister Tomomi Inada met her United States counterpart Ashton Carter in Washington to discuss security issues. Regarding North Korea's repeated nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, Ms Inada and Mr Carter agreed that they pose "grave threats to the national security of both Japan and the United States".
North Korea has been pushing its nuclear weapons programme with the aim of completing and deploying missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. It is necessary to seriously recognise that North Korea's nuclear miniaturisation technology and missile firing accuracy have improved considerably after the repeated tests and launches.
Mr Carter reaffirmed the US' nuclear deterrence for the defence of Japan. This can be regarded as enhancing the deterrence against Pyongyang's provocations.
It is imperative for the Japan Self-Defence Forces and the US military to steadily expand their range of information-sharing and joint warning and surveillance activities. We suggest the encirclement around North Korea be strengthened by making greater efforts to conduct multilateral military exercises and promote defence cooperation with countries including South Korea, Australia and India, in addition to Japan and the US.
- The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner ANN, a grouping of 21 newspapers. For more, see www.asianews.network.