Monday, October 16, 2006

North Korea’s Nuclear Threat and the Bush Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Strike

On Monday, October 9, 2006, the North Korean government proudly claimed to have successfully conducted an underground nuclear test near Kilju county in North Korea’s northeastern province of Hamkyung. The international community reacted almost unanimously to condemn the nuclear test and urged the world body, the United Nations, to take immediate actions to contain future “nuclear threats from North Korea”.

This universal condemnation is the standard response when any nation joins the nuclear club, as India and Pakistan discovered in the summer of 1998. And there is little surprise, in a gathering U.N. consensus on rebuking North Korea, with Russia and China likely to sign off on some symbolic sanctions to punish it. China is the closest ally of North Korea.

Later in the weekend, the UN Security Council, pushed hard by the US, unanimously approved tough sanctions against North Korea for its claimed nuclear test. This US-sponsored UN resolution demands North Korea to eliminate all its nuclear weapons but expressly rules out military action against the country; orders all countries to prevent North Korea from importing or exporting any material for WMD or ballistic missiles; orders the nations to freeze assets of people or businesses connected to these programs; and, ban the individuals from traveling.

However, division for the implementation of the sanctions soon cropped up. Even though China concurred that the sanctions have sent “a balanced and constructive message", but it refused to collaborate in the effort to inspect cargo leaving and arriving in North Korea to prevent any illegal trafficking in unconventional weapons or ballistic missiles.

Wang Guangya, China’s UN Ambassador, said that China strongly urges the countries concerned to adopt a prudent and responsible attitude in this regard and refrain from taking any provocative steps that may intensify the tensions in the region. Furthermore, Chinese foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao said in a statement on the ministry’s website that China maintains that the action of the Security Council should clearly state the firm stance of the international community, create conditions conducive to the peaceful resolution of this [North Korea] issue through dialogue and negotiations.

On the other hand, other countries like South Korea, Japan and Australia promised to immediately enforce the sanctions and said to be considering a harsher imposition of penalties of their own against North Korea.

Rejecting this resolution, North Korea’s Ambassador to the UN accused its members of a “gangster-like” action, which neglects the nuclear threat posed by the United States.

The Bush Concept of Pre-Emptive Strike

A pre-emptive strike is a military attack designed to prevent, or reduce the impact of, an anticipated attack from an enemy. It could cover all the branches of the military, names the land, air and sea borne forces or may be confined to just one wing. It can also be used to describe any offensive (as opposed to defensive) action that is taken to prevent, or reduce the impact of, an anticipated offensive action by another party. These actions can be either physical or non-physical.

However, in the post 9/11 world, the legality of pre-emptive strikes became a particular issue after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq by the USA. This was an attack against a sovereign state, aimed explicitly at removing its internationally recognized government, without specific authorization from the United Nations Security Council, not in response to a prior act of aggression, and carried out not by a multilateral organization but by the world’s greatest military power, acting alone or with the backing only of a few loyal allies.

The justification of this concept by the Bush administration was that an attack against Iraq would be an act of self-defense against the threats of terrorism on the US. Because of the new threats that the United States faces, it is claimed, a proper understanding of the right of self-defense should now extend to authorizing pre-emptive attacks against potential aggressors, cutting them off before they are able to launch strikes against the US that might be devastating in their scale and scope. Furthermore, it said that the traditional strategies of deterrence and containment were no longer sufficient.

Thus deterrence meant nothing "against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend" and containment could not work "when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies." Under these circumstances, President Bush concluded, "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long."

These are the bases on which President George W. Bush justified his concept of pre-emptive strike on Iraq: an American self-defense from a possible WMD attack by Saddam Hussein.

President Bush proved to be wrong: no WMD in Iraq, no relation between 9/11 with Saddam Hussein, no real threat to the US from Saddam’s Iraq. The pre-emptive strike on Iraq was thus illegal and destructive.

In conclusion, the wariness of North Korea on the possible nuclear threat from the US through a pre-emptive strike is understandable. Iraq is an example and the nightmare must be in the minds of the North Koreans. At the same time, the main reason behind the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology by a country like North Korea is, I think, more of a diplomatic tactic than to creating threats to the political stability in the region and to protect itself from a possible fate like Iraq. In today’s world, a reliable source of national security is often defined by the “N” word. India, Pakistan, Israel, and now North Korea are examples of countries that claim that the main reason for the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology is for its national security and not to pose threat to anybody.

In the end, without writing off the possibility of a nuclear threat form North Korea, we have to be ready for any eventuality of such WMD to fall into the wrong hands. The nuclear threat is apparent but it is relatively lesser than the threat posed by a possible pre-emptive strike by the mighty US forces.

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