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On North Korea's offensive: What next?

Publication Date : 16-04-2012


As it had promised, the United States confirmed Friday that it suspended its commitment to providing North Korea with 240,000 tonnes of nutritional aid after the communist state defied the international community and went ahead with the launch of a satellite using a long-range missile. Washington suspended the aid even though North Korea failed to place the satellite into orbit.

Washington threatened to take more sanctions if North Korea should engage in additional provocations. The warning came amid concerns that Pyongyang, embarrassed by the rocket’s failure, might be tempted to conduct a third nuclear test or take provocative military actions against South Korea.

North Korea, which made the launch on Friday, two days ahead of Kim Il-sung’s centenary birthday, had intended to use it to celebrate the occasion and consolidate the rule of Kim’s grandson, Jong-un, who took the helm when his father died in December.

When the rocket exploded shortly after its launch, North Korea acknowledged the failure. It was an unusual move, given its past claim of success with a satellite that it failed to put in orbit in 2009.

Speculations abound about what prompted Pyongyang to admit its humiliating failure this time. Among them is a convincing theory that it is prepared to make up for the rocket failure with a third underground nuclear test.

James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, says an analysis of satellite images from North Korea suggests that preparations for another nuclear test are under way.

The United States apparently takes this possibility seriously, given the remarks by Ben Rhodes, a White House spokesman. He says Washington will take additional steps against the North Korean regime if it continues provocations.

A test conducted for the development of weapons of mass destruction would pose a serious threat to South Korea as well. No less threatening is the possibility that North Korea may choose to provoke the South, as it did by torpedoing a South Korean navy vessel and shelling a South Korean island in 2010.

Just as Washington promises to marshal international sanctions against a nuclear test, so does Seoul need to renew its commitment to retaliating against Pyongyang for any military provocation. It is well advised to contact China to get this message across to North Korea. China needs to dissuade Pyongyang from taking any military provocation if it desires regional stability.


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