North Korea and the Bomb – A story of many Voids

In a world where global opinions are usually dominated – directly or indirectly – by US hegemony, North Korea is widely accepted as one of the biggest problem children, alongside Iran and Pakistan. For a country politically dominated by a single family cult (like many others in Asia), where the Iron Curtain still endures resolutely, and where vast tracts of the population do not have access to even meager food supplies, it is pretty self-effervescing to be conducting nuclear tests; even more so of the fact that North Korea has absolutely no credentials of being responsibly nuclear in a post-CTBT world. And yet, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on the 12th of February 2013.

The international community’s reaction was along predictable lines – US President Barack Obama, in his ‘State of the Nation’ address condemned this test. Japan stated that it would collaborate with the US on deciding a proper response to this test. Russia condemned the test and called for the UNSC to agree on an ‘adequate response’. India was also deeply concerned of the test, and saw Pakistan’s contribution to the test, courtesy the Dr. A. Q. Khan legacy. The most significant response was from China – the last ally North Korea has left. The nuclear test is leading to a significant decline in Sino-Korean relations; along the lines of the USSR-China fall out by the late 1950s.

The two most immediate reactions to this test are going to be:

  1. Increased sanctions by the US on North Korea.
  2. A decline in Sino-North Korean relations.

The impact of both these developments will be significant for North Korea. North Korea has for long been dependent on the international community for satisfying even basic requirements such as food. US sanctions, and decreased cooperation from China may perhaps contribute to the complete failure of North Korea.

This situation provides India with unique opportunities to increase its global clout.

Opportunities presented by the Test

India should seek to fill in the void created by frosting of Sino-Korean relations, and increase aid and track-2 diplomatic efforts to reconcile itself with Korea. The strategic location of Korea on the Eastern coast of China is significant of India’s interest vis-à-vis China.

Indian nuclear policy has global nuclear disarmament as one of its fundamental cornerstones. Hence, efforts by India towards a nuclear-weapon free world will be in mankind’s best interest.

Furthermore, India’s handling of this situation will strengthen India’s global role as a responsible nuclear power, and help India’s claims to membership of institutions like the UNSC, Wassenar Group, MTCR and Australia Group. It will also help pacify the quagmire created by India being a non-signatory of the CTBT and NPT.

Opportunities presented by failure of the North Korea State

By all accounts, North Korea is on the verge of failure and the South has prepared for this eventuality. A failed North would lead to the unification of the Korean peninsula under the leadership of the South. And this presents a unique situation to India.

The North’s failure will provide China with an opportunity to increase its influence in this region; and this will lead to an antagonism of Chinese-Korean relations. India can seek this opportunity to strengthen ties with Korea and hedge its Chinese concerns.

Furthermore, a newly unified Korea will inherit the North’s nuclear capabilities. It will raise objections to the stationing of US forces in the South. Both these factors will also lead to a decline in Korean-US relations presenting India with another void to fill. India can continue its role of a responsible nuclear power by acting as a mediator.

On the economic front, the South will have to invest enormous amounts of capital, labor and time to develop the North. This will keep the South occupied and introvert for the next two decades – thereby creating a void in the global manufacturing industry, dominated by South Korea. India, seeking to be a super power and economic power-house can utilize this newly-created market to improve its own manufacturing sector.

The possibilities are endless – but will history bear witness to India’s surge in this particular niche, or will it be another tale of opportunity lost?