North Korea&’s fifth atomic bomb explosion, quite the most powerful thus far, has caused a flutter in the international roost, and across the choppy oceans. Ever so insensitive to the worldwide condemnation that has greeted last Friday&’s big bang, President Kim Jong-un has let it be known that North Korea is capable of detonating a nuclear device “any time it chooses”. This has made the Asian scenario decidedly murky. As war-drums resonate across the region, South Korea has vowed to “annihilate” Pyongyang if the North starts another war. Not that the prospect can readily be discounted. The North&’s claim to have used “standardised” warheads has sparked worries that it has made progress in its initiative to develop small and sophisticated warheads to be topped on missiles. Pyongyang has not specified the measures on the anvil to boost its nuclear capability; yet overall the signal thus emitted is suggestive of the possibility of a sixth nuclear test.
Seoul, Washington and their allies have vowed to apply more pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang in the wake of its latest nuclear test, the second this year. Indeed, the US has warned that the risk of the North facing unilateral sanctions is dangerously real. Sanctions can cripple the economy, but if the experience of Iran is any indication, an economic reprisal cannot bring a regime to its knees. And like the hardliners in Tehran, Mr Kim remains ever so defiant of the West. There is little doubt that the underlying message of the latest blast is addressed as much to Seoul, its traditional foe, as to the Western powers.
The storm clouds are gathering thick and fast. The US is planning to send warplanes from Guam to South Korea, as it had done in the past after major provocations by the North. The counter-preparations are awesome enough as the US military will fly two B-1 bombers, capable of carrying 24 atomic weapons, over its main airbase near Seoul. Nonetheless, a cloak of secrecy shrouds the build-up. While the Pentagon has let it be known that some aircraft will be deployed, it has declined to disclose the type or the number of planes.
South Korea&’s military has also spoken publicly about its military capabilities; its “retaliation plans” involve precision-strike missiles for direct attacks on the North&’s leadership in the case of a nuclear strike. South Korean President Park Geun-hye&’s sniper attack verges on the personal Rs “ Kim&’s mental state is spiralling out of control and his government betrays fanatical recklessness.” Be that as it may, the world must hope that both sides of the demilitarized zone will hold their fire.