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Ending Pyongyang’s brinkmanship

Vinod Saighal |


The tensions surrounding the brinkmanship of the North Korean leader have kept the two countries most imperiled, South Korea and Japan on edge. In the latter case there were reports of brisk sales of nuclear shelters. Something similar is bound to be taking place in South Korea as well. In the face of the scale of the destruction that could take place in the event of actual hostilities these measures amount to nothing.

Many analysts writing in publications across the world have begun to justify Kim Jong-Un’s brinkmanship on the ground that he is thereby securing the longevity of his regime against any action that the US might take. As long as Kim knows that China will not join hands with America in taking him out he will keep upping the ante, thumbing his nose, so to say at the US. The latter may threaten fire and fury and unimaginable scale of destruction, but he knows they are on the horns of a dilemma. And now Russia too has come out in his support to the extent that they oppose unilateral US action and insist that dialogue would be the only way out.

By the looks of it Kim is not likely to stop his brinkmanship. On the other hand provoking the US beyond a point would certainly invite preemptive action. Whatever the nature of pre-emptive strike by the US and its two major allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, the destruction that would ensue would, to go by Mr. Trump’s words, be unimaginable. Its scale referred to by the US President needs to be spelled out.

Dr. Ira Helfand, co-President of IPPNW (International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War) published a paper in 2013 on the consequences of a limited nuclear exchange. It would appear he had South Asia in mind. His findings: Chinese winter wheat production would fall 50 per cent in the first year and, averaged over the entire decade after the war, would be 31 per cent below baseline; more than a billion additional people in China would also face severe food insecurity; the total number of people threatened by nuclear-war induced famine would be well over two billion; the prospect of a decade of widespread hunger and intense social and economic instability in the world’s largest country has immense implications for the entire global community, as does the possibility that the huge declines in Chinese wheat production will be matched by similar declines in other wheat producing countries. These figures that have remained unchallenged by scientific studies do not take into account the tens of millions of casualties in the countries where the exchange were to take place.

If this is the scale of destruction over a period of time resulting from a limited nuclear exchange, it is not difficult to imagine the scale where the US hits North Korea as hard as it can. An estimate can also be made of the retaliatory actions by the North Korean leader against South Korea and Japan. Without going into further calculations suffice to say that the casualties could be in the tens of millions in the first 24 hours and an order of magnitude of that figure, if not several orders of magnitude, over a longer period.

At the time of writing the principal players remain the U.S., North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and now Russia. What about the remaining nations of the world? There does not seem to be any emergency planning for survival for countries in the region that would surely be affected by the fallout and those beyond who would be affected over the longer period of time. In short, practically nobody gets away unscathed. The situation described has to be taken as possible Armageddon, in worst case scenarios. Hence, the ineluctable need for the other major players in the world to meet at the UN for finding an immediate solution to this grave threat to humanity.

While the UN Security Council sits in emergency meeting a possible way out that could be immediately effective, before the situation gets irretrievably out of hand, would be for the US, China and Russia to issue a joint ultimatum to the North Korean leader to come to the negotiating table and thereafter forcing him to put a cap on all efforts in his country’s missile and nuclear production followed by dismantlement over a given period; Verification by IAEA and designated neutral country experts. This would be preceded by the three big powers sitting together to work out the give and take that needs to take place by both major adversaries before they take the next steps.

The broad outlines of concessions demanded from the US before the ultimatum to the North Korean leader would include the following: complete withdrawal of all US forces from South Korea in stages; the mutual defence pact with South Korea would be abrogated once full agreement is reached with North Korea for peaceful co-existence on the Korean Peninsula. Neutrality of the Korean Peninsula to be guaranteed by China, Russia and the US; it would be endorsed at a special session of the UN Security Council. Finally, the US to pledge to abjure military action against North Korea; the pledge to be ratified by the US Senate. Fifty billion US dollars would be pledged by the US, China, South Korea and Japan for the economic revival of North Korea. No attempt at regime change would be made by the US or its allies.

Mr. Kim would be unlikely to agree to it even were two of his supporters to join with the US. Here is where compulsion comes in. After authorisation by the UN Security Council for China, Russia and the US to carry out a full-scale blockade of North Korea by land, sea and air, nothing would be allowed to move in or out. Simultaneously leaflets would be regularly dropped over North Korea by China and Russia (not the US) urging the population to force their leader to come to the negotiating table to get them out of their misery; failing which the army as well as the people would be urged to topple the leader before complete starvation sets in. The blockade would be lifted only when neutral observers are allowed to come into Pyongyang and take positions to monitor the agreement and the three powers feel assured that there would be no possibility of the North Korean leader reneging on the deal.

As a final step towards peace in the region and world peace, the proposal – which is amenable to sensible tweaking – for the demilitarisation of both Koreas would commence with guarantees that no major power would be in a position to take advantage from it.

More importantly for the world a satisfactory outcome in North Korea would send a salutary message to any country aspiring to take the North Korean route. The biggest take-away would be the comingtogether of the leading powers in the world for warding off the direst threats to humanity. To begin with U.S., China, Russia; followed by India, Japan and Germany.

The writer is the author of Third Millennium Equipoise