By The Twitching Of My Thumbs: North Korean Nuclear Test

I certainly don’t mean to be flippant; North Korea’s third nuclear test at 1.57pm today (AEDT) heightens the risk its mad regime poses to regional and world security, backs China into a dangerous corner, and signals an approaching strike capability upon the United States.

As has been observed in the mainstream press today, North Korea is a state that is immune to the repercussions of its actions; I would go a step further, and say it is run by a junta obsessed with obtaining a nuclear strike capacity and, seemingly, the intent to use it.

Never mind that any nuclear attack launched by the DPRK’s resident despot Kim Jong-Un on South Korea, Japan or the US would likely result in the instant nuclear annihilation of his country; bellicose North Korean propaganda and rhetoric has long emphasised the regime’s belief that with an atomic strike capacity, it will be the equal of the United States.

It is difficult to sort rhetoric from reality when it comes to North Korea; certainly when endeavouring to ascertain the scope of its offensive nuclear capacity or the technological progress it has made to advance it.

Today’s test comes at a time when tensions in the North Pacific are already running high, as China throws its military muscle around in apparent pursuit of various territorial claims, with Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines all deeply unsettled by its conduct.

And it follows the recent test of a long-range ballistic missile by the DPRK that was at the minimum partially successful, and which in any case proved that North Korea is making progress in terms of the delivery systems required to hit the west of the United States.

Ominously, however, it is the first of the three nuclear tests carried out by North Korea in which the regime has claimed to have detonated a miniaturised device; were this to be true it would represent a terrifying leap forward in the North’s capacity to fit a warhead to a long-range missile and fire it at an urban American target, most likely Los Angeles.

North Korea has never attempted to conceal its hatred of the United States, nor make any secret of its desire to attack America should the means present themselves.

The difference between the DPRK and, say, Iran, is that the Koreans have also paraded their weaponry, detonated their warheads where the explosions can easily be detected, and allowed the world to watch as it openly strengthens its ability to strike.

It is here that the delusion of the North Korean regime makes it so dangerous: it actually believes the ability to hit a couple of American cities will transform it into a superpower.

China — the North’s only ally — is known to be losing patience with its problem child, and it strongly advised the DPRK not to proceed with today’s test.

Yet it seems bound to continue — for now, at least — in its role as protector, for fear of a unified Korea in alliance with the USA and the alteration to the regional strategic balance such an eventuality would bring.

The test has elicited the justified, if predictable, wave of outrage and condemnation around the world that incidents such as this do; it remains to be seen what stomach — if any — there is among the international community to do anything meaningful in response.

There will, of course, be another resolution in the United Nations to condemn the DPRK, and quite possibly another resolution imposing more sanctions.

North Korea, however, wears condemnation and isolation as a badge of honour; any additional sanctions — toothless as they must be to circumvent the vetoes of China and Russia at the UN — would seem to offer no prospect of shifting the DPRK from its course.

On the contrary, such action would likely embolden it, and not least considering today’s test was in apparent defiance of the previous sanctions imposed over the long-range ballistic missile test.

It is to be hoped the re-elected Obama administration finds a way to pressure China to reel its errant neighbour in; too often in the past four years, Obama’s government has borne a suspicious resemblance to Bill Clinton’s in foreign matters: kick issues down the road wherever possible, and hope for the best when it can’t.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in an initial reaction to news of the test, made a lot of noise as a United Nations Security Council member about “(working) for the strongest possible response to North Korea’s continuing defiance of the will of international community.”

Her government would want to do better in its efforts than the pathetic abrogation of responsibility in the UNSC with its abstention from the vote on the admission of Palestine as a member state.

China, for now, has given no indication that its position is at all changed by today’s test.

And the test, coupled with the recent missile test North Korea attempted to pass off as a satellite launch, makes it clear that the mad junta running the DPRK will not stop until it is able to lash out with nuclear weapons — and that when able to, may well do precisely that.

It pushes China down a dangerous path, and confronts it with what it perceives to be an insidious choice: to continue to back its troublesome ally and risk an eventual US-DPRK conflict into which it would inevitably be drawn; or to abandon North Korea, with the certain result it would be flooded with refugees, and hemmed in by a US-backed, unified Korea that would radically alter the strategic balance in the Pacific in America’s favour.

Both outcomes are regarded as intolerable by Beijing.

Yet the US — rightly — will not tolerate a nuclear strike on its soil without enacting colossal nuclear retribution on the perpetrator; it is doubtful the US would even tolerate the strike capability in this case, given the belligerent and inherently violent conduct of the DPRK.

By the twitching of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…

Our part of the world got that little bit more dangerous this afternoon.