THE ARTICLE BELOW APPEARED IN FREE PRESS JOURNAL ON 10 APRIL, 2013.
The nuclear taboo has been compromised. On Tuesday, North Korea issued warning saying the Korean peninsula was headed for ‘thermo-nuclear’ war and advised foreigners in South Korea to consider evacuation, in the latest in a series of apocalyptic threats.
Responding to the threat, Japan has deployed Patriot missiles in Tokyo as it readies to defend its people living in greater Tokyo from any North Korean attack. Tokyo also called for sanctions under the UN Security Council resolutions.
Japanese defence forces have been authorised to shoot down any plane or missile headed towards its territory.
Pyongyang has blamed the heightened war risk on the ‘warmongering US’ and its South Korean ‘puppets’ who were intent on invading the North.
Pyongyang has announced to conduct nuclear test on Tuesday amidst heightened tension with South Korea and the US. While the political and military analysts sound optimistic that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s threats are just bluster and suicidal for Pyongyang, one can not neglect the fact that the Korean peninsula is one of the most heavily militarised places on earth.
Pyongyang’s bellicose rhetoric has reached fever pitch in recent weeks, with near-daily threats of attacks on US military bases and South Korea.
The Korean peninsula has been locked in a cycle of escalating military tensions since the North’s third nuclear test in February, which drew toughened UN sanctions. If the unthinkable were to happen, there would be devastation on both the sides and the major loss would occur to North Korea.
But the unthinkable is not likely to happen. For Kim and his regime it would be suicidal.
There is significant doubt that North Korea’s long-range missiles that can reach the United States. However, there is no doubt at all that its short-range missiles can reach its neighbors, both of whom are very friendly with the United States.
But the age-old animosity with Washington may prompt Pyongyang to attack Japan and South Korea to hurt the US. The US military has significant assets in both countries, and analysts predict that a nuclear strike against Hong Kong could cripple US international trade.
Either of the actions would prompt the US to launch large-scale military counter offensive and even launch the process for regime change in the leftist nation.
Though it is difficult to know Pyongyang’s intentions and aspiration with precision, it certainly is not in a mood to sit across the table and talk to Seoul, Beijing and Washington.
Pyongyang with over one million men has the fourth largest standing army in the world. But much of the North’s equipment is seriously outdated, going back to its alliance with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. In contrast, South Korean army is only seven lakh strong, but as compared to Pyongyang, Seoul possesses much more modern and sophisticated equipment. Overall, Seoul’s armed forces present a formidable forward defence against any possible attack by North. With massive ground attack, Pyongyang could succeed invading South in the first phase, but will have to face 28,000 US troops stationed along the DMZ separating the two countries.
Moreover, Beijing has issued a veiled warning to Pyongyang to not to throw the region into chaos. Morover, Beijing doesn’t want a democratic Korea in the neighbourhood with American military presence. Interestingly, China ‘svarious anti-access-military-development to delay and/or deny any American intervention in the region has come to be challenged by the communist regime it has nurtured over the years.
However, this is the golden opportunity for China to assert its military hegemony in the region. In all probabilities, Beijing will be forced to act to stop Pyongyang from riding the nuclear missile.