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Wednesday January 30, 2013

Missile launch tension

THE tension arising from the launch of missiles by North Korea last December and last week should not just be viewed as a “North Asian problem” but one that can potentially threaten regional and global security.

North Korea has shown defiance in announcing that it would launch “long range rockets” and “high-level nuclear test” two days after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued a resolution condemning Pyongyang’s long-range rocket test in December.

Pyongyang said, in a tone of brinkmanship we are all too familiar with, that these proposed launches and test will be targeted at the “arch-enemy of the Korean people”, the United States.

North Korea boldly brushed aside the latest resolution by UNSC on Jan 23, 2013 condemning their latest provocative action.

Its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to retaliate against the United States for the recently imposed sanctions against his country.

Although one is getting quite accustomed to such ‘vital and serious resolution’ by North Korea to strike back against what it perceives as bullying by the US, one should no longer just brush aside such language as being just empty threats.

North Korea’s highly unpredictable way of doing things may just have reached a point where its actions can no longer be dismissed as mere rhetoric and bluster.

This time, even China, long-time ally of North Korea, has not only distanced itself from the threat but supported the UNSC resolution in a move sure to ruffle Kim’s well-trimmed hair.

The ‘vehicle’ of what Pyongyang described as the launching of a “civilian satellite” last year is reportedly the same as the Taepodong long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The launch is a violation of UNSC resolution to ban North Korea from further testing ballistic missile technologies.

With the success of the test, North Korea has obviously become emboldened to improve its atomic technology and may even conduct another nuclear test that could destabilize regional and global peace.

North Korea has even proclaimed that its missiles could “strike the US mainland.”

Washington has called the test a “highly provocative act that threatens regional security”.

The launch of more rockets and the ‘nuclear test’ aimed at the United States may trigger a series of reactions which may destabilize security in the region.

Should Washington decide to respond to Pyongyang’s provocative act using military means, for example by establishing a regional missile defense system or initiating regime change, the tension in this region would escalate to very dangerous levels.

There is a legitimate fear that regional countries will launch missiles in reaction to North Korea’s launches.

This could result in the proliferation of missiles in the already volatile region and cause further geo-political tension that threatens peace, trade and economic development in the region.

This is something that the region, and the world at large, can ill-afford amid these challenging economic times for the global economy.

The international community should exert stronger diplomatic pressure on North Korea. Routine sanctions, as been imposed before, will not work as Pyongyang has repeatedly defied them and got away with it.

Given Pyongyang’s defiance and the grave threat that the rocket launches and nuclear test pose to global security, more than just the usual chorus of international condemnation is needed.

The United Nations, which has imposed sanctions on North Korea several times for developing its nuclear programme, should press for more comprehensive international sanctions against it.

But this should go beyond just punishing the offender, Pyongyang, which seems unperturbed by sanctions and international condemnation.

North Korea’s backers should also take the blame and should equally be held accountable. These include governments and corporations that have assisted it in developing its nuclear programme and missile proliferation.

For Malaysia and the South East Asian region, this worrying turn of events should be taken seriously as it could trigger certain dynamics which could affect our strategic and economic interests.

Some of the principal actors involved in this saga, either directly or indirectly, are Malaysia’s close trading partners. Any developments that can disrupt peace in the vital East Asian region trade and sour ties between the key actors will surely reverberate our way in one form or another.

Perhaps there is a silver lining to the cloud. North Korea’s belligerence may spur the three East Asian powers, namely China, Japan and South Korea, all close friends of Malaysia, to shift their attention away from their disputes in East Sea and the South China Sea to focus on the huge threat posed by Pyongyang.

They should try to revitalise the stalled six-party talks, a negotiation mechanism in which they are all involved, to find a way out of the crisis.

The missile launch should make regional actors sit up and take note that North Korea is not just a regional bogeyman that can be used for domestic political consumption but a clear and present danger.

It should also banish any thoughts of regional actors and international ones that Pyongyang was just playing a game of bluff.

If Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo could for once put aside their disagreements in the East Sea and the South China Sea and engage in dialogue and cooperation to address the situation created by Pyongyang, this could well generate goodwill among them which has been badly eroded in the recent series of actions and reactions by them in staking and safeguarding their claims.

ARI RANG
Ampang, Selangor

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