Nuclear Weapons on an Empty Stomach?


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Thalif Deen

SEOUL | NEW YORK (IDN) - The stories emanating from the hermetically-sealed North Korea are the stuff of diplomatic legends. Described as one of the world's most closed societies, North Korea has always remained a political enigma. JAPANESE

Is Kim Jong-il, North Korea's "dear leader", incapacitated with a stroke? If so, are the military generals really running the country?

How credible are rumours that his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has been designated the current ruler's anointed successor? And did the son graduate from an international school in Switzerland, under the assumed name of Park Choi?

The newspapers here in Seoul, the vibrant capital of South Korea, the northern neighbour, are full of speculative stories about the hermit kingdom.

Is the son the chip of the old blockhead? Or unlike his father, is he more outgoing and also fluent in English, German and French?

The answers are hard to come by in the continuing guessing game.

After it conducted an underground nuclear test last month, the economically ailing and food-starved North Korea has once again had its 15 minutes of infamy. North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship has rattled not only Seoul but also Tokyo and Washington DC.

U.S. Defence Secretary Bill Gates has vowed that Washington will prevent North Korea emerging as a nuclear weapon state. But that may be far too late in the day.

North Korea's nuclear test is also an attempt by Kim Jong-il to elevate the status of his country militarily - and display his political and diplomatic clout in the international community which has continued to treat the North as a political pariah.

A former Pakistani Prime Minister was once quoted as saying that his country was determined to produce nuclear weapons even if the people in the country were forced to make sacrifices to the point of "eating grass".

Perhaps in reality it was North Korea that symbolized the gravity of that statement. A tempting newspaper headline would read: Nuclear Weapons on an Empty Stomach?

Judging by reports from the UN and international humanitarian organizations, there is widespread hunger, and even starvation, in some of the villages and inner cities of North Korea.

The North Koreans have been depending heavily on the U.S., Japan and the UN for food aid - roughly about one million tons per year - for its 23 million people.

Still, it is now staking its claims as one of the world's newest nuclear powers, ranking with the three other undeclared powers in the same league: India, Pakistan and Israel (while the five declared powers, the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia, hold onto their undisputed rankings).

Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warns there may be another 10 or 20 "virtual weapons states" in the next few years, unless there are radical steps towards nuclear disarmament.
And last month's nuclear test by North Korea, the second since October 2006, is threatening not only the security of Asia but also jeopardizing U.S. President Barack Obama's far-reaching and highly ambitious plans for a "world without nuclear weapons."

John Burroughs, executive director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, says a real danger is that the North Korean test, and also the ongoing Iranian nuclear programme, may bolster elements in the United States and other nuclear powers that oppose disarmament measures.

"The world is going to have to learn how to move urgently on the disarmament front regardless of the ups and downs with respect to preventing acquisition of nuclear weapons by new states," he added.

At a two-week meeting (May 4-15) of the preparatory committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, said: "Universal adherence to the NPT itself - including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea - also remains a fundamental objective of the United States."

She quoted Obama as saying: "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons."

The North Koreans have been accused of violating some of the international commitments made earlier to dismantle their nuclear weapons programmes.

Obama has called the nuclear test a "blatant violation of international law" and vowed to take action against the government in Pyongyang.

But taking strong punitive action may be an uphill task at the Security Council - considering the track record of China and Russia, who are likely to water down any drastic sanctions against North Korea, one of their political and military allies.

On June 12, the Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution tightening sanctions against the Pyonyang regime. But there were no blanket economic or military embargoes.

When the Security Council imposed sanctions about three years ago, it imposed a ban on luxury goods going into North Korea, including lobster, caviar and cognac. The North Korean leader apparently had a taste for good food and rare wines - even while some of his countrymen were starving.

As one news report put it: what will the Security Council do for a sequel. "Put the Dear Leader on another diet?"

But the latest resolution skipped the caviar and the wine but exempted small arms and light weapons from the embargo.

The 15-member Council not only condemned the nuclear test but also demanded it no longer conduct any nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology.

For the first time, the resolution also called on member states to inspect, in accordance with local and international law, all cargo to and from North Korea, in their territory, including seaports and airports.

But the North Koreans hit back at the Security Council, accusing the UN body of political hypocrisy and double standards.

Just before the resolution was adopted, a statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry read: "There is a limit to our patience."

"The nuclear test conducted in our nation this time is the earth's 2,054th nuclear test. The five permanent members of the Security Council (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia) have conducted 99.99 percent of the total nuclear tests."

The online website PolitiFact quoted statistics from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) which listed some 2,051 nuclear tests worldwide since 1945.

The breakdown for the five permanent members of the Security Council follows: U.S. - 1,030; Russia/USSR - 715; Britain - 45; France - 210; China - 45.

Additionally, there have been a handful of other tests, although no exact numbers are available. These tests were conducted by India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

Carey Sublette of the Nuclear Weapon Archive, which monitors nuclear testing via public records, was quoted as saying: "So arguably, there have been as many as 13 nuclear tests conducted by countries other than the five permanent members of the UN Security Council."

And by his count, there have been a total of 2,054 nuclear tests. That means 99.37 percent of all the tests were done by the five permanent members of the Security Council.

The North Koreans were not far off the mark, he added. – 15.06.2009