Spotlight on Geopolitics

The recent underground nuclear test performed by North Korea has shaken not only the Korean Peninsula, but all major capitals around the world, from Beijing to Moscow to Washington D.C. The charge was four times as powerful than the one in 2006, having roughly the same capacity as the Nagasaki nuclear blast. What is less obvious to observers is why North Korea has decided to revert to its rogue state activities. For two years prior, it appeared that the six-way talks were about to succeed. The North Koreans had agreed to disable their nuclear reactor, to abide by earlier non-proliferation agreements and to allow UN verification of its installations.

In 2009, however, they hardened their stance at UN meetings and during further negotiations with China, Russia, Japan, the US and South Korea. According to British former diplomats to Phenian, the recent test and the hardening of the North Korean position on nuclear disarmament could be the result of the change in South Korea’s political leadership, given that a new president has taken the country’s helm. Less inclined to compromise than his predecessor, Lee Myung-bak has nevertheless been taken by surprise by the recent nuclear test. It is also possible that North Korea’s stance at the UN could signal its leadership’s dislike of another preeminent South Korean, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

In addition to this, it seems that North Koreans are displeased with the Obama Administration’s stance on nuclear disarmament, as well as with the Japanese embargo affecting trade between the two countries. By conducting the nuclear test, Phenian could also be trying to blackmail the West into increasing the amount of aid for its impoverished populace.

As one of the last Stalinist dictatorships, North Korea is living on borrowed time. Its citizens are under-nourished and in serious need of economic assistance from abroad, especially from its richer southern neighbour. China, on the other hand, is less inclined than ever to defend its satellite’s excesses, especially during these turbulent economic times. Russia and the United States are clearly worried about the recent nuclear experiments, which seem to be emulated by other rogue states in Asia, notably Iran. This time around, however, the routine nuclear scare tactics employed by the Phenian regime could backfire miserably, leaving it more exposed to additional international sanctions and diminished economic assistance.

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