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Donald Trump shouldn’t give nuclear legitimacy to North Korea

Indians should experience a sense of deja vu while considering North Korea’s manipulation of geopolitics through rogue action. Pakistan, after all, has done remarkably similar actions in its own march towards international nuclear acceptance.

editorials Updated: Aug 16, 2017 16:56 IST
Hindustan Times
North Korea,Pakistan,China
What seems to be the fundamental North Korean motive of forcing the US to accept it as a de facto nuclear state and thus capable of nuclear blackmail against the US and the world at large in perpetuity may yet prove a step to far for both sides to take (Representative Photo)(AP)

Unlike animals and humans, a rogue nation can only go astray as far as its sponsors allow it to. This is especially true for North Korea, a nuclear armed country with an army larger than India but with the GDP of a large city and dependent on imported food and fuel. China has provided North Korea the economic and political cover for almost all of the latter’s dysfunctional and destabilising actions. This has been true for the past few weeks of confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang. China may have supported the United Nations sanctions against North Korea but it did little to stop the flow of essential supplies that could have really applied pressure on the rogue regime.

The latest Korean Peninsula crisis seems to have begun to wind down. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said he would wait a while before he would launch missiles at the US territory of Guam. The US president, Donald Trump, had earlier embedded an offer to negotiate in his otherwise intemperate warnings to Pyongyang. There have been reports of back channel diplomatic activity. But what seems to be the fundamental North Korean motive of forcing the US to accept it as a de facto nuclear state and thus capable of nuclear blackmail against the US and the world at large in perpetuity may yet prove a step too far for both sides to take.

Indians should experience a sense of deja vu while considering North Korea’s manipulation of geopolitics through rogue action. Pakistan, after all, has done remarkably similar actions in its own march towards international nuclear acceptance. While it has not used nuclear blackmail directly, Islamabad has a long history of persuading the US to help it financially and militarily by arguing that the fallout would be a destabilised Pakistan filled with loose nukes and jihadis. And its ultimate patron was also China. Pakistan is today seen as a country whose nuclear status and even its sponsorship of terrorism cannot be stopped, that can at best be “managed” through carrots and sticks. Insofar as a difficult Pakistan serves to geopolitically limit India, the real beneficiary has been China.

A parallel tale can be made of China’s use of North Korea. Pyongyang does not aim its missiles at Beijing. And its seemingly irrational belligerence helps keep Northeast Asia from becoming a US lake but also holds back Japan’s strategic vision and keeps South Korea from a larger Asian role. More than anything else, this is why the Trump administration should resist any temptation to confer a nuclear legitimacy , no matter on how tentative, to Kim Jong-un’s deadly toys. That may mean further nuclear crises in the region, but this should be treated as a further form of management and one less harmful than accepting a status quo of blackmail.

First Published: Aug 16, 2017 15:24 IST