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The Rediff Special/ M K Bhadrakumar
North Korea tests may hit India-US N-deal
October 09, 2006
What are the short term and long term implications?
In the short term, tensions may escalate in the Far East, where the geopolitics already remains complicated in terms of regional rivalries. Japan 's reaction will be furious and it is bound to press for strong measures by the international community. Admittedly, South Korea will be highly concerned too, but it will also have to ensure that tensions remain under check and will be keen that lines of communications remain open vis-a-vis North Korea.
China has been averse to the prospect of a nuclear North Korea, but will nonetheless have to calibrate its response within the overall ambit of its close fraternal relationship with North Korea, which is also an important neighboring country, apart from China's extreme keenness to ensure that a peaceful regional environment prevails.
In a longer term, North Korea's emergence as a nuclear weapon power fundamentally alters the balance of forces in East Asia. Whether Japan and South Korea, which possess fairly advanced nuclear capability, feel compelled under strong domestic pressure to respond remains to be seen. This will have deep implications for the status that China has enjoyed for the past four decades as the sole nuclear weapon power State in the region.
On a broader plane, North Korea has virtually torn asunder what remains of the nuclear non-proliferation regime built around the NPT. This has profound implications since there are several countries in the world today that have nuclear weapon capability but hitherto exercised restraint, and will now keenly watch the international community's reaction to Pyongyang's strategic defiance.
What is the significance for India?
The impact on India is very acute. India stands to lose on several fronts. India is averse to the dilution of the exclusivity of the 'nuclear club'. Its own claim to be 'accommodated' as a Nuclear Weapon State suffers. India thus becomes an affected party in any redrawing of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that may follow.
North Korea's close cooperation with Pakistan in the field of nuclear and missile development technology assumes an altogether new dimension for India.
The delay in closing the Indo-US nuclear deal will come to haunt New Delhi. The likelihood is that the nuclear non-proliferation lobby in the US which opposes the nuclear deal will get a further fillip.
Correspondingly, the North Korean challenge puts the Bush administration on the back foot, and its political will and capability to steer the Indo-US nuclear deal through the United States Congress may suffer.
India has been harmonising its stance on the nuclear non-proliferation issues with those of the US, and this provided a much-needed political underpinning for the nuclear deal. But with the NPT regime coming apart, India needs to rework its stance on the issues involved.
Is there any significance in the timing?
Certainly. The Bush administration is under pressure on several fronts, and Pyongyang likely visualizes a window of opportunity. Apart from the Iraq debacle and other controversies, the Bush Administration's foreign policy postulates have come under severe scrutiny in the US domestic opinion, and the White House is coping with political controversies at home almost on a daily basis in the highly charged atmosphere of the forthcoming Congressional elections in November.
Equally, Pyongyang would have factored the change of leadership in Tokyo, and would have decided on acting before the leadership of Shinzo Abe settled in.
Third, it is not improbable that a degree of coordination may be at play in 'nuclear diplomacy' between Iran and North Korea. Without doubt, North Korea 's moves deflect attention from the Iran nuclear issue, which is otherwise nearing another critical point.
What are the options available for the United States?
Very few. Military options must be ruled out. North Korea has the capability to retaliate. Essentially, therefore, the US would have to resort to economic pressures in the nature of sanctions. But the problem is that Washington has hardly any leverage over North Korean policies.
Japan will expect the US to take strong measures against North Korea. South Korea, on the contrary, will advise against isolating North Korea. In evolving any viable course, the US will have to depend on cooperation from China and Russia, which, of course, has major implications for a multipolar world order. Washington will be increasingly hard-pressed to maintain a hard line toward Tehran.
The virtual collapse of the nuclear non-proliferation regime is yet another factor working on the US. All in all, the US response will be almost entirely determined by any consensus involving the other permanent members of the UN Security Council as well. There is hardly any scope for 'unilateralism', though an entire range of issues concerning the US strategic presence in the Far East is opening up.
What options are available for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?
First and foremost, New Delhi will try to ensure that the 'collateral damage' on the Indo-US nuclear deal is minimised, if not avoided. This calls for a high degree of harmonization with the US stance on the North Korea problem.
Second, India would join hands with the international community in condemning Pyongyang's decision.
Third, the Indian predicament is that since 1998, India has virtually become a 'status quo' power. It is simply not in India's interest to see the emergence of more nuclear weapon states. Therefore, while continuing to stress its unique status as a 'responsible' non-NPT nuclear weapon State, India will use all opportunity to highlight Pyongyang's past record of covert collaboration with Islamabad.
Fourth, India will strive to have greater say in the negotiations that may ensue in any restructuring of the architecture of nuclear non-proliferation that may now become unavoidable. This calls for delicate balancing on the diplomatic front, and sustaining the present climate of trust and confidence in the Indo-US relations at the political level.
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