BY M.R. JOSSE
BOSTON, MA: Though there has been no dearth of momentous events lately, anxieties triggered by North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on September 3 – the second this year – have overshadowed them all.
Among such happenings are those associated with Hurricane Harvey, a tragedy for untold thousands of people in Houston, Texas, and the wobbly rapprochement between India and China after a nearly three-month long spell of verbal sabre-rattling over the Doklam dispute.
Massive flooding in Nepal, India and Bangladesh has also caught world notice, not to mention that it seems to have spurred an agreement reached during Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s India visit to expedite the Saptakoshi High Dam Project and the Sun Koshi Storage Diversion Scheme, among others.
Not surprisingly, they have triggered controversy in Nepal and may, in fact, contribute to the eventual fall of the Deuba-led coalition – but that’s a story for another day!
Writing this piece on-the- hop from the historic city of Boston in Massachusetts, I have been struck, among other singularities, by two realities: that, as predicted here two weeks ago, India announced its decision to participate at the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China – a day after she pulled back its troops from Doklam; and, that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un came up with his latest stunning provocation on the eve of that regional conference.
The participants include China and Russia, North Korea’s immediate neighbours, besides India, a nuclear weapons power grudgingly accepted by the West and which provides probably one reason, among many, for Pyongyang’s rushing headlong on her missile/nuclear weapons trajectory.
What should not escape notice, especially in Nepal, is that India for all its bluster and bravado has pulled back from the brink, realizing, at the 11th hour, that challenging China militarily would be an epic blunder.
Since China has joined – even if only reluctantly – the West in pressing for incrementally harsher sanctions against North Korea for its repeated violations of a whole menu of UN Security Council resolutions relevant to nuclear non-proliferation, it will be interesting to see what Beijing’s reaction to the latest poke-in-the-eye from Pyongyang will be.
One may, incidentally, wonder what the BRICS’ summit will pronounce on North Korea’s reckless brinkmanship. In one way or another, it should be enormously edifying.
To come, now, to North Korea’s second nuclear test this year (the earlier one was in January), three immediate aspects are arresting. The first is that Pyongyang has continued to thumb its nose at world opinion, despite all grim warnings and the imposition of increasingly harsher sanctions.
The second is that it has now claimed that her latest (underground) nuclear test was not just an atom bomb of the sort that was detonated by the US in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 but a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb which, one is informed by experts, is multiple times more powerful!
The third thing is that its most recent act of defiance came less than a week after Pyongyang tested an ICBM that, after flying through 1,677 miles and reaching a maximum height of 341 miles, over-flew the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the first ever North Korean projectile fired over Japanese territory since 1998.
That prompted American president Donald Trump to declare that “Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation…All options are on the table.” To that, North Korean dictator claimed that the launch was a “meaningful prelude” to an attack on the American territory of Guam!
At a UN Security Council emergency meeting, US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned: “enough is enough”.
Briefly explained, a hydrogen bomb uses a small frisson bomb, created from uranium or plutonium, that is used as a trigger to set off a far larger blast through nuclear fusion, or the sticking together of light atoms. Those atoms are hydrogen isotopes, which is where the hydrogen bomb derives its name.
Against the above backcloth, it is no wonder that alarm bells have begun to ring loudly and persistently in world capitals, including Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Moscow, London and Paris.
At the time of writing, American President Donald Trump roared furiously: “North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a grave threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success.”
A meeting of the National Security Council was convened in Washington thereafter to discuss America’s options.
US Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, speaking publicly after that conclave, explained: “We made clear that we have the ability to defend ourselves and our allies, South Korea and Japan from any attack and our commitments among the allies are ironclad…Any threat to the United States and its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response – a response both effective and overwhelming.”
Already a series of countermoves has been witnessed, including the testing by Japan of its new missile alarm system and the growing pressure on South Korea to no longer delay deploying the US-designed THAAD (Thermal High Altitude Area Defence) anti-missile system which the new South Korean president Moon Jae-in did after assuming office in May.
As of the present, one is informed that the most muscular response from the United States would be the re-introduction of its strategic assets in South Korea which, typically, refers to stealth bombers, aircraft carriers and possibly nuclear weapons.
While the world awaits future developments with bated breath, I found it fascinating that Amos Yadlin, a former intelligence head of Israel’s Defence Force said publicly in an interview that Trump should attack North Korea – “but only if he knows that there will be no retaliation”.
For that to happen, Yadlin opines, the US needs “excellent military intelligence” to carry out a pre-emptive strike before a counterstrike from Pyongyang reaches South Korea and Japan.
That is more readily said than done; the world is now confronted with nail-biting suspense.