THIS is not a humor piece, but rather a wake-up call for Filipinos to comprehend the rising nuclear crisis that has been ignited by North Korea with its nuclear test last Sunday and its proximate emergence as a nuclear power in its own right.
If you think, as I did at first, that we can dismiss this development as just another foreign news item, think again. Its impact and implications are hair-raising.
Before discussing the grave implications, let us quickly dispose of two immediate reasons for interest, namely:
First, the Philippines is truly the third largest trading partner of North Korea, with total trade of $87 million. Its biggest partner is China ($5.5 billion). The second biggest is India ($140million). Fourth is Russia ($76 million). The source of this data is the International Trade Center (ITC) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
This is an unobtrusive achievement, like the distinctions we casually chalk up every time there is an international singing, dancing and beauty contest.
Alas, Donald Trump has noticed it. Following North Korea’s weekend surprise, Trump tweeted from the White House: “The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.”
Stopping all trade? Can we Filipinos live for any significant period without consuming Hollywood movies and American pop, and without selling our semiconductors, bananas and business process outsourcing (BPO) to the US?
Second, and another point for consideration is that in three months, on November 13 to 14, the Philippines will be hosting the 12th East Asia Summit in Angeles City. All the big countries that are most agitated by the developments in the Korean peninsula, such as the United States, China, Russia. Japan, and South Korea, will be attending. For sure, North Korea will be a major topic of conversation in Angeles.
North Korea’s sprint to nuclear status
These matters are minor in significance compared to North Korea’s threatened sprint to nuclear status. I realized how serious this is after spending two days reading some heavy analyses of Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
What I found in my review was not reassuring. The world has been grappling with North Korea’s nuclear program for over two decades, but nothing it has tried so far has worked.
After all the threats, sanctions and bad notices, Kim Jong-un just moves on and conducts his missile and nuclear testing.
I recount below some of the key lessons, according to the expert analysts:
Nothing has worked against North Korea
1. Options tried on North Korea have not worked.
In a lengthy article in the Atlantic magazine, senior editor Khrisnadev Calamur reviewed all the options that have been tried to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear program over the past two decades.
Calamur observed: “Decision makers seem to have much clearer ideas about what won’t work than about what will—and that’s in part due to the history of failed efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.”
He then reviewed all the options that have been tried with North Korea, how they unfolded, and how they ultimately resulted in the situation we find ourselves now.
The options included:
• Talks: Direct U.S.-North Korean talks during the Clinton administration in the 1990s;
• Sanctions: International sanctions have been in place on North Korea for a little more than a decade, and were tightened last month.
• Pressure on China: The Trump administration, and others before it, have urged China to do more to pressure North Korea to renounce its banned programs.
• Military options: A military strike by the US against North Korea, while highly unlikely, has been raised as a possibility by President Trump.
But nothing has worked so far.
2.Putin warns of global catastrophe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Tuesday of a global catastrophe unless a diplomatic solution is reached on North Korea, but rejected US calls for more sanctions as “useless”.
The US on Monday demanded the “strongest possible measures” against North Korea for detonating what Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb that could be mounted on a missile.
North Korea’s banned weapons program has so far been subjected to seven sets of UN Security Council sanctions.
Putin made clear that Russia was opposed to further interdictions. “Resorting to just any sanctions in this situation is useless and inefficient,”
3.Failure to honor terms of the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty led to Kim Jong-un’s recklessness.
In an article in the UK-based Guardian on September 5, 2017, Simon Tisdall contended:
“North Korea’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities…reflects the chronic failure of multilateral counter-proliferation efforts and, in particular, the longstanding refusal of acknowledged nuclear-armed states such as the US and Britain to honor a legal commitment to reduce and eventually eliminate their arsenals.”
The past and present leaders of the US, Russia, China, France and the UK, whose governments signed but have not fulfilled the terms of the 1970 Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), commonly known as the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, have to some degree brought the North Korea crisis on themselves.
To work fully, the NPT relies on keeping a crucial bargain: non-nuclear-armed states agree never to acquire the weapons, while nuclear-armed states agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and pursue nuclear disarmament with the ultimate aim of eliminating them. This, in effect, was the guarantee offered to vulnerable, insecure outlier states such as North Korea. The bargain has never been truly honored.
4. The time has come for the US to talk with North Korea.
In an op-ed article published in several newspapers, John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, contended that the time has come for the United States to talk with North Korea.
He wrote: “North Korea’s sixth nuclear test is not a surprise to anyone who follows the regime’s program closely…
“The test does not fundamentally change the situation on the Korean peninsula, though it is another acceleration. What is still missing is diplomacy. It is up to the Trump administration whether they want to flip this into an opportunity to belatedly start talking directly to Pyongyang, or just continue down the beaten track of shows of force, more UN sanctions, and secondary sanctions.”
Not just an observer
I would argue that it is more sensible for the Philippines to be engaged in the Korean crisis, than to just pull the bedsheet over our eyes, hoping the crisis will pass.
We are hostage to geopolitics. The two Koreas are vital members of our Asia-Pacific region. A new war will severely affect us, willy-nilly. We should be the voice of Asean.
Circumstances position our country favorably for a useful role in a US-North Korea dialogue. We have strong historic ties with the US. We also have existing trade relations with Pyongyang. We have the ear of the other vital parties to the Korean issue: China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.
Our diplomacy can articulate the viewpoint and interest of countries that, while having no direct interest in the dispute, will surely be gravely affected by the deterioration of the situation into conflict.
Being North Korea’s third biggest trading partner, and America’s close ally, should serve a practical purpose.