By M D Nalapat
A North Korea nuclearised to the Pakistan level would put at risk millions in Japan and South Korea, and within years, US’ west coast and India.
North Korea and Pakistan are “proxy” nuclear states, neither of whom would have reached their levels of capability but for the assistance received from China. Both in the development of nuclear weapons as well as the platforms needed to carry them into enemy territory, Beijing has shown itself to be undeterred by the impact of such assistance on its relations with other countries. Of course, it would be difficult to calculate whether Chinese nuclear and missile help to Pakistan and North Korea is because of less than warm relations with Delhi and Tokyo, respectively, or is the cause of such coolness. Most likely, it is a compound of both. From the 1930s, when Mao Zedong became dominant within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), it has succeeded in implementing strategies designed to enhance the benefits and leverage possible as a consequence of geopolitical trends. Small wonder that in 1949, the CCP absorbed into the People’s Republic of China (PRC) territories such as Manchuria, Tibet and Xinjiang that had, for extended periods of time, been separate from the land ruled from Beijing. Such an amalgamation took place two years after India’s leaders accepted the breakup of the subcontinent less than five years after Delhi had extensive rights even within Tibet, apart from directly administering other territories that were cleaved away before 15 August 1947. This last was surrendered to the PRC without recompense by Jawaharlal Nehru in the initial years of the 1950s. Our sarkari (or more accurately, durbari) historians have, of course, weaved a narrative that portrays every giving away of the natural patrimony of India as inevitable and often desirable, and every action of the country’s leadership of the time as being divinely inspired. Indeed, it is now settled law in India that any criticism of Mahatma Gandhi is an act of treason, and soon such a list may get added on to, so that the triumphalist history of the Durbar continues to prevail in schools and colleges.
Hopefully, the present leadership will do better, especially because there are two immediate threats that are of a nature toxic to the entire world. These are (a) the ideology and practice of groups such as ISIS, and (b) the progress towards a Pakistan level of nuclear and missile capability by North Korea. In the case of neither is India yet a significant player, given Lutyens Delhi’s unwillingness to commit military assets to the battle against ISIS and its cousins in the Middle East, and the absence of India in any diplomacy involving Pyongyang. This is in contrast to the 1950s, when India was at the centre of negotiations to end the Korean War, regrettably with the problem (of division of the country) unaddressed. US President Harry Truman was no Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill, and personal pique perhaps led him to recall General Douglas MacArthur from Korea, when the military genius sought permission to carry the war into China with all the weapons present in the US armoury. Had MacArthur been permitted to carry out the operations he had planned, global geopolitics would have been transformed. At the least, there would not have been the trauma that the Korean peninsula has suffered despite hostilities ending in 1953. This is much more than the additional pain there would have been had General MacArthur been permitted by Truman to finish the war the way he wanted, by carrying the destructive force of US weaponry to China. Interestingly, in the 1980s as well, the USSR lost in Afghanistan because of the refusal by CPSU General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev to use the firepower of the Soviet forces against Mujahideen bases in Pakistan. Had this been done, the war would have ended in the defeat of the Mujahideen. The victory of Wahhabi fighters in Afghanistan created the conditions for the spread of the more militant firms of that ideology to spread across several countries and create a security problem that is still far away from a solution. Just as the refusal of the US administration of the time to finish the mission in Korea by unifying the country has created the security nightmare personified by Kim Jong Un control and use of radioactive substances.
A North Korea nuclearised to the Pakistan level would put at risk millions of innocents in Japan and South Korea. Within years, the populations under threat would include those resident on the west coast of the US, not to mention India. The number of individuals who could be affected—many fatally—by a nuclear attack would be several orders of magnitude higher than those who could fall victim to attacks by ISIS, even in conditions where that organisation spreads across the globe and correspondingly creates cells. China supplies 96% of the energy used by North Korea and much of its food. The country—and before long its regime—would be paralysed were Beijing to join international efforts at ensuring that the North Korean threat ceases.
Thus far, however, there have only been the mildest of slaps on Pyongyang’s wrist by Beijing, just as the response of the US and the EU to China’s serving as the lungs and heart of the North Korean regime has been confined to a few muttered expressions of disapproval. Both need to change. Also, what is needed is to offer a genuine chance to Kim Jong Un and his associates to enter the mainstream by agreeing to unify their ancient land under a democratic system, and to be ready to carry out a military strike aimed at decapitating the North Korean leadership, should Kim Jong Un decline to enter the history books as the Korean who unified his country through a supremely statesperson-like acceptance of the imperative of peaceful unification of Korea. Hopefully, rather than continue in the preferred Lutyens mode of confining “action” to words, India will be at the core of global operations to ensure that the twin threats of Wahhabi terror and North Korean nuclear and missile proficiency get eliminated.