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Nuclear brinkmanship

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  9 Feb 2016 12:00 AM GMT

Barely a month after testing what it claimed was a nuclear fusion device, North Korea has upped the ante by launching a long-range space rocket. The message its supreme leader Kim Jong Un wants to convey is clear — his fatically secretive military machine has a ‘hydrogen bomb’, and now also a vehicle powerful enough to deliver it to a distant target. Pyongyang has long indicated its determition to gain enough strike capability to reach the US west coast across the Pacific. However, US strategists have seen this more as a bluff by the North Korean leadership to bargain and secure concessions from the West. Before Sunday’s launch, North Korea officially notified UN agencies that its Kwangmyongsong-4 rocket would place an earth observation satellite in orbit. In 2012 too, the communist tion had claimed to have placed a communication satellite in orbit with a long-range rocket, but no sigl was ever detected from that satellite. As for the nuclear test it carried out on January 6 this year, there are doubts about it as well, with experts finding that the seismic waves monitored did not correspond to underground explosion of a genuine fusion device. Be as it may, the UN Security Council is taking both the nuclear test and rocket launch seriously, since these indicate that Pyongyang will eventually gain enough experience to accurately control long-distance nuclear missiles. Surely North Korea cannot risk a devastating American nuclear retaliation, but it can do enough to intimidate not only South Korea but also Japan. Significantly, the North Korean rocket’s flight path was over Okiwa prefecture in southern Japan. The upshot of this dangerous nuclear brinkmanship in the Korean peninsula is that it is likely to trigger an American missile defence build-up across Asia. This could seriously impact Sino-American as well as Russian-American ties, as both Beijing and Moscow will be wary of a US missile defence umbrella over Asia that can keep tabs on Chinese and Russian nuclear missiles. Until the North Korean nuke test this year, a powerful section of the South Korean political establishment advocated keeping both Pyongyang and its regiol backer Bejing in good humour. But now Seoul and Tokyo have indicated their readiness to talk formally with Washington about deploying the sophisticated American THAAD missile defence system to track, intercept and shoot down any incoming missile. While this system has so far been tested against short and medium range ballistic missiles, there are questions how effective it would be against the type of long-range rocket launched by North Korea. Washington and Seoul are maintaining that if the THAAD system is deployed in South Korea, it would be focused only on North Korea. But this assurance is not likely to have many takers in Beijing. The entire east Asian region, South Chi sea and parts of the Pacific are thus set to cross a new, dangerous nuclear threshold, bearing ominous implications for India south of the Himalayas.

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