North Korea-US tension: Modi is right in severing India’s embarrassing connections with Pyongyang

With the Korean peninsula in the north-east Asia appearing to be a tinderbox, thanks to North Korea (Democratic Republic of Korea) threatening to fire a nuclear missile on the American West Coast (say Los Angeles) and the Trump administration talking of a preemptive strike against North Korea from a US Navy carrier placed nearby in the Pacific Ocean (the US has already docked a submarine in the Republic of Korea, better known as South Korea, and deployed the THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system there), India under Modi seems to be changing its traditional stance towards North Korea.

It is becoming increasingly clear that this changed stance has got something to do with the visit of US National Security Advisor HR McMaster to India last fortnight, in course of which he met the prime minister. Arguably, it is for the first time that India has agreed to comply with the United Nations’ existing sanctions on North Korea and limit trade with the reclusive communist nation to limited quantities of food items and medicine. As these sanctions include “prevention of direct or indirect supply, sale, transfer or export of all weaponry and related material through a member nation’s territories or by its nationals to North Korea,” the Modi government has issued a gazette that prevents any Indian national or entity from supplying directly or otherwise any material to North Korea that augments its war-fighting capabilities.

The gazette, which was apparently issued on 21 April but made public on Friday, bans all military, police and scientific training to North Korean officials in India and threatens to expel any North Korean government representative found violating the UN sanctions.

Kim Jong-un. Reuters

Kim Jong-un. Reuters

It may be noted that North Korea has been facing a series of UN sanctions in some form or the other ever since 2006 when it went back on its promise to desist from nuclear and missile testing in lieu of massive economic assistance, including food and fuels, from the US and other western countries; it has conducted five nuclear tests since then. It is also a fact that three countries — China, Pakistan and Iran — have always come to the rescue of North Korea, thanks to the clandestine and illegal nuclear and missile business.

But, what may sound really surprising to the readers that until recently New Delhi happened to be Pyongyang’s second largest trading partner! From an average total trade of barely $100 million in the middle of the 2000s, it shot up to over $1 billion in 2009. In the year 2011-12, the figure was about $800 million. The trade is overwhelmingly in India's favour, though. This figure does not include the massive food aid of soybeans, rice and wheat that India has provided since 2011 for North Korea’s famine-stricken people.

But what is most noteworthy is that while every Indian was badly affected by the rising oil prices and the government-run oil companies were expressing their helplessness in view of the fluctuating price mechanism of global crude production during second term of the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh, the same oil companies were exporting diesel and other petroleum products to North Korea regularly. Of course, fuel was not supplied directly but sold through a network of traders and banks in Dubai and elsewhere. Besides, as revealed by Aljazeera last year, North Korean scientists regularly studied at the Dehradun-based Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP) on subjects such as remote sensing and space technologies.

It is really difficult to fathom our government’s love for North Korea all these years, unless we take into account the fact that it is a fellow “non-aligned” country. Way back in 1999 as the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship Fellow and a visiting professor at Yonsei University, I had authored a book titled “Nuclearisation of Divided Nations : Pakistan, India-Koreas”. In this book I had highlighted how Pakistan and North Korea were helping each other – North Korea helping Pakistan in developing its missiles and in return Pakistan helping North Korea developing its nuclear weapons, with China playing the perfect role of a middleman. This is true even today; in fact relations between the two countries have become much stronger.

In my considered view, Pakistan and North Korea have been the perfect partners in blackmailing the rest of the world; they demonstrate their nuclear and missile prowess but do not go the extent of actually using them with the hope that the rest of the world, nervous with their destructive capabilities, will accede to their demands of security and economic assistance. For them, doing something is less important than appearing to be “about to do something”. In other words, they do what they know the best: getting everyone tied up in nervous knots.

Viewed thus, it is least likely that North Korea will really attack the United States. In any case, despite its bravado, the fact remains that North Korea has not conducted a single test of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (a series of testing is necessary before any missile, let alone an ICBM, is deployed in to the forces of a country – one must be sure of the guidance systems, the tracking capacity, the targeting technology and heat-shield material that hit the target). Likewise, it is equally unlikely that North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un will ever agree to President Trump’s demand that the peace in the Korean peninsula must be based on the commitments to make it free from nuclear weapons and missiles. As argued above, North Korea, like Pakistan, perceives its weapons and missile programmes as the best guarantees for its survival, at least that of the regime (strongly dominated by the military or force).

The only reasonable course towards peace that has got some chance of success is to ensure that the international community desists from doing anything that contributes directly or indirectly towards the augmentation of the nuclear and missile programmes of North Korea (the same is true for Pakistan). I agree here with noted defence analyst Harry J Kazianis: "If you seek to profit from helping one of the world's most rogue regimes build nuclear weapons or long-range missiles you will pay the most severe of prices — slapped with the label of international pariah. While sanctions won’t solve the problem entirely, or erase the nuclear knowledge from the minds of North Korea’s scientists, such measures could greatly slow the rate of technological development and raise the costs of such work for Pyongyang.”

But will China listen? The answer has got implications for the overall peace and security of the Asia-Pacific, India included certainly.

Updated Date: Apr 29, 2017 17:48 PM

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