Nuclear Test by North Korea and need for a Quietist Japan: US and South Korea condemn Pyongyang

Nuclear Test by North Korea and need for a Quietist Japan: US and South Korea condemn Pyongyang

Joachim de Villiers and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


North Korea is once more being deemed to be involved in international brinkmanship according to reports that stress that this nation successfully carried out a nuclear test underground. This will be the third nuclear underground test in total. Therefore, this reality highlights the need to forge a genuine dialogue between all vested parties rather than sabre rattling. After all, the one reality which emanates from the elites in Pyongyang is that they refuse to bow down to international pressure, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of their actions.

Of course, the point of view coming from North Korea is that this nation is acting defensively. Also, political elites within the military of North Korea know full well that no nuclear power in history was ever attacked by major military powers. Not only this, if you focus on the reality of Northeast Asia then clearly the issue is much more complex.

The nuclear dynamic of Northeast Asia is a reality because America (with military bases in several nations throughout the region), China, North Korea, and the Russian Federation, are all nuclear powers. America may not belong to Northeast Asia in geographic terms but clearly the “nuclear umbrella” belongs to its allies in Japan and South Korea respectively, irrespective of what politicians say. Also, the American military bases in Japan and South Korea are aimed at “alleged enemies” and from the point of view of Pyongyang this means that North Korea faces a combined threat. In this sense, the two non-nuclear power nations of Japan and South Korea are involved in the “nuclear theatre by stealth” because of their respective policies towards America.

This reality isn’t blaming either Japan or South Korea but it highlights the fact that you have two opposing camps when it comes to North Korea. China is seen to be more sympathetic towards North Korea even if the “nuclear angle” worries the elites in Beijing. Similarly, it is clear that China will put limitations on its “friendship” towards North Korea and this applies to unwarranted military posturing. The Russian Federation is much more of an “honest broker” because this nation does not favor any side directly. Instead, political leaders in the Russian Federation want to contain all negative forces and to lay the foundation for greater economic, political and energy activity between all nations throughout Northeast Asia.

KCNA (, North Korean media agency, stated before the third nuclear underground test that “The South Korean “Ministry of Defense” recently called for “developing concrete, substantial and definite strategy” to cope with the “the North’s potential nuclear threat” and declared that the conception of “pre-emptive attack” would be included in the “strategy of nuclear deterrence against the north” to be worked out with the U.S.”

“Jong Sung Jo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blustered in case of “any sign of the North’s nuclear strike,” the South Korean military would “mount a pre-emptive attack on it even though it might lead to a war.”

The same article also pointed out that “The South Korean regime has stepped up the development and deployment of ballistic missiles with a firing range of 800km capable of striking the entire region of the DPRK (North Korea) as well as the deployment of Aegis destroyers ship-to-ground cruise missile with a firing range of 500km and a long-range air-to-ground missile for fighters.”

Japan should not only be raising important questions towards the posture of North Korea but also challenge South Korea for its statements aimed at North Korea. It should be remembered that recently South Korea made extremely hostile comments aimed at Japan over the territorial dispute. Japan therefore should take an even-handed approach to both parties on the Korean peninsula. After all, a protracted military war between both North Korea and South Korea would also threaten Japan if America became involved. Therefore, it is essential that the Abe government in Japan puts the people of this nation first rather than taking sides and antagonizing relations between Japan and North Korea.

In fairness to America, it is clear that Washington is trying to dampen the territorial dispute between China and Japan. This is based on many important factors related to the need to prevent a major conflict between regional powers. Also, the economic linkage of America, China and Japan is a reality therefore these three powerful economic powers have a genuine mutual interest in preserving the status quo. Indeed, the military constraints which are enshrined in the Constitution of Japan also suits Beijing. After all, this means that China can modernize its military capability without the fear of Japan responding to the same degree thereby avoiding a military arms race.

Therefore, for Japan it is clear that the recent territorial postures of China and South Korea have been much more negative than the posture of North Korea towards Japan. Given this reality, the new Abe government should not openly become involved in sabre rattling towards North Korea. Of course, Japan will rightly condemn the underground nuclear test by North Korea because nobody knows the full consequences of this development in the long-term. However, Japan must remain firmly focused on preserving its territorial integrity and focusing on revitalizing the economy.

President Obama of America rebuked the underground nuclear test by North Korea. Obama stated that “North Korea announced today that it conducted a third nuclear test. This is a highly provocative act that, following its December 12 ballistic missile launch, undermines regional stability, violates North Korea’s obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, contravenes its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, and increases the risk of proliferation. North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region.”

“These provocations do not make North Korea more secure. Far from achieving its stated goal of becoming a strong and prosperous nation, North Korea has instead increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”

“The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies. We will strengthen close coordination with allies and partners and work with our Six-Party partners, the United Nations Security Council, and other UN member states to pursue firm action.”

Overall, it is essential for Japan to adopt a “quietist policy” because current tensions over territorial disputes with China and South Korea respectively, points to the need to focus on these issues. North Korea is the “regional bogeyman” but military elites in this nation are focused on the political and military postures of America and South Korea.  Therefore, Japan can afford to “slip under the radar” despite being rightly concerned about developments in North Korea by rebuking the recent test in a more mild manor. After all, sabre rattling against North Korea doesn’t work and it is better to bring this nation in “from the cold” and into the “economic light” rather than military confrontation.

If South Korea and North Korea can’t avoid confrontation then this issue is internal and outside the remit of Japan. Of course, America will more than likely become embroiled in any clash between both Korea’s but for people residing in Japan – and with the nuclear cloud hanging over any possible clash – then clearly it is in the interest of Japan to remain at a distance. In the past both Korea’s have vamped up the military angle but nothing really amounted to much for many decades. Therefore, it is hoped that China and the Russian Federation can bring a semblance of normality to procedures in order to reduce the sabre rattling, irrespective of where the sabre rattling is emanating from.


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