Emboldened North Korea pushes neighbors to seek self-defense
South Korea joined a US-led program to block shipments of nuclear material. In Japan, a lawmaker urged first-strike capability.
As North Korea further ratcheted up tensions in Asia Tuesday, launching two more test missiles a day after exploding a nuclear device, its neighbors cast around for ways of reining in Pyongyang that might put a halt to its nuclear ambitions.Skip to next paragraph
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Mostly, they came up only with words. But some of those words were unusually belligerent, raising fears of a regional arms race as countries such as Japan and South Korea ponder how to reduce their vulnerability.
"Our country should have the capability to attack missile-launch bases to prevent any launch," Gen Nakatani, a former defense minister and a lawmaker in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters, arguing that North Korea's actions meant that Tokyo should build a controversial first-strike capability. These views have become increasingly popular among members of the LDP.
"It may be premature to talk like this," says Han Suk-hee, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul. "But the political mood is already swinging that way."
All eyes on UN Security Council
For the time being, attention is focused on the United Nations Security Council, where American, Japanese, and South Korean diplomats began drafting what they said would be a strong resolution condemning Monday's nuclear test. Whether North Korean allies Russia and China would support tougher economic sanctions, however, remained unclear.
In Japan, many lawmakers advocate tightening sanctions against the North. But Japan has few options left to put pressure on Pyongyang, as it already extended economic sanctions, including a ban on imports, by a year after the North fired a long-range missile in April.
Seoul, though, took a long-awaited step in response to the test, joining the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a 94-nation group seeking to intercept ships carrying weapons of mass destruction or related technology. North Korea had warned that it would consider such a move tantamount to a declaration of war.
Talks still on the table?
The PSI, however, is aimed at curbing nuclear proliferation, not at denuclearizing North Korea, which has been the goal of international diplomatic efforts in recent years.
"The question is whether we really try to denuclearize North Korea" any more, says Paik Hak-soon, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a think tank in Seoul, South Korea. "Eventually, we will have to face this fundamental question, and see whether UN Security Council measures or joining the PSI were helpful."