2006-10-13 Shannon Kile
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With North Korea touting its nuclear capability, condemnations and sanctions are on the lips of European leaders

A South Korean protester shouts an anti-North Korean slogan as he holds a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a rally in Seoul, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)A South Korean protester shouts an anti-North Korean slogan as he holds a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a rally in Seoul, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)

North Korea's nuclear ambitions are clear but how is the international community responding? Japan took action while the United Nations weighed sanctions against North Korea and the US, Britain and France sought a resolution under Chapter VII (7) of the U.N. Charter to make sanctions mandatory. And without sanctions? Experts fear this could be a slippery slope. Joining me on Network Europe now is Shannon Kile from SIPRI the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Thank you very much, it's a pleasure to be here.

You're an expert on non-proliferation and export control - this week has been characterized by tension - tension over North Korea's nuclear intentions - now Iran has re-iterated its support of a global dismantling of nuclear capabilities. Do you think that's optimistic if we look in the short term?

Well certainly in the short term the trends in nuclear forces are running in exactly the opposite direction. The nuclear weapons states are all modernizing their forces. They've all reaffirmed the centrality of nuclear weapons in their long term security postures. And in some cases they're actually giving nuclear weapons expanded roles and missions in those postures. So in fact in the short term, the trends are not very optimistic.

North Korea is touting this as a success.

Members of Korean Federation for Environmental Movement perform a skit during a rally denouncing North Korea's nuclear test in Seoul, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)Members of Korean Federation for Environmental Movement perform a skit during a rally denouncing North Korea's nuclear test in Seoul, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
I think at this point the nuclear forensics thats been done so far suggest that it was almost certainly a nuclear explosion. The question, I think, thats been raised by a lot of the data thats come to light so far is whether or not the test was a success or not. Or more accurately, whether the test was perhaps in fact a partial failure. And here the evidence is based primarily upon the extremely low yield of the weapon. Very, very anomalous by historical standards by states that are detonating their first nuclear weapon. And to have a yield as low as the North Korean test seems to have been, indicates that perhaps the test was what's called a fizzle. That is to say that there wasn't a complete chain reaction in that not all of the plutonium was actually detonated.

North Korea, Iran - what do these countries gain by showcasing nuclear capabilities?

Iran steadfastly maintains that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes. And although there's considerable evidence that's been gathered by the International Atomic Energy Agency in the last year or so which suggests at least that Iran's program may have a military component as well, there is no definitive proof of that yet. The difference with North Korea is North Korea in February of 2005, openly stated that it had developed operational nuclear weapons. And the test that was carried out last weekend, in fact could perhaps be better described as a nuclear weapon demonstration because the main purpose as given by the North Koreans for carrying out the explosion was to establish the credibility of their nuclear deterrent. And ironically, what's happened since then is that because there are now doubts about whether the test was a success or a failure, it's actually served to raise more questions than it answers about North Korea's nuclear capability.

It seems North Korea has now let the genie out of the nuclear bottle - what should Europe be wishing for now?

I think Europe should be wishing for two things. The first thing is a cessation of further nuclear tests by North Korea and the second thing is it needs to be part of a coordinated international response to what North Korea has done. And that may involve sanctions, that may involve some other punitive measures but there needs to be, on the part of the International community, it can be through the UN Security Council or through a coordinated series of measures among individual states but there needs to be a clear marker laid down that this is not acceptable and that North Korea has to desist from this behaviour.

Well, what do you see as the key to a solution?

South Korean Army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 9, 2006. South Korea's Defense Ministry said the alert level of the military had been raised in response to the claimed nuclear test.South Korean Army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) of Panmunjom, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 9, 2006. South Korea's Defense Ministry said the alert level of the military had been raised in response to the claimed nuclear test.
Frankly, because North Korea is already such an isolated state, and is isolated by its own choice, the instruments of leverage available to the regional allies and to the UN Security Council are actually quite limited. With the exception of China. And I think China really is the key player here. For China the dilemma has always been, for the past decade or so, really two conflicting priorities. On the one hand China supports the idea of non-proliferation, it doesn't want to see the spread of nuclear capabilities in its region because that has destabilizing consequences for its security environment. At the same time, it doesn't want to press North Korea too hard because it doesn't want to see a collapse of the North Korean regime. That's in part because North Korea is a useful instrument in Chinese foreign policy in terms of ... as a buffer zone and as a way of keeping pressure on the American alliance in South Korea but also they simply don't want to see 23 million hungry North Korean peasants coming across the border. So for China it's always been a dilemma between those two competing priorities and I think what you're going to see now is that China is going to shift this equilibrium a bit and move in the direction of taking a tougher stance against North Korea. We're seeing that already. Whether that will all be made public remains to be seen but I suspect privately China is taking very serious action or considering taking very serious action against the DPRK.

It's quite a week for a new Secretary General to be handed the United Nations chalice - South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was welcomed as the United Nations' new secretary-general - what role must he now play?

Well currently he has a major crisis on his hands. Obviously the United Nations Security Council is going to be an important actor in responding to the North Korean tests. It is the ultimate arbiter and upholder of international law. The question is going to become now I think what sort of coordinated response can there be among the 5 permanent members, especially since China and Russia are traditionally less willing to contemplate sanctions and punitive measures against member states, so he's going to have, I think, a very difficult task ahead of him in terms of coming up with a coordinated and unified response on the security council in a way that will also bring about meaningful and concrete punitive measures against the DPRK.

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