Considering the current buzz in the world media that the South Korean government admitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency that a group of the country’s scientists secretly produced a small amount of near-weapons grade uranium, one has to wonder what really is going on in the Korean peninsula.
It appears that South Korea may have attempted to develop its own secret program, in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Thus this state which has been in the fore front of those nations pressurizing North Korea over its suspected nuclear arsenal is itself a violator of the International Treaty. The South Korean government said the highly enriched uranium was produced by a group of rogue scientists in 2000, without the knowledge of the government. But many details of the effort, and the method used by the scientists were so expensive that it had to be connected with a government-directed weapons program
What this suggests is that there has been a lot of hypocrisy in the entire drama unfolding over North Korea’s weapons program. South Korea a nation which had obvious nuclear ambitions in the early 1970s is again implicated in the development of a nuclear weapons program. The tenacity of will demonstrated by the South Korean government towards acquiring nuclear weapons, coupled with the secretiveness of the program are troubling considerations.
It appears that the government admitted to the experiment only after the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors began asking pointed questions about a piece of equipment in a South Korean scientific center, that they had been barred from visiting. Being aware that environmental samples would be required the South Korean government on Aug. 23, 2004 made the stunning disclosure.
South Korea being a rich country, with a critical mass of core scientists has the resources, the opportunity and the motivation to procure nuclear weapons in the present political respecting the Korean peninsula. The method chosen by South Korean scientists to enrich uranium, through the use of lasers, is considered easy to hide. It uses different colors of laser light to separate different forms of the same element, like uranium 238 from uranium 235, which in atomic reactions easily splits in two in bursts of energy. Until recently, its cost has confined it to a laboratory curiosity.
North Korea has been characteristically reticent on this issue. Perhaps, it is still studying the situation closely. In any event, this would constitute a great propaganda coup for the North Korean government. Once more it can claim the higher ground, by playing the role of an honorable and proud country, surrounded by a braying pack of avaricious amoral capitalists canines seeking its wealth and sovereignty. From this gang of thieves and robbers, liars and warmongers, it can rightly argue, the noble people of North Korean must be protected.
Meanwhile, for Washington, it has been a moment of great embarrassment. It appears that all its allies secretly possess nuclear weapons in regions where its avowed policy is regional disarmament. For instance, there is this uncomfortable situation regarding the possession by the state of Israel of nuclear weapons, while Iraq was attacked and occupied for a similar offence, and Syria and Iran are under pressure to disarm whatever arms they possess, whereas Libya has recently cracked under the same American pressure and given up on its nuclear ambition. What is it that keeps Israel’s and Korea’s position so sacrosanct and inviolable, whereas the ambitions of other similarly placed nations remain dangerous and offensive?
One would hazard that one of the immediate implications of this discovery would be to harden North Korea’s obstinacy over the removal of its weapons program. This revelation would most likely scuttle the entire multi national disarmament talks. At least until a full investigation of the incident is completed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, there will be little point in pursuing immediate disarmament talks for North Korea. The potential long term effect of this loss of momentum could cause the talks to lose consequence. There will be cross-accusations of mutual breach of trust, noises and shrills but little action. There will remain neither military nor moral courage for either side to proceed from the present morass.
So, get ready for a militarized, nuclearized North East Asian arms race, where Japan will have no option but to disavow its non-nuclear and non-offensive policy. This has already been indicated by Japan’s sudden interest in developing satellite-carrying space going rockets. Satellites to keep an eye on the entire region, but especially on North Korea, Vietnam and China. Interstellar and intercontinental ballistic rockets to deliver nuclear pay loads to those troublesome neighbors should it become necessary.
South Korea would have to arm itself too, in order to protect its portion of the peninsula from the North and from Japan, who had once colonized and badly exploited it and whom it still cannot fully trust though they are allies in the liberal international global system. The North would then have to arm itself with weapons more dangerous than weapons of mass destruction, to protect its sovereignty from South Korea, Japan and their American allies.
All these arms movement would seriously alarm Russia which shares a common border with the Koreas, Japan and China. Russia would be compelled to either match this new Asian arms race or join the North Atlantic alliance to protect Europe from the fearful prospect of Asian martial resurgence.
China will not calmly sit by while Japan seeks to check its growing regional influence by deploying satellites and rockets. Actually, China is way ahead of Japan and the European Union in space technology having sent a man to space. It would respond by deploying even more satellites of its own and possibly satellite destroying space-robots to blast spy vessels out of space. China will also develop its awesome arsenal and military even to more intimidating levels.
Taiwan will get more alarmed at all these developments and seek its own “laser-driven” nuclear technology from the Americans or one of their allies such as South Korea. This will madden the Chinese and I would not want to hazard on the counter moves of the Chinese government. Since the one-China policy cannot condone two Chinas, the introduction of nuclear technology into the Taiwanese peninsula, which could irreversibly create two Chinas, would have far reaching impact.
All these posturing will mean that India and Pakistan would have to refurbish their weapons program and occasionally rattle their saber for those whom it may concern.
And North Korea will carry on its mission of proliferating nuclear technology for money to emerging nations and perhaps rich organizations. And Pakistan too might find a similar vocation gripping. In a world where nuclear weapon technology becomes as common as the Kalashnikovs or Uzis, no one will be too far from apocalypse.
Is this a catch 22 situation? Your guess is as good as mine.
September 3, 2004.