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Both sides of the 38th parallel are at it again. This time the bluster from North Korea is directed more at the ‘land of opportunities’ across the Pacific than at the North’s southern neighbour. Yesterday, the ever-isolated regime of North Korea came out with the most prominent threat it has issued against an enemy. Kim Jong-un’s regime threatened the United States with a pre-emptive nuclear strike, accusing it of ratcheting up tensions on the Korean Peninsula by holding military exercises in league with South Korea. The threat came as the United Nations Security Council slapped more sanctions on the country in response to Pyongyang conducting a third nuclear test on February 12. North Korea’s nuclear tests, conducted as they are by a country largely seen as a rogue regime by the West, have further riled the United Nations which already has issued sanctions on the impoverished country. Yesterday’s move represents a more strident form of opposition, supported as it is by China, till now considered the North’s sole ally.
After the death of Kim Jong-il, father of the current ruler Kim Jong-un, the North had shown subtle signs of change. Western powers, long used to the defiant stand of the ageing Kim saw a glimmer of hope in the last front of the Cold War. Because of his age and a demeanour seen to be largely shaped by a supposed educational stint in the West, the young Kim was thought of as one who would be more conciliatory than his father. Photographs of him seen in public with a woman did the rounds of the international press. After much speculation she was found to be his wife. So, he has a heart, thought many!
But the soft side of Kim proved to be a red herring. Probably egged on by his lackeys in military uniform, the ruler started making unrelenting noises. As sanctions bite, Pyongyang has yet to learn that military power cannot be an end in itself. It is a means to bolster a country’s international standing with other sources of power like a healthy economy, an educated population with a technology skill-set, industrial might, and an open and democratic society. It is anybody’s guess that North Korea is as far from any of these as it can be. In another damaging stroke, the dictatorial regime declared the Armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korea War invalid. The 38 degree north latitude that divides the Koreas is the Armistice line.
Even after China has stepped back from propping it up, North Korea’s hubris seems unrelenting. The country has an opaque economy and society. Experts paint a picture of a starving population with almost no Internet access and hardly any signs of modernity. The rare tourist who has been there comes across a closed society with people even staring at upmarket garments sported by visitors.
With the latest dose of sanctions, North Korea’s isolation seems complete. Its leader has pushed the country into an abyss from which it will find hard to extricate itself.•