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Volume XLIV, No.50

Consequences of Persisting Instability in the Korean Peninsula

by Benjamin Todd

Tuesday 24 April 2007


With the nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula following the detonation of a nuclear device by Pyongyang the situation in the region has undergone a sea-change. Lately the North Korean Government’s statement against carrying out further tests and on Pyongyang’s readiness to return to the six-party talks for stabilising and normalising the situation in the Korean peninsula does hold some promise and even the Government of India has expressed its appreciation for the statement. Yet the world community is well aware that the Korean peninsula cannot overnight be taken back to what it was before North Korea carried out its nuclear explosion.

Both China and Russia have conveyed their concern over the fact that the nuclear test was conducted near their state borders. They have thus been compelled to take measures to strengthen security along their frontiers with North Korea; the statements from officials of their Foreign and Defence Ministries confirm this fact.

In Japan a ban was recently imposed on North Korean ships calling on Japanese ports as per a decree by the new PM, Shinzo Abe. As for South Korea, it conducted a series of military manoeuvres in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test in a bid to enhance the vigilance and preparedness of its armed forces. Regardless of the compulsions behind North Korea going nuclear (that is, the provocations from the side of Washington), there is no denying that this development has complicated the conditions in the region as a whole.

Against this backdrop international observers have not failed to note that South Korea has been facing the most negative consequences of nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. The country is experiencing a sense of panic among the populace. And this has been accompanied by the mounting demand for various necessities in crisis situations: there is in particular a great demand among South Koreans for Geiger counters (these are portable instruments for measuring the radiation level).

The South Korean economy too has undergone considerable damage in the realm of foreign investments. In this context it is worth pointing out that South Korea specifically had high hopes of hosting the Winter Olympic Games in Phenchang city in 2014. Considering the fact that the decision of the venue of these Games of 2014 has to be taken as early as next summer (of 2007), South Korea does not stand much chance of being a serious contender for hosting the Winter Olympics that year and it is difficult to accept Phenchang’s candidacy for the purpose given the element of instability injected into the peninsula as a result of the North Korean nuclear explosion. An Associated Press report of October 31, 2006 quotes Jaques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee, as having stated that Phenchang’s application for holding the Winter Olympics could be entertained only when the “dust raised by the North Korean nuclear bomb settles down”. In today’s circumstances that is a distant possibility.

Observers are also convinced that Seoul would have to experience the negative impacts of the current situation on its plans in different areas for quite a length of time especially when there are as yet no signs of improvement of the scenario in the Korean peninsula. What is more, one cannot possibly exclude in the prevailing conditions the possibility of the contending parties in the region attempting to resolve the problem of Korean division, that is, the issue of reunification of the two Koreas, through the use of coercion or force in the near future. All these prospects bear the distinct features of instability in the region that are bound to frustrate the holding of any major international event in the area.

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