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Monday, October 09, 2006 

Did the earth move for you?

They might be impoverished, starving and ruled by a Stalinist midget, but hey, at least they've got a cool flag.

Lordy lordy lordy. The world is a much more dangerous place than it was when we went to bed last night, according to John Williams over on Comment is Free. Rather than referring to the fact that the Murdoch press are doing everything possible in their power to whip up concern over Muslim women dressed in niqabs, as both papers splash on two unrelated security stories, he is in fact talking about North Korea's attempt at testing a nuclear weapon, if it was in fact an atomic bomb.

Russian sources have suggested that the bomb itself was in the region of between 5 and 15 kilotons.
Janes Defence have said it could have been between 2 to 12 kilotons. For comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a blast equivalent to around 13 kilotons. The trident nuclear warheads that our own Dear Leaders' have their trigger-finger on, have a payload ranging in strength from 100 kilotons to 475 kilotons. North Korea's test is then, in rather bleak terms, similar to the country itself - 60 years behind.

That N Korea appears to have carried out a nuclear test also doesn't alter the fact that it appears incredibly unlikely that they can actually attach the bomb to a missile. The last test of their long-range weaponry, the appropriately named Taepodong-2 (because let's face it, missiles are a Freudian's best friend - what else are missiles if they're not explosive penis extensions?), meant to be able to reach Alaska or Hawaii, was a rather embarrassing display for Kim-jung Il, as he only managed to keep it up for around 43 seconds before it crashed back into the sea of flaccidity.

Inevitably, every politician who likes the opportunity of either being quoted or appearing on the news for 10 seconds has rushed to condemn North Korea's insolence. Blair called it irresponsible, Bush called it provocative, and it all went downhill from there. Both Pakistan and India, hilariously and ironically felt that it was a good time for them to be hypocritical on a world stage, both making statements about the dangers of destabilising the peninsula, completely unlike their rush to the bomb led to proliferation. Israel, it has to be said, appears to have kept quiet for now, and as for Iran, according to the Washington Post state radio has apparently said the test "was a reaction to America's threats and humiliation."

The typical response from said politicians has been to demand more sanctions on North Korea, with the UN Security Council immediately calling an urgent meeting. It seems doubtful that the sanctions will do anything to actually stop the Korean programme from continuing. The lesson of Iraq tells us that sanctions tend to only hurt the people rather than the leader. The other lesson is that along with sanctions inspections are needed. There appears next to no chance of that happening, North Korea having expelled the IAEA a few years back. John Howard, the Australian prat who masquerades as the prime minister, suggested that he would be pushing for "targeted financial and travel sanctions, other trade restrictions and/or aviation restrictions." That the North Koreans themselves don't tend to go anywhere (leaving the glorious socialist paradise might make them not want to return), nor that Kim Jong-il himself only tends to make the odd highly secretive trip into China, doesn't seem to matter. As for trade, recent experiments with markets in the country were either abandoned or scaled down dramatically. How much there is to restrict is open for debate.

It's worth remembering that America was prepared to go to war with North Korea back in 1994 after original suspicions that the country was building up a covert nuclear weapons programme. A deal called the "Agreed Framework"brought the two countries back from the brink. In exchange for North Korea dismantling its graphite-moderated plants, the United States would help fund and build two light-water nuclear reactors, which could only be used for civilian purposes. The reactors remain unfinished.

Whether North Korea would have actually dismantled its programme if the deal had gone as planned is impossible to tell. What must be achingly apparent to almost everyone though is that President Bush's axis of evil speech must have woken up Kim Jong-il to the threat of regime change, which was inexorably heading Iraq's way. Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, and at that stage North Korea didn't have a nuclear weapon, even if its programme had been in operation for years. Four years down the line, and the country now claims to have around 8 bombs.

North Korea appears to definitively and finally possess the most powerful bargaining chip of them all. We're often told of how the seemingly petulant and impetuous acts of Kim Jong-il are pleas both for help and attention, but despite all the attempts at deals, they've all been ignored or batted away. The only solution now is diplomacy, and that diplomacy appears to be of the most limp kind imaginable, if sanctions are to be both the first and seeming last resort. We're left then with Bush and Blair once again appearing to be a modern day political incarnation of Laurel and Hardy: this certainly is a mess, and they've got themselves into it.

Related post:
Big Stick Small Carrot - Welcome to our Club

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