CHANDIGARH: That the North Korean ‘Dear Leader’, Kim Jong-un, is a recklessly loose cannon was an established fact, not just in the wary neighbourhood of the Korean peninsula or the Western capitals, but also increasingly so, in Beijing and Moscow.

While his father, the ‘Eternal Leader’ Kim Jong-il (ruling from 1994 to 2011) and his grandfather, the ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il Sung, (ruling from 1966 to 1994), always acknowledged the Chinese and Russian efforts in the bloody Korean War and were therefore scrupulously guarded toeing Chinese and Russian advise, Kim Jong-un is not bound by any such historical or moral compulsion.

Instead, Kim Jong-un has ratcheted the historical North Korean narrative of black-mailing the West, in particular the US, to unprecedented levels of a hydrogen-bomb-tipped-ICBM dare, that dismisses any reconciliatory voice emanating from either Beijing or Moscow.

North Korea is now the Frankenstein reality of the cold-war era.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already forewarned against reciprocal ‘military hysteria’ against Pyongyang as it could lead to ‘global catastrophe’. Alluding to the existential desperation and vulnerability (following the fate of other dictators like Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, after they had forsaken their nuclear ambitions for sanction-relief and rapprochement), Putin presciently acknowledged the North Korean regime’s fixation with their weapon program, “They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security”.

Even the Chinese are equally frustrated at their protégé, who is worryingly drifting way from the acceptable and comfortable contours of a ‘buffer’ state. Adding to the embarrassment of a heedless ally in Pyongyang, the constant needling by the Americans to suggest that Beijing had failed to bear upon the North Koreans, is irritating the Chinese no end.

US President Donald Trump’s tweet, “North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success”, is symptomatic of the Chinese conundrum, wherein, the North Korean regime has whipped itself into a no-holds-barred frenzy, which describes its nuclear project as the, “shield for self-defence”.

Fact is, having rattled its equations with China, North Korea has boxed itself into a tight corner of solely using nuclear-blackmail as the residual option for regime-protection and future negotiations. The historical North Korean impasse has aggravated and regressed after the ascendancy of Donald Trump - and has forestalled the any hope of North Korea going the Chinese way of gradually ‘opening-up’, whilst, still retaining the Communist power structures.

Meanwhile the Americans are responding with reciprocal saber-rattling, with the US Ambassador to the UN, Nicky Haley suggesting that the North Koreans were, “begging for war” and President Donald Trump’s bellicose remark that the US military strike against North Korea would, “be a very sad day” for North Korea! With gloves-off from both sides, the entire region is on tenterhooks with China and Russia still trying to suggest negotiations with North Korea, whilst, condemning Pyongyang’s brazen impetuosity.

In between the two extreme and unlikely possibilities of either a military strike against the North Korean missile facilities or the equally unlikely specter of bilateral US-North Korean talks (Nicky Haley has prematurely shot down the Chinese proposal for a quid-pro-quo negotiations, by the US with North Korea, as ‘insulting’).

In the immediate scenario, the theatrics of war-mongering aside, the only guaranteed move is the further tightening of the economic noose around Pyongyang, by ushering in even more punitive sanctions beyond Resolution 2371, which was adopted by the UNSC, on 5th August 2017. While Resolution 2371 was ostensibly against the North Korean tests of the ICBM missile and the inherent violations to various UNSC resolutions, as indeed the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) – the subsequent dares of the Hydrogen bomb testing, flying missiles over Japanese airspace and showcasing of the ‘miniaturised’ bomb that can be fitted into the ICBM nosecones has upped the ante, in exact riposte and proportion to the promises of doom emanating from the Donald Trump’s Twitter handle.

The new resolution draft virtually empowers the US military to interdict North Korean ships for physical checks at high seas to ensure that they are not carrying either weapons or any sort of fuel (tantamount to banning crude oil, petroleum and natural gas etc.), and to use “all necessary measures” to ensure compliance.

The aim is to starve the energy-deficient nation into a freeze in the impending winter, in order to coerce Pyongyang to mend its ways. However, given the efficacy of the previous sanctions, the promise of a virtual ‘blockade’ (internationally considered an act of war), and the subtle sub-context of increasing conversations pertaining to punitive measures against ‘those countries that bail out North Korea’, the proposed resolution is expected to run into rough waters with both China and Russia in the Security Council.

A unilateral move could therefore, isolate US actions from the Russians and the Chinese as they are not expected to play along given their own geopolitical concerns and could be pushed into taking positions detrimental to the US interests. No ‘surgical strike’ against the North Korean military is expected to be foolproof, as besides the missile launch-sites, Pyongyang has lined up thousands of artillery and armoured elements that are within the striking range of the 25 million Seoul metropolis.

Earlier wargames had estimated at least 100,000 fatalities on the South Korean side – and since then, the North Korean deployment has only increased, substantially. A consensus-less and unilateral approach by US will complicate matters, a military strike would be devastating beyond the Korean realm as the US interests (25,000 personnel in South Korea), Guam and Japan, could all be fatally exposed to collateral damage. Tempers need to cool-down, Russia and China should be encouraged to evolve options and negotiations with North Korea. The natural instinct for bravado, intimidation and threats are equally matched in both Washington DC and Pyongyang, and the result is the worsened situation.

(Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands& Puducherry)