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World doing little to curb North Korea’s nuke ambitions

What I see - when I assess North Korea – is the incapability of the international community to stop what should be defined as an existential threat to the world

Abdullah Hamidaddin

Published: Updated:

Why does it matter for people in the Gulf to closely follow the North Korean nuclear program?

In 2006, the country launched its first nuclear test, by 2013 it had reached its third. The country insists on continuing its nuclear program while at the same time insisting that it will only use those weapons if it were attacked. Recently, North Korea claimed that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. Some analysts are skeptical about that claim. But one still wonders why a country facing so many sanctions, that has had history of mass starvations and is almost totally isolated from the international community, would even insinuate that it is doing what can only make things worse for it?

The story of North Korea and its nuclear capabilities sounds quite familiar to us living in the Gulf. Iran had also insisted that its nuclear program is not meant to threaten the countries of the region. Iran had also ramped up its missile arsenal capabilities. And it did both at a time when it was under severe U.S., European and U.N. sanctions. Of course Iran was not able, yet, to have nuclear weapons but it was heading in that direction had it not been for the deal it struck with the West. But the similarity between Iran and North Korea is not why we in the Gulf must follow North Korea’s nuclear story.

What I see - when I assess North Korea – is the incapability of the international community to stop what should be defined as an existential threat to the world

Abdullah Hamidaddin

The answer relates to the way in which the West has been dealing with it. We can learn so much by following the responses of the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, South East Asian countries and the U.N. All of them, without exception, had done little to stop North Korea from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The U.S. and Japan in particular have stated once and again that they cannot accept a nuclear North Korea. And those countries, in addition to the U.N., went no further than condemnations.

The international community has most probably placed North Korea’s head of state in the “least rational” of leaders category, to say the least. Kim Jong Un is described as an erratic, unpredictable and ruthless dictator. He rules his country with a fanatical version of Marxism that even the most radical Marxist would reject. He, in other words, represents everything that ought to worry the U.S. and Europe, and the rest of the world for that matter.

Yet, despite all this, we have seen little being done to punish him or to halt his nuclear ambitions. The sanctions have only punished the North Korean people. Kim and his political circle are known to face no shortage of food and other pleasures of life. Meanwhile, there is little evidence that the sanctions would weaken his grip on the people of North Korea. On the contrary, one may argue that sanctions have actually enabled him to assert his grip. What I see - when I assess North Korea – is the incapability of the international community to stop what should be defined as an existential threat to the world.

If that is how the world deals with such a detested irrational and erratic regime, then how would it deal with the Iranian regime should the nuclear deal falter? Iran is much more active on the global stage, and considered rational by many military and political leaders – including President Obama. Iran also has immense soft power due to its cultural heritage and active lobbying. And on this note, let us not forget that it was Iran that agreed to accept the nuclear deal because it decided that it was in its own interests to lift the sanctions, and not because it was threatened with military strikes due to its nuclear program.

So why does it matter for us in the Gulf to follow North Korea’s nuclear program? Because it reveals what we should expect from world powers towards a nuclear Iran: nothing.

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Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.