Event ReportsPublished on Jun 01, 2017
'India should not intervene in the Korean muddle'

"India should not intervene in the Korean entanglement at the cost of relationship with Japan, China, Russia and the US," according to Col. R. Hariharan (retd), who was with the Military Intelligence (MI) of the Indian Army. Initiating an interaction on — North Korea imbroglio and implications for India — at Observer Research Foundation in Chennai on 13 May 2017, he said that the Korean peninsula has a geo-strategic position where key players like Russia and Japan, China and the US intervened.

On the one hand, Hariharan said, the unpredictable North Korean President Kim Jong-un says, "Russian President Vladimir Putin is the right person to deal with.' On the other, incumbent US President Donald Trump, who is equally unpredictable as Kim, keeps issuing contradictory statements.

The impact of history and geography on the present-day scenario is an important aspect to be considered in the context of the Korean imbroglio, Hariharan said. The Russo-Japanese war fought on the Korean soil and imperialism of Japan in 1910 contributed to some racial and cultural similarities, between the Koreas and Japan. After the Second World War, North Korea and South Korea were formed, and soon thereafter the Korean War was fought. Later in 1991, the two Koreas joined the UN.

In 2006, when North Korea conducted the first nuclear test, UN sanctions was imposed on the regime with a ban on export of military supplies. This went on to become an arms embargo after North Korea's second nuclear test. The UN continued imposing several other sanctions on North Korea, including a ban on money transfers, satellite launch, search-and-destroy of cargo meant for military R&D. In 2016, when the North conducted the fourth nuclear test, there was a huge ban on the export of silver, gold, vanadium, coal, magnesium, copper, zinc, nickel and rare earth metals.

Missile O' missions

From a near-Indian perspective, especially on the security front, trade and diplomatic relations were established between Pakistan and North Korea in the seventies. After Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's state visit to North Korea in 1990, it was reported that the highly-sensitive nuclear technology was being exported to North Korea in exchange for missile knowhow. Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan helped North Korea in this regard. In 1993, downloaded secret information on uranium enrichment was delivered to North Korea in exchange for information on developing ballistic missiles.

Several missiles were developed — KN-1 which is a short range anti-ship cruise missile, KN-2 which is a short-range, solid-fuel, highly accurate mobile missile. Hwasong-5, an early Scud modification was/is a liquid-fuel missile, with an estimated range of 330 km. Hwasong-6, similar to the Hwasong-5, yet with an increased range (550–700 km). Hwasong-7 has an estimated range from 700–800 km. Rodong, a liquid-fuel, road-mobile missile with a 650-kg warhead and ranges between 1,300 and 1,600 km. Musudan which is believed to be a modified version of the Soviet SLBMs was/is predicted to have a range of 2,500–4,000 km. The failure of North Korea's first and second nuclear tests reportedly owes to US' cyber attacks but Pyongyang claims them to be successful.

Game & gamble

Though seemingly India has an advantage in playing an intermediary role in the Korean issue, the cost for it is going to be high with few pay-offs, Hariharan said. India has a good economic and trade relationship with North Korea, and is the second largest exporter of commodities such as refined petroleum, synthetic fabric, delivery trucks, soya oil and broadcast equipment. After China, India is also the second largest exporter to North Korea in coal briquettes, non-knit menswear and suits, etc.

In the geo-strategic power-play around the Korean peninsula, the US needs does not want North Koreans annihilated. The Kim dictatorship also seems to understand this American/western predicament and have smartly ensured that their touch posturing does not lead to an all-out war. China has hugely invested in South Korea. Russia has also contiguity concerns in terms of security and politics vis a vis North Korea, apart from trade.

The common cultural identity between North and South Korea means, according to Hariharan, they are 'one-country, two-nations', with two different systems of government. When North Korea faced a huge famine, private corporations in the South helped a lot in mitigating the sufferings of the people. The northern part of South Korea is industrialised, attracting North Korean job-seekers along the border.

There are also reports about South Korean firms informally/illegally outsourcing work to North Koreans across the border for lower wages. So the chance of a war between the two Koreas is low. Even in the worst case scenario, a war could provide an additional corridor, going beyond physical or conventional warfare, he said.

China's vital role

Before India decided to intervene in such a situation, it should realise that the China is playing a vital role. Under the circumstances, even the US too could face limitations. The US seemed to have realised this reality after President Trump met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. The American global dynamics seems to have changed since, and the US is now seen as trying to rework their global model.

Perhaps, Russian interest has taken a different dimension in the Koreas since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hariharan observed. The US had deployed THAAD, and China does not have it easy either. India getting into this issue as an intermediary may also cause tensions in its relationship with China, Russia and the US, he said.

This report is prepared by S. Sivanesan, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.

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