Despite strong international criticism, North Korea stormed ahead with its first nuclear test on Monday. US President George W. Bush condemned the test as a provocation of the rest of the world and a threat to international peace and security.
He conferred with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had just left on a visit to China and South Korea, and the two leaders agreed to push for the UN' Security Council to take "resolute action."
North Korea's nuclear test is a serious blow to international stability in East Asia, and proves that China and the US' efforts to prevent North Korea from joining the nuclear club have been massive failures. The international community originally had high hopes that the six-party talks would persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear aspirations. However, its test has thoroughly proven the ineffectiveness of Beijing's effort to be a leader in international policy, and destroyed any credibility it had as a reliable mediator.
Will Beijing support Japan and the US' proposal for the Security Council to impose tougher sanctions? China sees North Korea as an important buffer country, and believes that it must under no circumstances lose this vital strategic shield. It therefore isn't willing to put pressure on North Korea or do anything that might usher the collapse of Kim Jong-il's regime.
But China has another serious consideration. If the regime is toppled, it will have millions of North Korean refugees pouring across its border, an outcome it is loathe to see. So Beijing only pays lip service to criticizing North Korea for its nuclear test, reiterating its tired old refrain that "North Korea should respect its promise not to go nuclear, suspend all activities that could lead to a worsening of the situation, and return to the six-party talks."
The US' top concern, on the other hand, is that North Korea could develop the ability to attack the US with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. This week's test proves that the "no war, but no peace either" tactic Bush has adopted over the past six years has been a complete failure. Furthermore, the Bush administration's reliance on China to act as moderator for the six-party talks has been a colossal strategic failure. It is therefore time for a policy reassessment.
If the US isn't capable of deterring North Korea from pursuing its nuclear strategy, Iran will make careful note and not hesitate to speed up its own nuclear weapons program. Other Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will also come to believe that the US and Western Europe's non-proliferation controls are ineffective, and that they must also defend themselves by developing nuclear weapons. This will be an enormous blow to the international community, and so the US must take resolute action.
North Korea will pay no attention to the rest of the world and continue to boost the strength of its nuclear weapons because its leaders believe they are needed to safeguard the nation's security, as well as the survival of Kim Jong-il's personal power. They don't believe that China or Russia are real friends either, and that nuclear weapons are their last resort for defending the country.
North Korea's policy of brinkmanship has forced Japan to once again consider amending its pacifist constitution and build up its military. It also has to decide whether or not it wants to develop its own nuclear weapons.