Apr 30, 2013
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or, North Korea, and its internal politics rarely intrude into the public consciousness in India because not too much is known here about that country.
The elementary fact sheet about the DPRK would reveal its nuclear and missile capability and its rigidly Communist, tightly controlled government that’s run more or less as a family concern by the descendants of the “Great Leader”, Kim Il Sung, the country’s founding father. He was a hardline autocrat of the old school and a contemporary of Joseph Stalin.
So the current spate of inflammatory and provocative rhetoric by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il Sung and now the Supreme Leader of North Korea, threatening a nuclear war against the United States, South Korea and Japan leaves India somewhat bemused and nonplussed while it tries to decipher and make sense of this totally baffling vituperation. Indeed, the situation might even be considered comical, if it were not so potentially dangerous for the neighbourhood.
China has always been North Korea’s mentor in geopolitics, as well as its manager and minder in handling international relations. North Korea has functioned as some kind of ideological protectorate vis-a-vis China, and as its strategic proxy — it’s a lightning conductor
against charges of nuclear and missile proliferation from both Nato as well as post-Communist Russia.
All these would have been of academic interest to India were it not for the North Korea-Pakistan connection which has come into existence as an offshoot of the basic equation between China and Pakistan. It has long been clear that radicalised jihadist Islam has no ideological connections with ultra-rigid Stalinist Communism, but the North Korea-Pakistan linkage is of concern to India because Pakistan, through the intermediary good offices of China, has acquired North Korean technology for the Nodong missile, in exchange for nuclear weapons technology from the Pakistani bazaar presided over by Prof. A.Q. Khan. North Korea’s Nodong technology has since been incorporated into Pakistan’s Ghauri and Ghaznavi missiles, and both, like all Pakistani strategic missiles, are India-specific.
There are also other, more advanced strategic missiles in the North Korean stable, which reportedly include the Taepodong-1 (2,200 km), the BM25 Musudan (4,000 km) and the Taepodong-2 (6,000 km). Some of these may be prototypes in various stages of development. For India, it is prudent to note that the BM25 Musudan can cover north-eastern India from launch pads in North Korea, while the reach of Taepodong-2 from the same locations can stretch across the entire subcontinent. These missiles will certainly be issues of immense concern if they are acquired by Pakistan through China as has been the case in the past.
North Korea appears to be in the throes of an internal power play as Kim Jong-un attempts to consolidate his hold over the state on his ascension as the national leader after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in 2011. Kim Jong-un is said to be a psychologically fraught young princeling with hedonistic tastes, given to outbursts of blind, tearing rage, mannerisms which make him difficult to control and tend to reinforce stereotypes of staple themes for doomsday fiction featuring nuclear and missile-capable states under unstable rogue dictators. So, as a cautionary measure, it is important for India to listen carefully and decipher, as much as possible, the totally incomprehensible outbursts of Kim Jong-un threatening the world with nuclear fire and brimstone if economic sanctions against North Korea are not lifted and suitable concessions granted immediately.
The North Korean Army is a tough and ruggedised military machine which gave a nasty surprise to the American Army during the initial stages of the now almost forgotten Korean War of the 1950s. It swept south across the 38th Parallel and pushed the mighty American forces into a precarious toehold within the Pusan Perimeter in the extreme south of the Korean peninsula. As in most dictatorships, Communist or otherwise, the North Korean Army and its commanders consider themselves to be the Praetorian Guard and the ultimate custodians of the state against threats real or imagined. Even hereditary claimants to national leadership, like Kim Jong-un,well understand the necessity of having the support of the Army and keeping it on his side, so that rival claimants (in this case possibly his siblings of whom there has been no mention as yet) are kept at bay or otherwise disposed of, a frequent enough phenomenon in the immediate period of chaos after the demise of the “Great Helmsman”, Mao Zedong, and the tragedy of Marshal Lin Biao.
But even China periodically loses control from time to time over its erratic and balky protégé, which seems to be the case at present. During the recent visit to China of the American secretary of state, John Kerry, the governments of the United States and China jointly declared a mutual political understanding to manage North Korea and corral its nukes. How their efforts will progress is a wide open question, to which no answers can be hazarded as yet.
Relations between North Korea and India have been totally normal and the chances of a conflict between them is far-fetched to the point of absurdity. Not much is known about the military leadership of North Korea, but scenes of enhanced military activity are familiar thanks to news bulletins. Yet, even the outside possibility of Taepodongs in Pakistani hands are a cause of worry for India, which should be conveyed to Kim Jong-un, best done perhaps by those whom he accepts as confidantes.
A Pak-DPRK strategic missile linkage targeting India with the tacit approval of China is a possibility India has to contend with and resolve. India should cast around for interlocutors in the North Korean establishment to convey its concerns.
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament