This article first appeared in Live Mint. The views are of the author(s).
If there was any doubt that North-East Asia has become the most dangerous place on earth, with the prospect of a nuclear exchange, then recent events provide ample evidence that the region has attained this dubious distinction. Additionally, a new UN report, which went practically unnoticed, revealed that North Korea has continued its proliferation activities and these are growing in sophistication.
Following an unprecedented two nuclear and multiple ballistic missile tests last year alone, North Korea has upped the ante even further this year. A high-profile political assassination in Malaysia, using a deadly nerve agent, coincided with yet another missile test and the threat of an intercontinental ballistic missile test capable of striking the US. Then, on 7 March, in a dramatic show of force, Pyongyang simultaneously launched four missiles, which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Although this latest missile salvo was partly in response to the biggest annual joint military exercises of the US and South Korea being conducted in the region and partly in response to the impending deployment of the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, it nonetheless signalled, according to one observer, practice for nuclear war.
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We are not at that point, that point of no return, but I just don’t think that [Secretary of State] Pompeo can sell this [summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un] as a ‘win’ unless there is something that is tangible, agreeable and interactive, if you might say, between the United States and North Korea. Short of that, we are just spinning our wheels. He [Pompeo] can’t come back empty-handed. But the question is what he would consider sufficient for his purposes to justify this trip.