FOR nearly two years, concerns over North Korea receded from the global spotlight as the Russia-Ukraine war drew more attention. As many know, that ongoing conflict has been blamed for the external factors threatening the global economy, from raising the specter of recession in Europe to disrupting grain supplies worldwide. In fact, many have said the Philippines could be posting better economic numbers had it not been for so-called external headwinds.
North Korea's return to the global spotlight has made those headwinds more problematic. In recent weeks, the international media reported about North Korea's nuclear-powered submarine, which Pyongyang proudly touted as its newest offensive weapon. And according to Agence France-Presse, North Korea may have as many as 84 submarines. Many of those, though, may no longer be operational because of their old age. But the reality is that no one seems certain how many North Korea has, except for supreme leader Kim Jong Un and perhaps his inner circle.
Recently, Mr. Kim has also been in the news because of his rare visit to Russia, which may be turning to North Korea for an arms agreement that Moscow needs to continue fighting in Ukraine. North Korea's technology may be mostly outdated, but many believe that its Soviet-era systems are compatible with Russia's military machines.
Worse, many reports have mentioned the likely transfer of Russian military technology to North Korea, which has been developing its own intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal. Of course, Russia would be violating several United Nations sanctions if it helped North Korea develop weapons of mass destruction. But what can be done? Thus far, the global community has been unable to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Brace for impact
The Philippines is not immune from the ripple effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, as Filipinos contend with persistent inflation and supply chain disruptions. In figuring into the raging war, North Korea destroys any hope of ending that conflict soon. But to be fair, the prevailing expectation was for that war to drag on and for the global economic fallout from that to continue. Still, a protracted war now seems certain with North Korea in the picture.
Moreover, the Philippines and others in the region should be concerned about the opportunities Russia may be giving to Mr. Kim's regime and the North Korean military.
Southeast Asia is poised for rapid growth and development, as are other parts of the Indo-Pacific. But those opportunities could disappear if war breaks out in the Korean Peninsula because the biggest economies in the world will be drawn into combat.
Note the impact of a war in faraway Ukraine, and then imagine a similar conflict breaking out closer to home. The blow to the domestic, not to mention global, economy will be worse.
For now, an armistice signed in 1953 is keeping the peace between North Korea and South Korea — that and the fear of triggering a new world war.
Upgrading North Korea's military capabilities could tempt Mr. Kim to entertain offensive options against South Korea and its allies.
Global powers, particularly China and the United States, should re-evaluate their policies for peace on the Korean peninsula. Recently, the US meeting with Japan and South Korea at Camp David may have had some unintended consequences. That gathering was related to the US competition with China. Those two superpowers should now lead and work together for mankind's collective interests.
The Philippines, along with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), should also consider diplomatic initiatives. North Korea, after all, is one of the signatories to a treaty of amity with Asean, which does not have the geopolitical baggage that weighs down other parties proposing peace and encouraging Mr. Kim to abide by international laws. And as suggested earlier, Asean needs to protect its economic interests, which could be derailed by North Korea, which seems paranoid about its security.
Much of the world may have downgraded North Korea to a less pressing concern, at least for a while, because of Ukraine. But recent developments show how an unresolved problem can creep back and compound present-day concerns.
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