International analysts are wondering whether the death of the Korean dictator Kim Jong-il marks another step towards a new cold war -- with Russia, China, a nuclear Pakistan, a nuclear North Korea, a nuclear Iran and Syria aligned and united against the West and its allies such as Israel, India, South Korea, Japan and Gulf countries.
On one side, China is challenging Washington by testing techniques for disabling American satellites and cybernetworks, and by expanding its arsenal of long-range nuclear missiles that can reach the U.S. On the other side, as mentioned by the Lebanese paper, Al-Mustaqbal, Russia is trying to form military alliances against the West. Al-Mustaqbal reports that there are actually many signs of the start of a new cold war with the formation of strong alliances against the West -- first, from Russia's reelection of Vladimir Putin, who still holds onto the dream of a Soviet Empire.; and second, from Russia's support to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad against s own people who are demomstrating against him, as well as from the arrival of parts of the Russian navy from the Black Sea to the East Mediterranean via the Bosporus Strait;and third, from the expansion of the nuclear cooperation between Russia and China. According to Al-Mustaqbal, these events show that the world is going to witness a new cold war. The Lebanese paper also mentions that the Middle East will constitute, as in the past, one of the main theaters for this war; and there are already indications that suggest a Russian-Syrian-Iranian alliance on the one hand, and a U.S. aligned with the Gulf countries, which want to stop the Iranian influence in the region, on the other.
The world probably will nott assist a traditional bipolar system as in the first cold war: there are regional actors fighting for their own influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, for example, wants to stop any Shi'a influence in the Middle East and is ready to use Iraq as a battlefield to thwart Iran's ambition in the region, to reestablish it own role. Riyadh, now that the U.S. troops left Iraq, is talking about forming a new army to protect the Sunni population in Iraq to reinforce its position in the country as opposed to the Shi'a population. This new cold war will probably be characterized by several interests and fragile balances of power, as already seems to have started yesterday in Iraq.
"China's influence on North Korea will be greater in the post-Kim Jong-il era, while the U.S., South Korea and Japan will close ranks to counter the impact from Beijing", wrote the South Korean paper, Korea Herald, after the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The paper mentioned that Chinese President Hu Jintao offered his condolences to North Korea, hinting that the country is preparing to support new president Kim Jong-un, son of the former dictator. The aim of China is to keep stability on its border with North Korea by strongly supporting the North Korean regime against any aggression. Russia has also expressed hope that Kim Jong-il's passing will not affect its warm relations with Pyongyang. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that North Korea is Russia's neighbor, and that Kim's death will not affect bilateral ties in any way. On the other hand, the relations between the U.S. and North Korea are expected to worsen even further. "The prospect remains that relations between Washington and Pyongyang are in the dark because of Kim's death, which came just before the two were about to reach an agreement on U.S. food aid for the famine-stricken state in exchange for North Korea's suspension of its uranium enrichment program," wrote the Korea Herald.
North Korea's neighbors – South Korea and Japan – are now in awe, wondering how many nuclear weapons are at the disposal of the most secretive country in the world. Experts say that the Asian country might have between six and twelve nuclear bombs but the real number remains undisclosed. Also unknown is the carrying capacity and the accuracy of North Korea's missiles and their capability to target large cities in the region. In 2009, North Korea tested a missile capable of reaching the U.S., earning widespread condemnation and strengthened U.N. sanctions. The international community also seems to worry that the nuclear program will now depend on the new ruler, Kim Jong-un, a very young and inexperienced person. The young heir has been thrust into sudden leadership before he could accumulate any significant experience for this new role. In the meantime, the regime has already changed his birth date, from January 1983 to January 1982, so next year the new ruler will officially be 30.
In the last few years, the North Korean regime had expressed interest in receiving food aid from the beginning in 2012. In exchange, Pyongyang said it was willing to freeze its uranium enrichment program, although it has gone back on its promises every time before. North Korea claims to possess 2000 centrifuges; in 2009, it invited a team of US scientists, including the eminent nuclear expert Siegfrid Hecker, to visit its enrichment plants.
Back in Washington, Hecker told the White House that he was stunned by the degree of advancement of the North Korean enrichment plants. Enriched uranium would allow North Korea to make bombs significantly more powerful than those produced so far. In recent conversations in Beijing between the US envoy Robert King and North Korean official Ri Kun, the North Korean side hinted at a change in attitude. Its main goal, it said, was to receive from the US food aid on the order of 240.000 tons during one year of high-protein biscuits and vitamins to improve the dietary requirements of its population of 24 million. The donation, now in jeopardy due to the death of elder Kim, would have been be the first concrete positive result after months of secret diplomatic contacts between the two wartime enemies.
According to the Washington Post, "The Obama administration had been expected to decide on the North Korean issues this week, possibly as early as Monday but the officials said Kim's death would likely delay the process. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. They said the U.S. was particularly concerned about any changes that Kim's death might spark in the military postures of North and South Korea but were hopeful that calm would prevail."
Political observers are hopeful that the Pyongyang regime will not grant full powers to the new inexperienced leader, above all not that of pulling the nuclear trigger. They are also hopeful that the new president will not discontinue the openings made by his father. Even though, according to analysts, openings will not be enough: Russia and China, North Korea's best allies, are threatening the U.S. and pushing Pyongyang in their direction.