Nork Fallout: Asia Arms Race?

So here we are, 36 hours later, and everybody is still talking about North Korea's nuclear test. But despite all the nervous chatter, not much has changed, at least in the short term. (Down the road is a much different story.)China-japan.jpgCondemnations of the Norths brazen act aside, China is no more willing now than they were last week to risk a collapsed regime on their border - it almost assures a flood of refugees and a US military ally sharing a border with China. The USs options are similarly limited even if we know where all their nuclear sites are, its unlikely wed be willing to bet that the unpredictable Kim regime wouldnt retaliate against Seoul. That leaves us to do what weve gotten good at with North Korea: issuing a strong condemnation and then hoping that CNN switches back over to coverage of Jon Benet Ramsey.The only big potential short term implication is if the international community demonstrates that this test was a fake, or a dud. Then the North will be forced to up the ante to compensate for the embarrassment (just as the nuke test was to compensate for the humiliating failure of the July long range missile test).The real impact of the Kim's nuclear trial is in the long term. That's when things have the potential to get extremely scary. Not only do you get the possibility of the Norks throwing a nuclear yard sale for terrorists. But for Japans new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, it energizes his push to strengthen Japans security capacity like nothing else could have. Abe had already appointed a number of fellow conservatives in Foreign Ministry and Defense positions in the cabinet, hes declared his intent to modify the constitutions limitations on Japanese military capacity, and he mooted the possibility for a Japanese pre-emptive strike against North Korea in the aftermath of the July missile tests. The pacifist nature of Japans constitution is reasonably well-ingrained in Japanese political culture, and he would have met a lot of resistance in these moves. That resistance will be drastically weakened by the North Korean test. From there, its a short logical step to the usual scenarios of a Sino-Japanese arms race in East Asia. And there's only one word for how that scenario plays out: Gulp.-- Matthew Tompkins

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