COMMENTARY: Pyongyang is immune to diplomacy
By Petteri Tuohinen
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, under its de facto autocratic leader Kim Jong-il, has unfortunately demonstrated to the world that the powers of international diplomacy are limited.
In international discussions, North Korea has treated the rest of the world with something approaching disdain.
If the North Korean delegates have sometimes shown an ostensible willingness to cooperate, at the very next opportunity they have turned their backs on any results and have systematically destroyed all the advances made.
North Korea now enjoys the confidence of no-one in the international community - not even its long-time supporters in China. It is a global leper of its own making and out of its own dogged determination.
Kim Jong-il's elite knows the rules of the game all too well.
Monday's announcement of an underground test of a nuclear device, following an earlier explosion in October 2006, will be met with by protests and condemnation and with an even greater tightening of the country's isolation from the rest of the world.
This suits Kim very well.
Kim's elite will not suffer from the sanctions to be imposed on the country - in fact the opposite is true. The reactions of the international community will be shaped into a propaganda triumph for Pyongyang and an opportunity to smear the enemies of the DPRK - in effect the rest of the world - and at the same time reinforce the regime's own standing on the domestic front.
Kim Jong-il's health is by no means good, and he is driven by a need to secure his power-base for those who will succeed him, possibly from his own family.
Kim is a pathetic figure, for he is sacrificing the right of the North Korean people to a life worthy of the living merely in order to bolster his own position. International diplomacy suffers in the process as a form of collateral damage.
Regrettably, the rest of the world does have to take Kim seriously, since he is sitting on top of a nuclear bomb.
The DPRK has not perhaps as yet been able to develop its nuclear weaponry to the point where it would for instance be able to build a warhead suitable for insertion in a ballistic missile.
This is nevertheless now only a question of time.
North Korea has already demonstrated that it has adequate missile technology, and the message contained in Monday's underground blast was to show others that the country had taken a further step forward in its nuclear weapons programme.
If it so wished, North Korea could cause extremely widespread damage to the South Korean capital Seoul, even if such an attack would be tantamount to national suicide.
South Korea, the United States, and Japan would not pass up the opportunity, but would wipe the Democratic People's Republic off the face of the earth in a counterstrike.
It is perhaps hard to believe that Kim Jong-il would behave in such a patently insane fashion.
Given that we are dealing with North Korea, however, it is best to be prepared for anything.
Traditionally, states have been reluctant to negotiate with terrorists.
Now the international community is faced with Kim, who has severed all ties with the six-party talks looking to calm the security concerns over the country's nuclear ambitions, and who seems to be living in complete isolation from the rest of the world.
Diplomacy will have to come up with a real miracle to resolve the impasse.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 26.5.2009
PETTERI TUOHINEN / Helsingin Sanomat