The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) announced it tested a nuclear weapon Oct. 9, provoking international condemnation from allies and enemies alike, as well as calls for negotiations, not confrontation. Many say the test shows the failure of the Bush administration’s confrontational policy, refusing to dialogue directly with the North.

But peace advocates also warn that the action inflames tensions and could lead to a regional arms race and deal a blow to the already fragile Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

China, the DPRK’s staunchest ally, strongly criticized North Korea’s move. China’s Foreign Ministry expressed the government’s “firm opposition to the test,” saying it was “in defiance of unanimous opposition from the international community.” China, the statement said, “strongly demands the DPRK side abide by its commitment to going nuclear free, halt all the activities that will possibly lead to the further deterioration of the situation and once again return to the track of the six-party talks.”

Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Le Dzung said, “The test will heighten tension, harming peace and stability in the region.”

Some warn it could give a boost to Japan’s right-wing militarists. Junichiro Koizumi, the former Japanese prime minister, was seen as a militarist, but new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considered even more extreme. He has already been pushing to change Japan’s constitution to allow an offensive military. The new atmosphere could make this shift more likely.

In South Korea, the governing Uri Party has staked its reputation on conciliation with the North, through a “sunshine policy” of talk and trade. However, President Roh Moo-hyun and his party are now under increased pressure to take a more hawkish stance. This could benefit the ultra-right Grand National Party in upcoming elections.

Beyond the region, Venezuela said, “We condemn all nuclear tests” because of the “immense damage they do to the planet.” Belarus, one of the few states to have given up nuclear weapons, said it “strictly and consistently” advocates “unconditional” adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty principles.

But Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrei Popov echoed many others when he said the test shows that “pressure and threat to use force during the negotiations have produced the opposite effect.”

North Korea is not solely to blame for the heightened tensions, U.S. peace advocates said, pointing to the Bush administration’s policy as the root of the crisis.

United for Peace and Justice co-chair Judith Le Blanc commented, “The Bush administration has brought the world to the edge. The hypocrisy of the U.S. trying to force confrontation with Iran and with North Korea is incredible because the U.S. is not only the largest holder, but dealer, of nuclear weapons.”

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told the World, “I’m actually more concerned about the reaction of the U.S. and other states in the region than any military threat this poses from North Korea.”

The Bush administration has asserted the right to pre-emptive, first-strike nuclear assaults on several countries, including the DPRK.

Diplomats, politicians and peace activists widely agreed that the only resolution to the current crisis is through negotiations, not through the economic sanctions the U.S., France and Britain are pushing in the UN Security Council. Russia and China oppose sanctions, and North Korea said it would view them as an act of war.

“I believe that the U.S. and North Korea should talk,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. “Whether it is done in the context of the six-party talks or separately, one must talk.”

Former President Jimmy Carter called for negotiations, saying any military option could result in a million South Korean and American casualties. A simple framework for an agreement was reached last year, and still exists, Carter said in a New York Times opinion article, “with the United States giving a firm and direct statement of no hostile intent, and moving toward normal relations if North Korea forgoes any further nuclear weapons program and remains at peace with its neighbors.” Carter called for confirmation of steps “by mutual actions” and “unimpeded international inspections.”

With polls indicating Bush’s confrontational foreign policy could impact the Nov. 7 congressional elections, Democrats went on the offensive, blaming Republican policies for the debacle. Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said the Bush administration has been in a “state of denial” about North Korea. Reid said a comprehensive review of American policy toward that country is essential.

Even Republicans in tight congressional races tried to put distance between themselves and the White House.

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