The North Korean Crisis
Tensions continue to rise as North Korea's Independence Day looms around the corner.
One could hardly go through this week without hearing about what is shaping up to be the biggest global issue right now: North Korea. The isolated communist state came under the spotlight three weeks ago when North Korea leader Kim Jong Un announced his intention to launch an attack on Guam, a territory under the jurisdiction of the United States. What ensued was a series of threats between Trump and Kim Jong Un, which led to a tense situation on the global financial markets. The stress began to ease off last week, but on Sunday the world awoke in chaos again, as North Korea performed a successful test of a hydrogen bomb in the ocean, which resulted in an earthquake felt in neighboring South Korea and Japan.
Even though there were no casualties, this strike was quite significant. For one thing, many countries had speculated that North Korea did not have the technology to successfully mount such a destructive bomb on a missile, nor to aim it properly. Since the country lives under a self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world, their development has been hampered by a lack of exchange of technologies. It has also been very difficult for the rest of the world to evaluate the readiness and conditions for war in North Korea due to the lack of information (or, rather, the state propaganda that is broadcast instead of information, which many suspect is inaccurate). However, this strike proved that North Korea is much farther ahead in its nuclear program than previously assumed – a power on which Kim Jong Un’s regime relies. The North Korean leader has repeatedly ignored the condemnation of the United Nations regarding his nuclear weapons – and from his perspective, as someone who faces many enemies and might have to protect his position with force, it makes sense that he wants to hold on to his weapons.
It is also important to add that while hydrogen bombs are not talked about as often as atomic ones, they are in fact more dangerous. The test that North Korea performed had five-six times the magnitude of what the USA used in the devastating World War II attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. If North Korea does have the means to send these missiles across the globe to attack North America, the destruction will be unprecedented.
To try to mitigate the crisis before the irreversible occurs, the United Nations again spoke about sanctions against North Korea. The United States, arguably the loudest voice in the argument, has suggested a ban on exporting oil to North Korea. Without fuel, the country would definitely be forced to reconsider its policies, but it might also cause a serious economic crisis in the country where the living standard is already reportedly poor enough.
Even if an oil embargo could success in theory, we might not see it in practice. North Korea trades with two countries: Russia and China, both of which are members of the UN Security Council and could veto the embargo. Even though both have spoken against North Korea’s recent actions, it is unlikely that they would support anything too harsh. China, in particular, does not wish to lose its position of importance in North Korea. Russia too is protecting its interests by supporting the claim that an oil embargo will endanger the civilian population more than it would neutralize the military program of North Korea. The United Nations Security Council is yet to vote on any measures against North Korea.
Meanwhile, amid the geopolitical tensions we saw the financial markets in disarray. Stocks moved up and down, as did currencies. The dollar lost some of its positions against major currencies, and the EUR/USD was able to pass the psychological threshold at $1.20. We should note, however, that the American dollar also suffered for other reasons – the destruction caused by hurricane Harvey hasn’t been fully documented yet, and the US southern coast is again in danger of another hurricane, Irma.
The big winner this week has without a doubt been the gold, which reached its highest level in a year. As a safe haven asset, gold is attractive to traders who find other instrument too insecure at the moment. Now the markets are holding their breath as tomorrow North Korea celebrates its independence and there might be another attack to “commemorate” the day. As long as the tensions continue, we are likely to see this trend stick around.