Is North Korea’s threat to continue developing its nuclear program “more of the same?” Or will they risk significant international anger should they test a nuclear weapon?
In February, North Korean leadership agreed to allow nuclear inspectors into the country in exchange for much needed nutritional assistance from the United States. This included a moratorium on nuclear testing. Tuesday of this week the North Korean government stated that it will continue to develop its nuclear program, but made no direct threat of a nuclear test and was open to dialogue. An analyst, Koh Yu-hwan at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said the statement, from the North’s Foreign Ministry, was a message that “the U.S. should come to the dialogue table (with North Korea) if it wants to stop its nuclear test.” North Korea’s past nuclear tests occurred in 2006 and 2009 following long-range rocket launches. New satellite imaging shows that the country is upgrading its old launch site to support larger rockets, such as intercontinental missiles and space launch vehicles.
Last month, North Korea failed to launch what it described as a satellite launch, but what most other countries believed was a pretext for long-range missile testing. This broke the agreement with the United States that would have traded food aid for access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities. North Korea has since announced that it is preparing for its third underground nuclear test since 2006. Some believe that a nuclear test would compensate for April’s failed rocket launch. Should North Korea pursue this test, the Group of Eight world leaders very likely will increase sanctions against the country. Some wonder if North Korea is prepared to conduct a nuclear weapons test at this time. Yesterday, North Korea ruled out testing a nuclear weapon but stated it will bolster its nuclear deterrence and its sovereign right to launch satellites. Its government was angry at the Group of Eight nation’s condemnation of its failed long-range rocket launch last month. “Absolutely intolerable is G8′s reckless political provocation to violate the sacred sovereignty of the DPRK (North Korea) steeped in the bad habit of supporting the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK in disregard of justice and truth. We will bravely frustrate all the obstructions of the hostile forces and continue legitimately exercising our sovereign right to launch satellites to meet the indispensable requirements for building an economic power,” said a North Korean official.
The United States is not the only country frustrated with North Korea. China has taken a lot of internal criticism since North Koreans took 29 Chinese fisherman hostage for almost two weeks of captivity this month. Armed North Koreans forcibly boarded three Chinese fishing vessels in Chinese waters on the Yellow Sea and demanded almost $190,000 for return of the boats and fishermen. The fishermen were released this week after they claimed they were beaten, robbed, stripped and given starvation rations. Last year Chinese President Hu Jintao proposed that North Korea and China “strengthen strategic communications on matters of grave importance” in an effort to get North Korea to consult or inform China before North Korea acted on issues of mutual interest. China shares some common interests with the United States, specifically standing for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and for peace and stability I the Northeast Asia region.
It is still too early to know what Kim Jong Un will or will not do with respect to a potential nuclear weapons test. Very likely, the plan he is following was created before he came to power. Like many times before, the ball back in the United States’ court as the government weighs its options of how to respond to the latest North Korean move.