North Korea yesterday utilized the Chongryon publication Chosun Shinbo to warn that if the international community applies sanctions following its rocket launch Pyongyang may opt to conduct a third nuclear test. It is impossible to know whether North Korea plans to act upon this warning or was merely issuing a threat; however, by harking back to April and May 2009, when a similar process of diplomatic cut-off led to North Korea’s second nuclear test, Chosun Shinbo has given ample cause for concern.
▲ Will North Korea Conduct a Third Nuclear Test?
A few months before its first and second nuclear tests in 2006 and again in 2009, North Korea tested a long-range missile. There is a process to be followed; attracting the international community’s attention with the missile, then using the frosty international atmosphere that ensues as a shield behind which to conduct the nuclear test. Therefore, a substantial number of experts are convinced that the third nuclear test is practically inevitable from this point on.
However, Choi Jin Wook, a researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification, sees the chances of a nuclear test now as actually quite low. “Internally the system is unstable and they want to negotiate with the U.S.,” he explained to Daily NK yesterday, adding, “To go as far as a nuclear test is very risky for them.”
Choi’s insistence is that, despite the impending rocket launch, North Korea actually wants to keep talking to the U.S. and therefore will not follow the process to its natural conclusion.
Prof. Kim Yeon Soo of Korea National Defense University, however, noted the conventional logic, saying, “In 2006 and 2009, following the launch of the Taepodong-2, they conducted a nuclear test. Looking at the pattern so far, we cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test now.”
Similarly, Prof. Yoon Deok Min of Korea National Diplomatic Academy told a seminar yesterday that Kim Jong Eun will order the conducting of a nuclear test in order to demonstrate his domestic leadership and generate regime solidarity.
▲ Showing Off the Will to Provoke
Some analysts claim that North Korea likes to remind the international community about past incidents so as to maximize its threat potential. They say that North Korea’s objective in so doing is to minimize international sanctions and reduce their strength while seizing the upper hand in negotiations with the U.S.
Prof. Kim explained, “It is North Korea’s standard operating procedure to break through international pressure and then switch to negotiating mode.”
“If North Korea were to carry out this nuclear test then it would symbolize the fact that Kim Jong Eun’s legitimacy stems from military support,” he added.
▲ Hard-line Keynote; Favorable for Kim Jong Eun?
Experts have been predicting since last year that North Korea will undertake some form of provocation, potentially including a nuclear test, this year, not least in order to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. The logic being that in a time of limited results to show off in other sectors, military might is one of the few where North Korea can legitimately claim to have made progress.
In addition, one expert commented, “There is little reason for officials close to Kim Jong Eun to refuse because it is a method they have been familiar with since the time of Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Eun may well think it is highly beneficial for him to rule from hardline foundations.”