Evidence suggests that North Korea is preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear test. The regime has declared its intention to turn the country into a nuclear power this year, defying warnings and sanctions from the international community. None of the measures enacted to date have succeeded in dampening Pyongyang¡¯s drive to develop nuclear weapons.
The tendency to rely on economic sanctions alone as the solution to North Korea¡¯s nuclear program is becoming a problem. While sanctions may be crucial in stalling North Korea¡¯s efforts in the short term, economic measures alone are unlikely to prevent the country¡¯s steady progress in developing smaller nuclear warheads.
Although United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2270 and 2321 detail the strongest economic sanctions yet levied on the country, numerous loopholes remain. Experts have asserted that these resolutions will not succeed in completely depriving North Korea of funds for its nuclear program. China¡¯s refusal to sanction goods ¡®essential to the livelihood¡¯ of ordinary North Koreans is likely being used as a pretext to diminish the overall effectiveness of the sanctions. This exemption has facilitated the continued smuggling of illicit goods.
Recently, a South Korean Ministry of Unification official told Daily NK that, ¡°Right up until the day that the nuclear disarmament agreement was signed with Iran, many people were saying that the sanctions against the country were proving fruitless. We need to maintain steady pressure until the day that the North Korean sanctions prove to be as effective.¡±
However, unlike Iran, North Korea has maintained a relatively closed economy for quite some time, rendering it less vulnerable to international sanctions. Indeed, because North Korea¡¯s economy is so different from Iran¡¯s, the analogy may be a bit misleading.
Even North Korean residents have remarked among themselves that the sanctions are not effective. According to inside sources contacted by Daily NK, a number of residents stated their opinion that UNSCR 2270 was a ¡°pointless measure¡± at the time it was adopted last year.
Some experts have warned against considering strong sanctions to be the sole solution to North Korea¡¯s pursuit of nuclear weapons. ¡°Sanctions will work eventually,¡± said Kyungnam University Professor Lim Eul Chul during a conversation with Daily NK. ¡°There is a limit to the effectiveness of the regime¡¯s strategy, which is to escape the impact of sanctions by exploiting their own people. It remains to be seen whether or not we can hinder North Korea from continuing to develop nuclear weapons in the short term. Economic sanctions alone will not be enough to prevent it indefinitely.¡±
Sejong Institute Director Song Dae Seong explained, ¡°There is no way that sanctions will prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. As long as China does not implement sanctions properly and North Korea¡¯s sea and land trade are not blocked in tandem, progress will be limited. Recently, a new flight route was announced connecting Pyongyang with China¡¯s border city of Dandong. Under these conditions, it is unlikely that China will sincerely enforce its sanctions obligations.¡±
In this context, some experts are advising that it is time to consider other options - both military and diplomatic - that go beyond economic sanctions. Director Song noted, ¡°Even if the sky is falling, North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons. That means we need to consider options that will literally make it impossible for North Korea to continue in its objective. We need to consider things such as regime change, top secret military action, sealing off Pyongyang, or eliminating the top leadership.¡±
¡°We¡¯ve tried using United Nations resolutions and designations after each of North Korea¡¯s nuclear tests. But what effect has any of it had? We can conclude that North Korea had no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons. The international community should consider a preemptive strike declaration at the testing site when the North moves to carry out another nuclear test or a similar measure to demonstrate a real threat to the regime's survival,¡± Director Song continued.
Because preemptive military options could bring significant instability and casualties to the Korean peninsula, some experts are pointing towards negotiations as the right move.
Professor Lim noted, ¡°North Korea uses the possibility of a preemptive strike as a justification for continuing to develop nuclear weapons. It has systems in place to deal with such an attack. In response, North Korea could attack the South, resulting in significant damage. I doubt that a preemptive strike is the best solution.¡±
¡°In the end, there is no option outside of negotiation,¡± Professor Lim continued. ¡°Although negotiations will not be as productive in the short term and could even result in some damage, in the medium-to-long term, negotiations could be used to remove North Korea¡¯s pretext for developing nuclear weapons. Since the North¡¯s pretext for needing nuclear weapons is the possibility of a preemptive strike and a general policy that regards Pyongyang with hostility, we need to start by removing that pretext.¡±
A March 28th report by the North Korea analysis website 38 North claimed that satellite pictures show increased activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. The article states that the ¡°activity is consistent with previous reports, while the rest of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site has been generally quiet. However, there is now one vehicle and a large contingent (70-100) of people standing in formation or observing from the courtyard of the Main Administrative Area.¡±
The article continues to explain that, ¡°Such a gathering hasn¡¯t been seen since January 4, 2013, which was followed by a nuclear test on February 12,¡± and suggests that, ¡°Pyongyang [may be] sending a political message that the sixth nuclear test is ready to go.¡±
In explaining the current situation, the Unification Ministry official told Daily NK, ¡°If the North Korean leadership decides to carry out a nuclear test, it can give the command at any time.¡±
*Edited by Lee Farrand