Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Why North Korea conducts nuclear test?

The fallout from North Korea’s nuclear test will reach beyond its neighbours to the south. AAP/Yonhap

Overnight North Korea conducted its third nuclear weapons test. The test came in the wake of a successful long-range rocket launch in December and resulting condemnation from the United Nations Security Council via UNSC Resolution 2087.

This latest development raises two obvious questions: Why did North Korea conduct the test, and how might the international community react?

Pyongyang’s motives

The seismic signature of this blast registered 4.9 on the Richter scale, larger than a reading of 4.52 from a similar explosion in 2009.

There are several ways of interpreting the larger yield of the most recent blast.

It could have been a bigger bomb, ergo the larger explosion. This seems unlikely given Pyongyang’s need for a miniaturised weapon to demonstrate its deterrent capability.

It may have been North Korea’s first test of a uranium-based weapon using fissile material from Pyongyang’s advanced High Enriched Uranium (HEU) program. Uranium-based nuclear devices are more technologically sophisticated than plutonium bombs, but the uranium feedstock does not have to pass through the numerous processes of the nuclear fuel cycle to be weaponised. HEU installations are more efficient in producing fissile material and harder to detect because they bypass the reactor burn process, hence their appeal.

Or the test may have been of a smaller device packing a stronger punch. Miniaturisation is the next technological milestone for the North’s nuclear scientists in order to produce a nuclear warhead that is deliverable atop a missile. To confirm itself as a nuclear weapons power, North Korea must demonstrate it has developed a deployable nuclear device. A nuclear bomb has no deterrence value unless it can be reliably and accurately delivered to an enemy target.

International reaction

After every North Korean provocation, journalists and colleagues usually ask me how the international community is likely to react.

The international reaction is the most predictable variable in the equation. The answer is: more sanctions.

Why sanctions? Military force is essentially off the table. A casual glance at a map of the Korean peninsula will show that Seoul is essentially indefensible against North Korean rockets and artillery due to its close proximity to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The estimated cost of war and reunification should an American military action escalate to full-scale war is estimated in the trillions of dollars and millions of lives, borne largely by South Korea. For any rational military strategist, the risks of an armed response to North Korea’s pin-prick provocations are prohibitive.

China fears the potential for economic and social dislocation in its northeastern provinces cause by large refugee flows from North Korea in the event of war or state collapse.

The pre-existing sanctions regime imposed by previous Security Council resolutions and domestic legal instruments includes measures such as restrictions on North Korean exports, asset freezes applied to specific North Korean citizens and enterprises, and controls on North Korean imports of dual-use technologies. The sanctions regime is enforced via the Proliferation Security Initiative, a global naval interdiction effort aimed at disrupting WMD trafficking.

Despite its stern rhetoric, the expansion of sanctions in UNSC 2087 was relatively mild. It placed travel bans and asset freezes on four officials and six state-owned enterprises from the North Korean space program and Pyongyang’s amorphous network of foreign exchange banks and dummy companies. This network exists to subvert international sanctions and fund North Korea’s nuclear and missile proliferation activities.

The sanctions regime has been largely ineffective in controlling North Korea’s nuclear and missile proliferation activities. There is a limit to the number of individuals and state-owned entities in North Korea that can be targeted for sanctions. One would therefore expect a new round of sanctions to include a crackdown on foreign entities thought to be assisting North Korean sanction-busting.

A stronger sanctions regime also requires cooperation from Beijing, as China is the country with the greatest economic leverage over the DPRK. Chinese foreign policy elites have been engaged in intense debate over the appropriate approach to North Korea for some time, however it is likely that the official policy of restrained disapproval will continue to carry the day.

Determined proliferation

The inability to prevent North Korea testing a nuclear device is evidence of its weak leverage over Pyongyang. Indeed it is the international community’s weak hand that creates the strategic space for relatively scot-free North Korean provocations.

North Korea is a determined nuclear weapons and ballistic missile proliferator, driven by a number of economic, strategic, political and bureaucratic motivations all linked to the regime’s over-arching goal of survival.

The successful test sends a powerful strategic signal that North Korea is serious about expanding its nuclear arsenal.

A South Korean official said that North Korea had notified the US and China of its nuclear test plan a day earlier.

Source: The Conversation - An independent analysis and commentary from academics and researchers.

World Insight 02/17/2013 Security concerns; civil strife; securing supply; sea of humanity CCTV News - CNTV English

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North Korea confirms successful satellite launch


  1. The Korean Peninsula was colonized and ruled by the Empire of Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II. Following the surrender of the Empire of Japan in September 1945, American administrators divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel, with U.S. military forces occupying the southern half and Soviet (Russian) military forces occupying the northern half.

    On June 25, 1950, North Korea tried to unify the South when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel line defeating the South Korean forces. This invasion was the first military action of the Cold War. By July, American troops entered the war with North Korea.

    China intervened when American military forces invaded North Korea up to China's borders. China pushed US forces back to the 38th parallel again.

    Some warned, the Korean War became World War III. In July 1953, the Korean War came to an end (cease fire only, technically still at war) In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war. The Korean peninsula is still divided today.

    Korean War is a Korean internal unification issue, unfortunately has been internationalized in politics of divided and ruled!

    North Korea proposed a Peace Treaty but it was rejected by USA as Americans only interested in regime change and economic sanctions against the north. The nuclear tests by the North are defensive nature and for survival sake.

  2. Today, the USA still maintains its military forces in South Korea's and Japan's soils which are actually under US's military occupation and administration as the latter are 'allies' and controlled by US politically.

    However, China has withdrawn its volunteers long ago, treats North Korea as 'equal' state to state relationship, not an ally but 'supposed' as many would like to think as China provides the humanitarian and economic aid and assistance to North Koreans life facing sanctions by USA and Japan.

    1. Ironically, the world today want China to stop North Korea's nuclear tests,

      But, when China's successfully tested its nuclear devices in 1960s for defense and deterrence, the Western Powers (Japan included) condemned China as threats to world peace (the so called China's threat theory till today), like the current North Korea.