The South Korean government has warned there are signs that North Korea (DPRK) is poised to conduct its second nuclear test this year. But one expert says it is more likely that Dictator Kim Jong-Un and his cronies are engaging in yet another ruse to try and gain leverage in future diplomatic negotiations.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND), Ministry of Unification and President Park Geun-hye have all confirmed that recent activities witnessed near North Korea’s Punggye-ri test site have the signs of an impending nuclear test.
“Seoul and Washington’s information authorities are keeping an eye on North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site,” said Moon Sang-Gyun, spokesperson for the MND, Monday. “We cannot discuss the details here, but Kim Jong Un on March 15 ordered the test of a nuclear warhead as early as possible, and our military believes a new test is highly probable.”
It is believed that the test will either come in the form of an underground detonation or an above ground test of the DPRK’s detonation system.
Cha Du-hyeong, a former secretary to previous South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, is not convinced.
“This is one of North Korea’s traditional tactics,” said Cha to NK News. “Making the world think they will commit another ‘worse’ provocation, not actually committing it, and dramatically turning towards the dialogue in the end.”
Engaging in a second nuclear test in less than five months would be counter-intuitive to Kim Jong-un and company’s goal of resuming negotiations with the U.S. and South Korea.
The DPRK strategy of provocation and withdrawal is tried and true. Since the start of the Six Party talks in 2003, DPRK leadership has engaged in aggressive behavior, which is then inevitably followed up by a supposed draw-down in order to secure some kind of sanctions relief or monetary aid from the international community.
Between the first and second phases of the talks, the DPRK engaged in a nuclear test in 2006. DPRK representatives nonetheless participated in the second phase in December, 2006 in an attempt to have assets unfrozen. While nothing of substance was achieved in the second phase, in 2007 North Korea did agree to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for 500,000 tons of oil per year. Despite the continued talks, the DPRK left the discussions in 2009 after the U.S. condemned an upcoming satellite launch, which later turned out to be an inter-continental missile test.
The first DPRK nuclear test of the year came in early January, and was preceded by several provocations including illegal missile tests.
President Barack Obama’s current policy towards North Korea has been based on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “strategic patience,” or the belief that the U.S. has time to spare regarding DPRK de-nuclearization. The primary facet of the policy rests on “close consultations” with the Six Party members.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Amy Nelson, an expert on nuclear security, said in a January interview that the DPRK’s most recent test shows that the current international sanctions regime has been a failure.
“These tests occur in spite of (and in defiance of) international norms and regimes that prohibit the testing of nuclear weapons,” said Nelson to the CFR editorial team.
The Washington Post editorial board went one step farther, claiming the “strategic patience” policy “has failed” in a February 9 editorial. Several security experts agreed.
“It [strategic patience] meant that the administration didn’t want to be driven by a DPRK-orchestrated sense of crisis, and would respond in its own time to North Korean initiatives,” said senior CFR fellow Scott Snyder to The Daily Beast.
[dcquiz] “The problem with this approach, while it is well intentioned and principled, it has not worked. The talks have not begun, the Obama administration did want those talks to happen, but they have not begun,” said Daryl Kimball, the publisher of Arms Control Today, to The Daily Beast.
The Obama administration, along with the United Nations Security Council permanent members, voted to sanction North Korea in response to its aggression. Given the administration’s ongoing issues with China’s militarization of the South China sea, along with a multitude of other security threats, it unlikely talks with the DPRK will resume during Obama’s final months in office.
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