North Korea’s Defiance
Published: February 12, 2013
North Korea’s third nuclear weapons test has dashed any hope that its new dictator, Kim Jong-un, would be any more sensible than his father or grandfather before him. It has reaffirmed the international community’s utter failure to devise a policy that might reverse, or at least slow, the North’s nuclear program.
China Looms Over Response to Nuclear Test by North Korea(February 13, 2013)
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The next step for the United States and its partners is to urgently review strategies, including additional sanctions, that might yet keep North Korea from becoming a full-fledged nuclear power. That, of course, is going to require a more robust response from China than North Korea’s main supporter has been willing to make.
It may be some days before we know the details of the test, conducted after weeks of forewarning by North Korea that it was coming and a host of nations that it should not. On Tuesday, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr., said in a statement that the explosive yield was “approximately several kilotons,” compared to less than one kiloton in the 2006 test and two to six kilotons registered in 2009. This suggests North Korea is beginning to produce devices with substantial power.
North Korea’s official news agency also claimed this test was of a “miniaturized and lighter nuclear device” which, if true, would be a step closer to the ability to place a warhead on a ballistic missile.
The other unknown is whether the test used plutonium fuel, as previous tests did, or highly enriched uranium, as experts consider likely. The North voluntarily stopped making plutonium in 2008, but, in 2010, after years of denials, revealed to visiting American experts an enrichment facility that could be producing several bombs’ worth of uranium a year. If the North Koreans tested a uranium-based nuclear device, it suggests they are expanding their arsenal and might be more likely to sell deadly wares when they’ve been developed.
By defying the United Nations Security Council, which repeatedly has imposed sanctions for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Mr. Kim was undoubtedly trying to enhance his status with his people. But his actions ensure that the country remains isolated and that he is unable to feed its people or revive the economy as he promised. China, the North’s main provider of food and fuel, publicly warned that North Korea would pay a heavy price if it went ahead with the test. Although it has supported past sanctions on North Korea, China has never used its leverage fully because it fears instability on the Korean Peninsula more than a nuclear North Korea. The reality is that instability is growing anyway as the North becomes more nuclear-capable.
North Korea’s latest defiance humiliated China and is a test for its own new leader, Xi Jinping. China should not only take the lead in pushing for tighter Security Council sanctions but make clear it will more rigorously enforce existing sanctions with a focus on penalties that harm the regime’s leaders.
There is no silver bullet, but more creative thinking is needed. China and the United States should be working to covertly disrupt the North’s nuclear program, as was done with Iran. The United States should invest more in Radio Free Asia so that more outside information could reach North Korea’s people. Still, it should keep seeking dialogue. No good comes from ignoring North Korea.