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North Korea Takes The Nuclear Gamble Another Round

This DigitalGlobe satellite image shows a nuclear reactor site in Yongbyon, North Korea. Photo courtesy of Digitalglobe and AFP.
by Michael Marshall
UPI Editor In Chief
Washington (UPI) Oct 09, 2006
In an historic summit meeting in Beijing on Sunday, Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed that a nuclear test by North Korea "cannot be tolerated." China's enigmatic neighbor responded by apparently conducting such a test within hours of the announcement.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency announced the test took place Monday morning local time and seismic activity consistent with a nuclear explosion was detected by geologists in both South Korea and Australia. It occurred in the northeast of the country near the town of Kilju, an area that had been under U.S. surveillance as a possible test site because of the excavation of several deep tunnels there.

North Korea warned China that it was about to test and the Chinese passed the information on to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. President Bush was informed Sunday night shortly before the test took place.

North Korea has kept analysts of East Asian affairs working overtime during the past few months trying to fathom the motives first of the test launch of seven missiles on July 4, and now of a nuclear test. Whatever the intent of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, behind these displays of destructive capacity, they represent an extreme gamble by him on the patience of China.

North Korea is an economic basket case underwritten by Chinese food and energy aid. This is ironic as the country's governing ideology is still "juche," roughly translated as "self-reliance," developed by Kim's father Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founding president known as the Great Leader. North Korea's economy outperformed that of South Korea, measured by per capita GDP, until the mid-1970s. Today, however, South Korean economists estimate that their country's GDP is around 40 times that of its northern neighbor.

If China were ever to pull the plug on its flow of aid to North Korea it would precipitate a crisis. North Korea is counting that China will never do that and it is not in China's interests to do so. China's policy toward the Korean peninsula has two goals: the peninsula should be nuclear free, and stable.

Stability, for the Chinese, means maintaining the status quo including sustaining the Kim regime in the north. They see North Korea as a desirable buffer between them and a South Korea allied with the U.S. superpower and with U.S. troops on its territory. A collapse of government in North Korea would create a potential flashpoint as China and South Korea competed over cleaning up the mess with different ends in mind. China does not share South Korea's goal of ultimate Korean reunification.

North Korea's development and now testing of nuclear weapons challenges China's policy and faces its leaders with some tough choices that they would rather not have to make. China is not interested in foreign adventures at the moment. The priority is to grow the economy while maintaining social stability, particularly by creating the huge number of jobs needed to spread the new wealth.

For that China needs stability in its foreign relations, particularly in the East Asia region. North Korea's activities jeopardize that policy by forcing China to prioritize its two goals for the Korean peninsula. Will it continue to maintain the Kim regime at the cost of accepting it as an openly declared nuclear weapon state? Or will it pressure Kim to lose the nukes even at the risk of undermining his regime?

A nuclear North Korea poses a threat to the regional stability China is also anxious to maintain. Despite denials from aides to Prime Minister Abe that Japan has any intention of developing its own nuclear weapon in response to North Korea's test, this question is bound to become an issue in Japanese politics if North Korea does not abandon its nuclear program. A Japanese nuclear weapon would likely lead to a South Korean weapon, and either development would be very bad news from a Chinese point of view.

The Chinese are increasingly frustrated that Kim is forcing such unpleasant choices upon them and it is beginning to show. Kim ignored China's warnings against the missile tests of July 4 and the North Koreans refused to receive the diplomat dispatched by Beijing after the launch. China responded by supporting U.N. Security Council sanctions against the sale of any missile technology to North Korea. This was a first for China even though they modified a much tougher resolution initially proposed by Japan.

China's response to the nuclear test was unequivocal in its condemnation. The foreign ministry in Beijing called it "brazen," strong language for Chinese diplomats to use publicly about North Korea. China still encourages a diplomatic solution with a return to the Six Party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue that North Korea has boycotted since late last year.

China will not act hastily against North Korea. It still remains to be seen what sort of Security Council action she will support. But we can expect Chinese pressure on North Korea to pay more heed to Beijing now that China's interests are being adversely affected by North Korean actions.

earlier related report
NK Nuke Test Rocks US Policy
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Oct. 9 - North Korea's announcement of a successful underground nuclear test comes as an expected shock to the Bush administration. It is expected because U.S. intelligence had concluded that North Korea had already produced enough weapons grade material for six to a dozen nuclear weapons. And no serious U.S. nuclear analyst doubted that the weapons could and would work.

However, it remains a shock because U.S. policy on North Korea remained confrontational in ways that tacitly assumed North Korea would never develop such a capability.

From the time the Soviet Union successfully tested its first nuclear weapon in the atmosphere in 1949 and China's first successful nuclear test in October 1964, the United States also retained diplomatic relations and clear lines of communication to Moscow and Beijing at all times. But Washington and Pyongyang remain completely cut off from any direct contact with each other. The policy of the U.S. government remains to reject direct one-on-one talks with North Korea on the nuclear issue.

North Korea, on its side, is not as much of a "Hermit Kingdom" as it was for most of its history over the past six decades. Ties with China remain strong and South Korea's "Sunshine" policy, though overshadowed by the escalating tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, have opened significant diplomatic channels.

However, direct lines of communication between the United States and North Korea simply do not exist. North Korea's reclusive leaders have no first hand reliable information on U.S. policymaking and the levels of their suspicion and even paranoia about U.S. intentions remain extremely high. Therefore the possibly of some catastrophic misjudgment or miscalculation on the part of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il or of his top military commanders, who are believed to be even more paranoid and hawkish about the United States, cannot be excluded.

The device that the North Koreans exploded is believed to have been in the range of one kiloton, or the equivalent of a ton of high explosives, according to initial reports about seismological analyses of the shock weaves caused by the explosion. This would make the device far smaller than the 14 kiloton weapon that was dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945. But it would still be potentially capable of destroying at the very least scores of thousands of people if detonated in or above an American city.

Since asserting full, unsupervised control of their own nuclear facilities, the North Koreans have produced enough weapons grade plutonium to make six to 12 nuclear weapons with another one or two being produced every year.

However, it remains debatable whether they have mastered miniaturization yet. Nuclear technology is challenging even with theoretical knowledge. Pakistan's master proliferator and nuclear program mastermind A. Q. Khan is believed to have sold the North Koreans miniaturization technology for warheads more than a decade ago. And the overwhelming resources the North Koreans have diverted from their starvation-plagued economy to investing in ballistic missile systems suggests that they remain confident that they either have solved, or will solve, the miniaturization problem.

The North Koreans successfully tested half a dozen short to intermediate range missiles on July 4 that would give them the capability already to hit any city in South Korea or Japan. However, their attempt to test an ambitious Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile, also on July 4, was an utter failure.

Therefore at this pint, Pyongyang appears to have the capability to deliver a regular nuclear attack on Japan or South Korea, by either aircraft or missile, depending on whether they have yet solve their miniaturization problems. But they appear still many years away from developing their own thermonuclear, or hydrogen bomb weapon.

The timing of the successful North Korean test should also be noted. It occurred on the eve of Columbus Day, a major U.S. national holiday, just as their test of six missiles, and the unsuccessful attempt to test launch the Taepodong-2, were fired on July 4.

The nuclear test therefore appears to have been primarily timed as a deterrent or warning against attack from the United States. It is also worth noting that the test came only weeks after Shinzo Abe succeeded Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister of Japan. Abe has a hawkish reputation on the North Korean issue, although his first major overseas visit as prime minister this week has been to China in an attempt to revive relations.

Still, however much the test was expected, the shock aspects of it will dominate in the reaction of policymakers in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. The world changed on Sunday. The repercussions of that change remain to be seen.

Source: United Press International

Related Links
Learn about nuclear weapons doctrine and defense at SpaceWar.com

Key Points Of Proposed US Sanctions Draft On North Korea Nuclear Test
United Nations (AFP) Oct 09, 2006
US-proposed Security Council sanctions over North Korea's atom-bomb test would include international inspection of inbound and outbound cargo to curb proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a Western diplomat said Monday. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the inspections were part of 13 elements for a draft resolution circulated by US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton earlier Monday to punish Pyongyang for its first-ever nuclear weapons test.







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