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North Korea’s Nuclear Test: A Blast Into Reality

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North Korea confirmed that has successfully carried out a nuclear test, sparking as usual wider condemnation around the world.

The test was conducted underground and confirmed after seismic activity was detected at North Korea’s nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, with a magnitude of 4.9 the US Geological Survey said. It is still unclear the exact data on the test, but the South Korean military estimate that the yield of the nuclear explosion was between six and seven kilotons. Russia’s defense ministry says the size of the blast was over seven kilotons.NKOREA-MILITARY-NUCLEAR-TEST-FILES

Whatever will be final data, one fact is clear: North Korea is making swift progresses in building its nuclear deterrent. The above sentence could find confirmations in the fact that Pyongyang’s nuclear scientists apparently managed to create a small device capable of generating a powerful explosion.

As the statement from state-run KCNA news agency read:

“It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment,” KCNA said.

The claim to have tested a “miniaturised” device is an alarming signal; North Korea is believed to be  trying for several years building a nuclear device capable to fit in a long range missile whose range are the US. The recent ballistic test in December 2012, although officially to put a satellite into orbit, shocked for the rapidity on which North Korea recovered by previous setback. In addition have been noted technological progresses which raises question on how an impoverished and isolated country is able to develop a structured missile programme.

The nuclear test, the third in North Korean history, comes as a tacit confirmation of the desire to build a deterrent to block US activities and get advantage against arch enemies South Korea and Japan. North Korea statement said the test was “to protect our national security and sovereignty against the reckless hostility of the United States“.

This test, the first under Kim Jong-un, is also shaping the course of the leadership with a clear aim: North Korea is taking seriously its missile and nuclear programme.

The message is getting its way across the world, and while international powers waste time thinking of Teheran’s possible nuclear bombs, they do not realise that a real and more tangible threat is already in front of their eyes for at least a decade.

Reactions: Divisions Among Powers Fuel Pyongyang’s Programme

US President Barack Obama called for “swift” and “credible” international action in response. President Obama said the test was a “highly provocative act” and added: “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies.”

China expressed “firm opposition” to its ally’s test. However, ambiguous and unclear as usual, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has urged all parties involved to reduce tensions and solve the issue through dialogue in the framework of six-party talks. It also expressed “firm opposition” to the test, called on North Korea not to take any actions that would aggravate the situation, and to “honour its commitment to denuclearization”.

South Korea’s presidential national security adviser Chun Young-woo said: “This is an unacceptable threat to the security of the Korean peninsula and north-east Asia, and a challenge to the whole international community.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “It is a grave threat to our nation’s safety and cannot be tolerated as it will significantly damage international society’s peace and safety.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the test as a “clear and grave violation” of UN resolutions and a “deeply destabilising” provocation.

Britain and Russia called for a “robust response” from the UN Security Council.

As usual North Korea actions spark a strong condemnation, at least in vocal terms, but it can be argued how they can achieve something more tangible. The US and its allies count on China to get incisive sanctions, but as seen in the past Beijing role is, to say the least, ambiguous and not reliable. The new leadership of Xi Jinping still has to show a real face in foreign policy, and this test could help in understanding the new course. Recent tensions with Japan concerning the Senkaku/Diaoyu  Islands do not preannounce “candid relations” but the test could put Beijing in a very difficult position. Its balancing between being a market partner for the west and being at the same time a staunch “wannabe superpower” dressed by anticapitalist rhetoric could be at end.

North Korea seems to get the most of this situation, now protracted for over a decade, since the nuclear programme was resumed after the Bush Administration did not hide its desire to destroy one of the “outposts of tyranny”. The line between the nuclear blackmailing and a real deterrent being built is getting thin, and whilst at the UNSC they discuss about actions, Pyongyang may already have enough material to get its job done.

Economic sanctions may impact an already fragile economy and isolated country, but the ones already in place seem to have no effects if North Korea has been able to conduct two missile tests in 2012 and a nuclear test with clear signs of improved technology. On the other hand, this programme, which is clearly “financed” by the starvation of North Korea’s economy and its people, could dangerously lead to the collapse of the regime that is a nightmare for South Korea and China. Engaging Pyongyang in military action could be a disastrous move, rejected by neighbours because as if in the long term the regime could lose the war, in the short the damage could be of unimaginable consequences.

So what next? Clearly the diplomatic way remains the best available, but instead of pressuring North Korea the US should press on China and getting along a key player such Russia. The above task won’t be easy as the US are clearly depicting the Pacific as an area of primary interest, their position on the South China Sea issues are anti-Chinese. The relations with Russia are most of the time based on suspicions, hostility and divergent position on international issues.

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Written by Matteo Figus

12/02/2013 at 11:04

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