Signaling that it has no intention of bowing to international demands that it cease its efforts to become a nuclear power, North Korea on Tuesday at 11: 57 a.m. local time detonated a nuclear device, a first for the regime of Mr. Kim Jong Un and the country’s third experimental nuclear explosion following tests in 2006 and 2009.
The latest nuclear test will further destabilize the East Asian region and the implementation of tougher sanctions in response will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation in the international community. It will make it much more difficult for Tokyo to seek to improve ties with Pyongyang through dialogue. The United Nations Security Council must take appropriate action, including a strong condemnation of North Korea.
The nuclear test — reportedly involving a miniaturized nuclear device — follows North Korea’s successful launch of a long-range rocket on Dec. 12, which placed what the North claims to be a satellite into orbit. This sequence of events is extremely regrettable. On Jan. 22, the UNSC unanimously adopted a resolution condemning North Korea and demanding that it abandon its nuclear weapons program in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.” Immediately after the rocket launch, the North Korea’s National Defense Commission had warned that it would carry out a third nuclear test, describing it as a “nuclear test of higher level.”
According to the Meteorological Agency, an irregular earthquake took place in the northeastern part of North Korea with a magnitude 5.2 at around 11:57 a.m. Tuesday. South Korea said that a nuclear explosive equivalent to six to seven kilotons of TNT is likely to have been detonated. The bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had the power equivalent to 16 kilotons and 21 kilotons of TNT, respectively.
Clearly North Korea is trying to develop a warhead that can be fitted to a long-range rocket that will have the capability to strike the United States. It is estimated that the rocket launched by North Korea in December had a range of more than 10,000 km, which would enable it to reach the U.S. West Coast
Mr. Kim is apparently taking a brinkmanship approach to pressure the United States to agree to a permanent peace treaty to formally end the Korean War and to normalize its relations with North Korea. But he must realize that such an approach will only strengthen distrust of his country in the international community. His top priority should be the reconstruction of North Korea’s devastated economy. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s nuclear test will trigger economic sanctions that will greatly complicate any North Korean efforts on this front.
At this stage the role played by China, North Korea’s patron, will be extremely important. Beijing should dissuade Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear weapons program while taking steps to ensure that international sanctions against it will be watertight.