Japan joined the international community in condemning North Korea’s nuclear test Monday, but some experts questioned whether imposing further sanctions will help get the reclusive state to drop its nuclear program.
Following reports of the test, the government was quick to say it will collaborate with Japan’s allies to handle Pyongyang’s latest act of defiance.
Prime Minister Taro Aso said the test was “unacceptable.”
“North Korea’s nuclear test was a grave defiance toward the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and clearly violates the resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council,” Aso said. “It can by no means be tolerated.”
He said Japan will demand that the United Nations adopt a resolution against Pyongyang, and that Japan will decide what measures to take, including implementing further sanctions, once the nuclear test is officially confirmed.
But experts pointed out that North Korea hasn’t shied away from its nuclear development program despite continued sanctions.
“We’ve done pretty much everything there is to do in terms of sanctions,” said Masao Okonogi, a political science professor at Keio University in Tokyo and an expert on North Korean issues.
Okonogi explained that while Washington will not swiftly agree with Pyongyang’s desire to hold bilateral talks, ignoring the message will only encourage the North to take increasingly drastic measures.
“If the U.S. doesn’t launch direct talks eventually, the next step for North Korea could possibly include intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Okonogi said.
Following Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in October 2006, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution against North Korea that imposed economic sanctions and banned missile development. But North Korea continues to defy such demands, most recently in April when it launched a rocket over Japan.
While the missile launch resulted in a nonbinding presidential statement by the Security Council, the North reacted by removing International Atomic Energy Agency officials who were monitoring its nuclear programs, ultimately speeding up its preparations for a nuclear test.
Patterns from the past decade also indicate that the North will continue its forceful diplomacy until it gets what it wants, which Keio University’s Okonogi said is to talk directly with the U.S. on upgrading the ceasefire agreement on the Korean Peninsula to a full peace treaty.
Meanwhile, some experts say Japan’s next step — and its only option — is to join hands with South Korea and the U.S. to impose strict sanctions against Pyongyang.
“We need to strengthen penalties once more and call for tough regulations,” Hisahiko Okazaki, an expert on Japanese foreign policy, said.
With Monday’s nuclear test, Russia and China, which were against imposing strict penalties in April, will not be able to oppose sanctions on the North by the Security Council, he said.
“The new sanctions must be tough, and be agreed on swiftly. We were too cushy over April’s missile launch,” Okazaki said.