Editorial: International pressure needed to halt nuclear testing by North Korea

North Korea’s second nuclear test is not only a threat to peace and stability in Asia, it runs counter to the growing international momentum for nuclear disarmament. Last month, too, North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile and contended that the rocket launch was designed to release a satellite into orbit. This succession of reckless deeds by North Korea must not be condoned. The international community must work in concert to prevent further provocative actions by North Korea.

The nuclear test is North Korea’s second since October 2006. At that time the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that North Korea not conduct additional nuclear tests. North Korea has clearly defied this resolution.

The U.N. Security Council issued a presidential statement that condemned North Korea’s launch of a long-range missile last month. The nation’s belligerent reaction to this statement appears to be behind the latest nuclear test. North Korea declared that it would conduct another nuclear test and test-launch ballistic missiles if the U.N. Security Council did not apologize for its condemnation of Pyongyang’s rocket launch.

It can be said that North Korea has repeatedly adopted the tactic of brinkmanship in order to inflame the sense of crisis and extract concessions. North Korea probably thought it possible to bring the U.S. to the negotiating table if it provoked the international community by threatening to conduct another nuclear test.

Since Barack Obama assumed the U.S. presidency, U.S. policy has changed dramatically in that Mr. Obama has advocated dialogue in his diplomacy to pursue “a world without nuclear weapons.” North Korea might have hoped that it could somehow ensure the survival of the Kim Jong-il regime through dialogue. But the Obama administration did not respond to North Korea.

Tired of waiting for an overture from the U.S., North Korea went ahead with the nuclear test. The nation seemed to believe that it could gain an advantageous footing in negotiations with the U.S. if it attained the status of “a nuclear weapon state.” Some experts have pointed out that the North Korean action reflected impatience stemming from health concerns over Kim Jong-il.

North Korea’s previous nuclear test was suspected of being a failure as the force of the blast was small. Its explosive power was estimated to be the equivalent of less than one kiloton of TNT. The force of this nuclear test, though, is believed to be many times more powerful than the first one, which indicates that the country has improved its technological capability. In conjunction with the nuclear test, North Korea also launched short-range missiles. With these actions, the nation now poses a greater threat to its neighbors in the region.

At the same time, North Korea will further exacerbate its isolation in the international community. Above all, its relations with China and Russia, North Korea’s two largest supporters, could deteriorate. In discussions about the North Korean missile issue at the U.N. Security Council last month, both nations took a less-critical stance toward North Korea in comparison to the U.S. and Japan, which took a stronger stand. But it will be difficult for China and Russia to maintain this same stance in the future.

Even if it takes some time, it is vital for Japan, along with the U.S. and South Korea, to cooperate with China and Russia and press North Korea to return to the six-party talks.

Chinese cooperation, in particular, is crucial. As the nation with the strongest influence over North Korea, it can impact the effectiveness of sanctions and provide a line of communication to Pyongyang. We hope Japan will promote the further exchange of information and opinions with China with a view to the denuclearization of North Korea.

As a matter of first priority, the U.N. Security Council should impose severe penalties on the nuclear test by North Korea. There is some doubt about how effective the penalties could be, coming immediately after economic sanctions were tightened due to the missile launch last month. But the first step to preventing further rash acts by North Korea is for the international community, as one, to show a resolute stance against North Korea’s second nuclear test.

(Originally published on May 26, 2009)