Editorial: Nuclear test by North Korea

International cooperation needed to prevent it

North Korea may conduct its third nuclear test, following on those it conducted in 2006 and 2009. The international community must work together to prevent this no matter what it takes.

In December of last year North Korea launched what it claimed was a satellite. The United Nations Security Council condemned it as effectively the launch of a long-range ballistic missile and adopted a resolution tightening sanctions against North Korea.

North Korea reacted angrily, and on January 24 its National Defense Commission issued a statement saying, “We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States.” The statement also referred to the U.S. as North Korea’s “sworn enemy.”

At this stage, it is not clear whether or not North Korea will actually take reckless action or when that might happen. Nevertheless North Korea must be condemned and reprimanded for its biting back talk directed at the international community.

The Security Council initially moved to settle the matter with a non-binding statement from the president. China, which exerts strong influence over North Korea, was apparently reluctant to pass a resolution, but the U.S. maintained its tough stand, and China ultimately compromised after difficult negotiations.

The fact that the Security Council passed the resolution unanimously is important. Can the council’s unity on this occasion be put to use to prevent further provocations?

The capabilities of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has just embarked on his second term, and the ruling circle of China’s Xi Jin Ping will be called into question.

In talks the other day with a special envoy of Park Geun-hye, president-elect of South Korea, Xi said, "It is essential to denuclearize and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Korean Peninsula to secure peace and stability." We would like to see him demonstrate this not only with words but also with further action.

As a result of North Korea’s launch of a missile last year, it is believed more likely that the U.S. mainland is within range of North Korea’s missiles.

What most worries the international community now is the prospect of North Korea succeeding at miniaturizing a nuclear warhead and mounting it on a missile. Concern grows every time North Korea conducts another nuclear test.

Once another test is conducted it will be too late, and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is the goal of the six-party talks, will be extremely difficult. Tensions in Northeast Asia, including Japan, will rise further.

In 2005 the participants in the six-party talks issued a joint statement that included a provision for North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear program, but North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has now declared that invalid. The ministry went on to say, "There will be no more discussion over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the future.”

Nevertheless Russia and the other four parties to the talks must unite and strongly urge North Korea to return to the six-party talks. It is essential to leave North Korea a foothold for rejoining the talks by continuing to signal to North Korea that, depending on its stance, the door to dialogue is open.

It is a fact that no talks have been held since the six-party talks broke down in 2008 and the talks are stalled. At the same time, efforts to find a way to break the impasse are being made.

Morton Halperin, who was in charge of U.S. nuclear policy in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations, has said that no progress can be made as long as North Korea is merely unilaterally pressured to abandon its nuclear program. Mr. Halperin, who also served as Special Assistant to the President in the Clinton administration, has called for drawing North Korea into comprehensive negotiations by the six nations on issues such as a formal end to the Korean War, normalization of relations with neighboring nations, and the creation of a nuclear-free zone in northeast Asia, and then moving toward the signing of a treaty.

This idea is worth paying heed to. Of course, making it a reality won’t be easy, but we would like to see the nations involved explore the possibilities.

And there must be more that the Japanese government can do. How will Japan improve its frosty relations with China, chair of the six-party talks? We must remember that this is also closely tied to the pressing issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens to North Korea.

(Originally published on January 26, 2013)