Editorial: North Korea’s nuclear test

Act of folly simply unacceptable

North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test on February 12. This reckless act is simply unacceptable and will only serve to further isolate the country from the international community. So what do they think is to be gained?

In December of last year, North Korea test-launched a missile, referring to it as a satellite. As a result, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution strengthening sanctions against North Korea. This latest provocation seems to have been initiated in protest.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the nuclear test saying, “It is a grave threat to our nation’s safety.” South Korea and Russia voiced similar opinions, and U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement in which he described the test as “a highly provocative act…that undermines regional stability.” That is only to be expected. People in Hiroshima also expressed anger about the test.

This was North Korea’s third nuclear test. Of greatest concern this time was a major advance in North Korea’s technology for the miniaturization of warheads.

As a result of last year’s test-launch of a missile, there is growing concern that the U.S. mainland, which is about 10,000 km away, and Europe are now within range of a North Korean missile. A miniature warhead could be mounted on such a long-range missile.

The Korean Central News Agency announced that the test “was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device.” We only hope that this is all talk, but it has also been reported that the test was more powerful than those North Korea has conducted in the past.

This test has made the prevention of nuclear development an even more pressing issue for the international community.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to understand the brinkmanship of Kim Jong Un’s regime, which is driving North Korea further into isolation.

North Korea’s insistence on developing nuclear weapons is believed to stem from its desire to negotiate with the U.S. on equal terms as a nuclear power. Presumably North Korea is seeking to preserve the current regime.

North Korea’s perceptions are also grossly in error. Even without the tragedy of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the notion of North Korea’s policymakers that the regime will be recognized by the international community if it possesses nuclear weapons is simply unacceptable.

It has also been suggested that nuclear development has been carried out based on the “instructions” of the late Kim Jong Il and that Kim Jong Un is scrambling to gain control over the military in order to solidify the domestic regime. For a young, inexperienced leader to use nuclear weapons as a tool to centralize power is extremely dangerous.

Certainly he is not unaware of the domestic situation in North Korea, which suffers from chronic food shortages. How will exacerbating the discontent of the people help to consolidate the regime?

North Korea can only open a path to the future by rejoining the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and by abandoning nuclear weapons through the six-party talks and other avenues. This simple logic must be driven home to North Korea.

In order to do so, peaceful resolution of the issues through diplomatic efforts must be sought. Violent conflict must be avoided at all costs.

The assets of North Korean organizations and individuals have been frozen as a result of U.N. Security Council sanction resolutions, and travel to North Korea has been prohibited. Japan has also implemented its own sanctions.

Having reached this point, even tighter sanctions are inevitable. But their effectiveness depends on the international community falling in step. In particular, the stance of China, which has leverage over North Korea, will be of key importance.

China supported last month’s Security Council resolution and yesterday declared its “firm opposition” to the latest nuclear test. To ensure that this statement does not end up as a mere illusion, China must work tirelessly to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. In order to ensure that its neighbors do not suspect it of aligning itself with North Korea simply to apply pressure to the U.S., China must display a firm stance.

There is still friction between Japan and China over the issue of the Senkaku Islands. But this is a crisis, and the two nations must act in accord.

(Originally published on February 13, 2013)