Nuclear reactionSOUTH KOREAN officials believe that when North Korea next conducts a nuclear test, it will be a small one. That is nothing to be reassured about. The test, they reckon, will be aimed at creating a nuclear device small enough to fit on the tip of the 100kg satellite-bearing rocket that it launched into orbit in December. That, when North Korea masters re-entry technology, could eventually be aimed at the United States.
On January 24th, the threat of a test became all the more ominous when North Korea reacted vehemently to a UN Security Council resolution two days earlier stiffening sanctions against the regime over its rocket launch. In an unusually explicit declaration of its hostile intent carried by the state Korean Central News Agency, it said it would carry out another nuclear test as part of an “all-out action” targeted at America.
Such a test would seriously undermine the hopes of the Obama administration and incoming South Korean President Park Geun-hye for more engagement with North Korea under its young new leader, Kim Jong Un. The UNSC resolution, which extends asset freezes and travel bans, promises further “significant action” if Pyongyang conducts a nuclear test, or launches another rocket.
That sets the stage for a new round of heightened tensions in the region. It would show that yet again the North Korean regime is prepared to flout international rules, even though by doing so it materially affects the livelihood of its people. The more tension there is, the less food and other aid goes into the north. But Pyongyang may have calculated, partly based on past experience, that even if a nuclear test is met with strong international condemnation, it may still be able to re-engage with the outside world when the dust settles.
So far, North Korea has been able to bypass some of the economic impact of sanctions through mushrooming trade with China, which was initially unwilling to support the UNSC resolution, according to diplomatic sources. It was not immediately clear why China changed its mind to back the increased sanctions. But it would be helpful if it issued a warning against the consequence of a nuclear test as loudly as other nearby countries will, and strived to use the economic lifeline it provides to the north to enhance its leverage. Banyan for The Economist