North Korea: If this was a test of hydrogen bomb then what

If North Korea has really conducted a test of hydrogen bomb it is clear violation of UNSC resolution. So why do you think NK was ready to do it and what should be the reaction of international community besides expected condemnations? Read few comments.

Virginie Grzelczyk, Lecturer in International Relations, Aston University

While it is always difficult to attest whether the DPRK really has conducted a ‘successful’ test or not (nuclear experts will, in the next few days, comment on intensity, range, and technological significance), the fact that Pyongyang has gone public about this is in line with nuclear deterrence theory, and also in line with Pyongyang’s past approach to developing a nuclear programme. Indeed, it has left the NPT and tested a number of times over the past decade, with the first test in 2006 taking the world by surprise. There have been several tests since then, and they are both by the DPRK in technological terms to further develop their nuclear program and in political terms to signal to other nations (and the United States in particular) that they are an independent and sovereign country.

While this is a violation of UNSC resolutions, the DPRK is not really concerned by these, as resolution as for once soft law and the DPRK considers the development of nuclear weapons its sovereign right in order to defend itself against perceived aggressors (they have outlined the United States and its armed forced stations in the ROK and the region numerous times). Hence, they are ready to test without much concern for international laws, sanctions or even potential military retaliation as it is very unlikely that any of these will impact the DPRK: while sanctions over the previous decades have targeted many entities within the DPRK and certainly had an impact on the economy, the country has seen a change of leadership from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un, and the country has still survived, and is actually developing in some areas. There are not many channels left when it comes to sanctions and hence sanctions (both economic and political sanctions) are likely to have very little impact on the DPRK at this point. While there is always the spectre of a military intervention on the DPRK soil, this is also very unlikely: the current situation with ISIS and Libya shows the reluctance of international powers to engage military troops abroad, and a military actions toward the DPRK at this point would be illegal and very difficult to process.

Besides expected condemnations, there are not many options for the international community at this point. The American concept of ‘strategic patience’ used by the Obama administration has not yielded much results over the previous years, and this new test is likely to put new strains in an already strained relationships, yet it might not change the overall situation much in the future. What is needed at this point, though, is not necessarily to engage the DPRK in a conversation about the dismantlement of its nuclear programme. Instead, a conversation about nuclear programme management and nuclear technology management would be more useful as it is very unlikely the DPRK will ever accept to surrender its technology, as the past decade of testing, sanctioning and stalling have shown.

James Hoare, Former British Chargé d’affaires in Pyongyang, former President of British Association of Korean Studies

I have no great theories about this. I think that there must always be a degree of skepticism about North Korean claims and I have noted that some are saying that the reported size of the explosion seems small for a hydrogen bomb. But the DPRK is clearly determined to carry forward its nuclear programme, which is worrying, and even if this is not a hydrogen bomb, it seems that it is clear evidence that they are doing this. The explosion in itself gives no indication of progress towards miniaturization of whatever nuclear devices they have, which would enable them to be mounted on a missile.

Why now? It is probably tied in with Kim Jong Un’s wish to project himself as a strong and determined leader – perhaps being close to his birthday (supposedly 8 January) is significant, though I suspect that the nuclear programme has a time–scale all its own. Of course, it is also ten years since the DPRK’s first test (October 2006).

What will happen? International condemnation has already begun and will continue. I expect that the issue will be brought to the UN and further sanctions will be imposed. But it is difficult to know what can be done beyond that. No doubt  there will be calls for both Russia and China to do more and in particular to implement firm sanctions. This seems to me unlikely to happen, given the existing tensions between Russia and China and the rest of the world, especially the United States. And there could come a time when sanctions will really begin to affect the ordinary people of North Korea, who would suffer even though they have no prospect of being able to influence the leadership.

Personally, I think that the only way to curtail the DPRK nuclear programme is for the United States to accept that there are nuclear weapons in North Korea and then work on a plan to prevent their further development. This requires a serious commitment to talks, an acceptance of what is there already to prevent something worse, and some form of inducement to persuade the North Koreans to the table. But in a US presidential election year, this seems unlikely to happen.

Brian Myers, Associate Professor, Dongseo University

North Korea is not a failed communist state but a fairly successful ultra-nationalist one. It has always had one over-riding mission, namely, unification of the peninsula on its own terms. The country’s armament program must be seen in this context, and that program has its own timetable, dictated to a large extent by the technological developments themselves. The world pays too much attention to North Korea’s moderate, international-oriented propaganda, such as the leader’s New Year’s Day speeches, and too little attention to the propaganda disseminated in schools and workplaces to the citizens themselves. In that more bellicose propaganda, North Korea has continuously stressed its commitment to “final victory” over the enemy and unification on its own terms. To that end the country must be as strong as possible.

The ball is really in China’s court right now. Sanctions will have no effect so long as China continues to undermine them. The government in Beijing has just issued a strong criticism of the nuclear test, but it remains to be seen what actual measures it will now undertake.

Leonid Petrov, Researcher at ANU School of Culture, History and Language College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

With this test Kim Jong-un is trying to attract the attention of both Washington DC and Beijing, giving another chance to Obama and Xi to talk and, possibly, meet in person.

If China stops providing aid someone else will. Russia and China compete for more influence and concessions in North Korea. South Koreans, Japanese and Americans will be more willing to talk to Pyongyang.

As for the timing, Kim’s birthday is day after tomorrow and a powerful firework always helps.

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