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February 08, 2013

Stakes High for Third North Korean Nuclear Test

by Jerome Socolovsky

North Korea is threatening to conduct a third nuclear weapons test soon in violation of United Nations sanctions. The stakes are higher this time than with previous tests in 2006 and 2009.

North Korea's nuclear program is moving ahead despite years of international sanctions.

Newly confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that North Korean nuclear tests only increase the potential for conflict.

"And the people of North Korea are starving. They desperately need to become more open and connected to the world, instead of harboring some of the worst gulags in the world, where people are tortured and forced labor,'' said Kerry.

State Department spokeswoman Victorian Nuland said the U.S. will make sure last month's Security Council resolution broadening sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons program will be enforced.

“We can ensure that that’s not just a piece of paper, that those sanctions are implemented around the international community,” said Nuland.

Georgetown University professor Balbina Hwang said this approach, however, doesn't sway North Korea's leaders.

"That only works if the regime views integration into the international community as a positive goal. The problem is North Korea has never wanted to join the international community," said Hwang.

North Korea won't even be deterred by threatened penalties from China, its main source of food and fuel, she said.

"It will basically be calling China's bluff," said Hwang.

At a time of domestic unrest in China and a slowing economy, Beijing views the test as a destabilizing factor, said Professor Jin Canrong of the Renmin University of China.

"There are too many problems for the leadership; they do not want to have problems abroad," he said.

Experts say the North Korean test will make it more difficult to halt Iran's nuclear program, because the two nations share technology.