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North follows a nuclear pattern

But with stakes high, it could change course on its show of force

Sept 17,2015
North Korea has kept its nuclear test site ready to potentially conduct an underground detonation within a few days, the South’s intelligence authorities said, indicating that the only step left was the go-ahead by the regime’s young ruler.

The Punggye-ri nuclear test site, located in Kilju, North Hamgyong, is where the North conducted its three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Sources from the Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities said that they had detected in April 2014 that the North had moved measuring equipment, suspected to be used for a nuclear test, to an underground tunnel at the site.

Pyongyang fired long-range missiles as preludes to all three nuclear tests. Since late 2013, North Korea has built new facilities to conduct an engine test and upgraded a 50-meter (164-feet) launch tower by 10 meters. A missile launch pad is located in the western town of Tongchang-ri in Cheolsan, North Pyongan Province.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said Tuesday that construction work at the Tongchang-ri missile launch site was in its final stages.

The North has maintained a pattern for its nuclear brinkmanship. Its first step was firing a missile, an act condemned by the international community that violated United Nations sanctions. The North Korean Foreign Ministry then issued a statement declaring its plan to counter the sanctions with a nuclear test.

On July 5, 2006, the North fired the Taepodong-2 missile, an intercontinental ballistic missile, only to face a United Nations Security Council resolution on July 16, 2006. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Oct. 3, 2006, warning about a nuclear test, and Pyongyang subsequently conducted its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006.

The same pattern was repeated three years later when the North fired the Kwangmyongsong-2 on April 5, 2009. The United Nations Security Council condemned the missile firing on April 14, 2009, through a statement by its chairman.

Later on April 29, 2009, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement to announce its plan to conduct a second nuclear test, which took place on May 25, 2009.

While the two previous tests were conducted by the Kim Jong-il regime, the third test was ordered by his successor, current leader Kim Jong-un. The young ruler mimicked the pattern carried out by his late father just a year after rising to power in 2011.

On Dec. 12, 2012, the North fired the Unha-3 missile, successfully placing an object into orbit, claiming that it was pushing forward with a peaceful space program. The United Nations, however, issued a resolution to sanction the North on Jan. 23, 2013, rejecting Pyongyang’s justification.

The Security Council condemned the North’s launch, which used ballistic missile technology and was in violation of previous resolutions issued in 2006 and 2009. It also demanded that the North “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner; immediately cease all related activities; and not conduct any further launches that use ballistic missile technology, nuclear tests or any further provocations.”

The statement did little to stop the Kim regime, which proceeded with another nuclear test. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an announcement 10 days later and the third nuclear test was conducted on Feb. 12, 2013. It stands so far as the last nuclear test by the North.

It remains to be seen if North Korea will follow this pattern again. The state warned of a long-range missile test on Monday and hinted at a nuclear test on Tuesday.

But the latest declarations were different, issued by officials in charge of the missile and nuclear programs, not the North Korean government. Unnamed directors from the North’s National Aerospace Development Administration and the Atomic Energy Institute issued the comments, carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“They were equivalent to the South’s institute directors under the government,” said Ministry of Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee. “It is hard to conclude that the North’s official stance is clearly stated through their announcements.”

Still, there is no doubt the North’s ruler is considering firing a long-range rocket ahead of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the North Korean Workers’ Party, which falls on Oct. 10.

“If the North carries out a launch, it can emphasize its presence to the South, the United States and China while uniting its own people,” said Park Hyeong-jung, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “We have to think about our North Korea policy … with the presumption that there is an 80 percent possibility of a launch.”

BY SER MYO-JA, CHUN SU-JIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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