Preparing for another nuclear testThe international community is building pressure on North Korea to suspend its plan to test-fire the Kwangmyongsong-3, an intercontinental ballistic missile disguised as a satellite, in mid-April. The White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations have stressed that such a move clearly violates UN Security Council Resolution 1874. Reminding Pyongyang of Washington’s opposition to the plan, the U.S. government also made it clear that it will not only cancel the nutritional aid it promised in accordance with the Feb. 29 Washington-Pyongyang meeting in Beijing, but also initiate a discussion on sanctions against the North through the UN Security Council.
President Lee Myung-bak has repeatedly underscored that he will put the issue on the table at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul early next week. As Pyongyang does not appear to be willing to give up its plan despite mounting pressure, the volatile situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula will likely deteriorate fast after mid-April. All parties involved are particularly concerned about the possibility of another nuclear test. South Korea, the United States, Japan and other Western allies are expected to push forward stronger sanctions against the North as Pyongyang’s satellite launch violates the UN resolution. The possibility of stricter sanctions being unanimously agreed upon could be low due to expected opposition from China and Russia. Yet Western allies, led by Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, in particular, will most likely push ahead with tougher sanctions to penalize Pyongyang’s repetitive breach of the resolution. Then, Pyongyang would possibly conduct a third nuclear test in defiance of international criticism.
At the moment, our government evaluates the likelihood of Pyongyang resorting to a nuclear test as very high. If Pyongyang should stop short of conducting another nuclear test for fear of high risks — including the loss of desperately needed food aid — it could still opt to provoke the international community with renewed uranium enrichment. North Korea’s nuclear test poses a grave threat to peace on the peninsula, not to mention the whole world. Therefore, the Lee Myung-bak administration must do its best to avert a worst-case scenario. The Seoul Nuclear Security Summit provides a golden opportunity to achieve this goal. The government must not repeat the nightmarish moment of “being capable of doing nothing” in 2006 and 2009, when Pyongyang brazenly conducted underground nuclear tests.