Monday, January 11, 2010

Experts Expect North Korea To Conduct 3rd Nuclear Test

Defense News


Experts Expect North Korea To Conduct 3rd Nuclear Test


Analysts in Seoul and Washington predict continued provocations from Pyongyang in 2010, including a third nuclear test and more missile launches.

It appears that no matter what administration is in power in Seoul or Washington, North Korea rarely behaves.

North Korea will likely conduct a third nuclear test in 2010 in an effort to be recognized by the international community as a nuclear state, according to an annual report issued Dec. 25 by the state funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), Seoul.

The KIDA report also expects accelerated efforts to deploy a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile and to mass-produce nuclear weapons.

“Compared to the first nuclear test held in October 2006, the second test [May 2009] was evaluated to yield 4 kilotons of explosive power, five times higher than the first one. This means North Korea has secured substantial capability to make nuclear weapons,” the report states. “There is no possibility that North Korea will give up a plan to become a nuclear state, and the regime will indeed make efforts to be recognized as a nuclear power.”

The missile launches and nuclear test last year could be connected to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s reported illness and his imminent power succession. “These [provocations] were apparently the result of Kim Jong-il feeling weak and needing to demon­strate his empowerment,” said Bruce Bennett, a RAND Corp. defense analyst.

North Korea is suffering from poor harvests, currency revaluation, inept governance and a mistaken belief that nuclear weapons would place Pyongyang on an equal footing with South Korea and the United States, despite the fact the country is hermetic and backward, Bennett said.

Bruce Klingner, a North Korea specialist at the Heritage Foundation, said Washington has had to relearn the same hard lessons as previous U.S. administrations.

“In January [2009], the predominant view in Washington was that the change in U.S. leadership from [George W.] Bush to [Barack] Obama would cause North Korea to abandon its provocative behavior and eagerly engage the new U.S. administration, which in turn would lead to a significant improvement in bilateral U.S.-[North Korea] relations and a breakthrough in North Korean denuclearization.” 

Same Behavioral Pattern 

Instead, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test and launched more missiles.

“North Korea’s belligerent behavior shocked the Obama administration,” Klingner said.

Bruce Bechtol, author of the book “Red Rogue: The Persistent Challenge of North Korea,” said the chain of events since the Clinton administration has been redundant and predictable.

“Talks, concessions, U.S. attempts to hold North Korea’s feet to the fire, followed by provocative behavior by North Korea, followed by renewed concessions by the United States,” he said. “If the current administration is to actually change this paradigm, it will have to hold the line when the inevitable happens — North Korean dissatisfaction with the talks.”

Stalled talks will, of course, lead to provocative behavior meant to move the United States, and U.S. officials know this, Bechtol said. “The question is, will they back down when North Korea engages in the behavior that has been so successful in the past?”

Bechtol said Washington must also reconsider removing North Korea from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Pyongyang continues to provide rogue states with banned missile technology and other support to terrorist organizations, he said.

The other issue “largely ignored” in Washington is North Korea’s highly enriched uranium program, he said. “This is an issue that must be addressed, or the talks in reality are accomplishing nothing, except to deal with one track of North Korea’s two-track nuclear weaponization program.”

There appears to be less willingness in Washington to continue offering Pyongyang deals, Heritage Foundation’s Klingner said.

“There is far less patience in Washington for Pyongyang’s antics and far fewer experts and officials who still believe that unfettered engagement will actually achieve denuclearization,” he said. “Perceived progress is habitually followed by threats, cancellations and demands for further rewards to return to the status quo ante.”