N. Korea responds with missile tests

May 26, 2009
Jack Bremer

North Korea has responded to UN condemnation of yesterday’s nuclear test with two missile launches

North Korea is not holding back. Within hours of being condemned by the US Security Council at an emergency session in New York for its underground nuclear test on Monday morning, accompanied by at least one missile launch, Kim Jong-il's regime has today test-fired two more short-range missiles.

According to news reports from South Korea, one ground-to-ship missile and one ground-to-air missile were fired this morning from a base on the east coast. It happened just hours after a statement carried by North Korea's state news service complaining that America's "hostile policy" towards the country had clearly not changed under President Obama.

However, some Korea watchers are saying that the renewed nuclear activity may have as much to do with 'Dear Leader' Kim's succession as with provoking the West.

Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, says the eccentric Kim, who suffered a stroke last year, is trying to secure his family dynasty against its enemies. "They are trying to achieve security and leadership ­ taking steps to enhance national security and the likelihood of regime survival."

While the international community was right to condemn the nuclear test, says Pinkston, it must "keep the door open on diplomacy" even if the situation is bleak.

Monday's blast was much more powerful than North Korea's last nuclear test in October 2006. Defence experts in Russia say it was an explosion of up to 20 kilotons - comparable to the US bombs that flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 - whereas the 2006 blast was measured at only one kiloton. According to the state news service, the test was to correct problems encountered in 2006.

As UN diplomats begin to draft a new resolution to sanction the North Koreans, President Obama is reported to have spoken to the leaders of both Japan and South Korea on Monday evening to assure them of America's commitment to security in the region.

Kerry Brown, the Independent: The rising influence of the army worries many analysts, with signs of discontent within the country itself. This raises the question of who, in fact, is really calling the shots. In the end, though, it may be that negotiations are the only option for the DPRK. Seeking all-out conflict would mean, even to the hardline leadership, the end of all they have striven for. For China, it would be horribly destabilising, and for the US, EU, and Russia, the last thing they want.

Laura Trevelyan, UN correspondent for the BBC: The question is what kind of sanctions against North Korea can be agreed and whether they will be effective in getting this unpredictable nation to rejoin talks on dismantling its nuclear programme. Western diplomats will be watching closely to see whether China will back tough sanctions. China has been reluctant to back measures which it believes could destabilise its erratic neighbour.

Robert Fox, the Guardian: Kim Jong-il is clearly still in bad shape after his stroke last year, and the latest bout of erratic behaviour may be an early showing of symptoms that the succession battle is already under way. [But the] underground test has significance well beyond the domestic upheavals of North Korea. It is a bad day indeed for the attempt to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the run-up to the renewal, and possible replacement, of the current Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (1971) next year.

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