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North Korean Nuclear Test: Rumor or Reality?
[Analysis] Shadows lurking behind suspicion of Pyongyang's preparations
You Seung Gi (poppingp)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-21 13:24 (KST)   
North Korea, once again, is believed to be preparing for a nuclear test. According to an Aug. 17 ABC report, a spy satellite, or a U-2 aircraft, detected suspicious activity in Punggye-ri involving vehicles and large reels of cable. The report also suggested that a North Korean nuclear test could provoke a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia.

Last year, U.S. satellites detected suspicious activity in Kilju, near Punggye-ri, but nothing happened. Because Pyongyang knows that many spy satellites pass by overhead, it may be playacting in order to draw the attention of the international community, especially the U.S.

That does not mean that a nuclear test will not take place. Whether Pyongyang is capable of making a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile is not known. However, a successful nuclear test would prove that North Korea has a nuclear weapons capability, which may be enough to act as a deterrent to a preemptive attack by the U.S.

On July 4, North Korea test fired seven ballistic missiles, including the Daepodong-2, which is considered capable of threatening the Western U.S. Testing of the Daepodong-2 is said to have been a failure. Successful tests of ballistic missiles with shorter ranges, however, could indirectly threaten the Bush administration by posing a direct threat to Japan and South Korea. A nuclear test could also cause a so-called "domino effect" with Japan and South Korea following Pyongyang's suit.

As Kim Jong-Il watched the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the recent Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in the Middle East, he may have concluded that ballistic missiles alone are not enough to maintain his hermetic regime. Furthermore, he may have speculated that a nuclear test would provoke little international reaction. After all, nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998 failed to trigger a preemptive attack by the U.S. or even punishment from the international community. Since China supported the U.N. resolution that condemned the North's missile tests, Kim may believe that China can no longer be counted on and that he needs a nuclear deterrent of his own.

Looked at another way, one could speculate that the U.S. government spread false rumors of a potential nuclear test for the purpose of pressuring China to constrain North Korea. Because China is emerging as a global economic juggernaut and is diplomatically pursuing a role in the international community, it needs more-balanced relationships with Western countries, especially the United States. Even though Beijing remains close to Pyongyang, it set a limit on that support by voting for the U.N. resolution. By stirring up long-standing suspicions about the North's ability to conduct a nuclear test, Washington may be hoping to drive a wedge between Pyongyang and Beijing.

Moreover, fear of a nuclear test could unite neo-conservatives and improve President Bush's approval rating. Amid growing concern that the Republican Party may lose mid-term elections in November, a North Korean nuclear threat could increase security concerns among U.S. citizens, which might in turn lead to gains by Republicans at the polls.

Whether it is a rumor or a reality, Pyongyang should abandon its nuclear weapons program and its longstanding "brinkmanship" diplomacy. Washington should lift economic sanctions on the North and seek a peaceful solution by persuading the hermetic regime to open its nation gradually and join the international community. The goal of improved security and peace in Northeast Asia will be reached only when both parties make concessions and seek a negotiation.
©2006 OhmyNews

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