North Korea's third nuclear test: Will the after-effects be in their favour?

North Koreans are already living under a despotic regime. Will the nuclear test only make them suffer more?

Jamaluddin February 14, 2013
North Korea’s third nuclear test has put the tiny, virtually isolated nation back on the map. The recent test did not come as a surprise as satellite reconnaissance had shown high activity at its Punggye-ri testing site, which happens to be only 100km from the Chinese border.

The test took place at 12pm local time and was conducted one kilometre under the ground. The resultant explosion produced an earthquake between the magnitude of 4.7 and 5.2. The blast was reported to be more powerful than the previous nuclear tests conducted in 2006 and 2009. The Russian defence ministry believes that the yield of the blast based on available data appeared to be above seven kilo-tonnes - which is far higher than what was initially expected.

The North Korean State TV revealed the more worrying aspect of the nuclear test during its announcement. According to the official announcement, the test involved the detonation of a miniaturised nuclear device. Now, this essentially means that Pyongyang is nearer to its goal of achieving nuclear warhead manufacturing capabilities and its possession of long-range missiles certainly adds another dimension to North Korea’s military potential.

The US and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), are concerned whether the device was made of highly enriched uranium (a capability allegedly transferred to them by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan) because if so, then it would allow North Korea to increase its nuclear arsenal without being overly reliant on its depleting plutonium stock.

Also quite unsurprisingly, world powers reacted harshly to North Korean tests. Obama came out as usual, threatening “swift and credible action”, while the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon joined with German, Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans to condemn Pyongyang’s actions.

So here’s the situation:

South Korea, which is technically still at war with North Korea, believes that North Korea is a threat to its independence (because Pyongyang wants reunification with its southern neighbour) and regional stability.

In alliance with USA, which has 28,000 personnel in South Korea, it actively monitors developments in North Korea. The US considers the communist nation to be a danger to its security, while Japan, which is also in close proximity to the Korean Peninsula and home to US troops, is also concerned about a nuclear-armed North Korea.

China, though critical of North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, still adheres to the doctrine of maintaining North Korea as a buffer between itself and US-allied East-Asian countries. Though, with passing time - coinciding with its economic rise - China has become ever more critical of Pyongyang’s aggressive and isolationist policies, seeing them as a thorn in their relationship.

The next-expected Chinese president, Xi Jinping has clearly stated that he wants to make Sino-US relations better; this will result in North Korea, which heavily relies on trade with China, to become ever more isolated.

I feel that here lies the key point – the North Korean government’s continued policy of isolation.

It is a state which, though claiming to be communist, is essentially all about keeping the Kim dynasty in power. It is a tightly controlled state that makes huge efforts to cut off its citizens from the outside world. Through party controlled media, it has embedded its warped worldview into its citizens so that everyone outside North Korea’s borders is its enemy, especially the US, which it considers to be its number one enemy.

Therefore, it has to take every measure to stop any ill-intentioned advances into its territory while maintaining self-sustenance.

This propaganda is, like I said, designed to legitimise Kim dynasty’s claim to power -- to show that the new ruler, Kim Jong Un, knows his business.

Analysts think that North Korea conducts military tests (including nuclear ones) especially before key dates.

This test came a day before Obama’s State of the Union address and four days before Kim Jong-il‘s (father of current ruler Kim Jong Un) birthday. They think that it is a move to make a strong statement before starting any possible dialogue regarding sanctions and nuclear tests.

Will the nuclear tests have a serious effect on regional security?

For the present, there won’t be any effects as China still continues to maintain links with Pyongyang, deflecting harsh US sanctions on its neighbour, while protecting the regime as it is unsure how a regime change will affect regional dynamics.

North Korea hasn’t and (quite rationally) will not conduct any aggressive manoeuvres against South Korea, thus it leaves room open for negotiations and diplomatic haggling, ensuring that the Kim dynasty remains in power.

In the end, it is neither the US nor South Koreans who will suffer, but only the North Korean people, who will continue to live under a harsh economic environment, where malnutrition is affecting millions of children and every part of their lives is being controlled by a despotic regime.

Read more by Jamaluddin here or follow him on Twitter @einsjam
Jamaluddin A student of Information Systems Management at Latrobe University, Melbourne. He tweets @Einsjam (
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