North Korea Nuclear Test Sets Off Waves of Anxiety

Liesel Burks

As of early Tuesday morning, the North Korean government confirmed that they had successfully conducted a third nuclear test, saying it “used a miniaturized device that had a greater explosive force than previous tests”, as reported by the North’s KCNA official news agency [2]. Pyongyang confirmed the test nearly three hours after unusual seismic activity was detected near the secretive police state’s test site, and the U.S. Geological Survey had detected a 4.9-magnitude tremor at 11:58 a.m. local time in North Korea [1]. This test had followed weeks of serious threats from the North to “build up its nuclear capacity and carry out an all-out action of high intensity” [3]. To build off this anxiety, this technology that was tested could theoretically be paired with a long-range missile that would threaten not only the United States, but also the international community as a whole.

KCNA reported that the test had been conducted in response to “outrageous” U.S. hostility that “violently” undermined the regime’s ability to launch satellites in a peaceful manner as a result of the tighter sanctions that had been placed on Pyongyang’s technological activity. The test was designed “to defend the country’s security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious hostile act of the U.S” [4]. The site, where tests had previously been conducted in 2006 and 2009, had been emptied days before—a sign that the test was about to be conducted. This test is the first under new North Korean leader Kim Jon Un, and this action reflects his behavior in “sticking closely to his father” through his policies of building up the state’s military deterrent and “shrugging off the resulting international condemnation” [1]. Despite the secretive cloud surrounding the details of North Korea’s nuclear program, this test plays into fears among the United States and its allies that Pyongyang is moving forward in their nuclear proliferation.

This test was an explicit defiance of existing U.N. resolutions and therefore drew condemnation from around the world—the United States, Japan, and even China (one of North Korea’s only major allies) being the main voices of opposition. The UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, called the action “deplorable”, blaming Pyongyang’s defiance of international calls and adding that it had been “a clear and grave violation of the relevant UN security council resolutions” [2]. The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement, expressing the government’s “firm opposition” to the test: “It is China’s firm stance to realize non-nuclearization for the Korean peninsula, prevent nuclear proliferation, and maintain peace and stability in northeast Asia” [3].

Of course, in addition to this worldwide condemnation, this test was a stark reminder of the complexities that lie underneath this incredible foreign policy challenge.  U.S. President Barack Obama labeled the test a “highly provocative act” that threatens regional stability and also called for new sanctions. He explained that this danger posed by North Korea’s activities “warrants further swift and credible action by the international community” [4]. The Security Council is planning to meet later Tuesday to discuss its reaction to the test, and although sanctions will be on the short list for appropriate actions, North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned states in the international community. Furthermore, an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry released in a statement through KCNA: “If the United States continues to come out with hostility and complicates the situation, we will be forced to take stronger, second and third responses in consecutive steps” [1].

With both sides of the conflict threatening stricter responses, this is an international conflict that will not be easily resolved. Unless North Korea breaks its pattern of consistently defying the international rules and sanctions set by the United Nations, the international community will have an uphill battle to face with the future of North Korea.