North Korea may be biting off more than it can chew. According to a South Korean intelligence report, the belligerent nation appears to be preparing for underground nuclear testing. The report indicates activity consistent with preparations for such testing at Punggye-ri atomic testing site in Kilju, near the northeastern tip of North Korea.
The reported tests coincide with plans for a North Korean missile launch, ostensibly to place a weather satellite in orbit. Ryu Kum Chol, deputy director of North Korea’s Space Development Department, says they plan to launch the weather satellite in a window open from April 12 until April 16. He says the Kwangmyongsong-3 communications satellite, camera equipped, is in the process of mounting. Korean Air, South Korea’s airline, says it plans to divert flights serving Indonesia, The Philippines, and Beijing because of the expected launch.
Young and in command, Kim Jong-Un is accused by Park Young Ho, senior research fellow and director at the Korea Institute for National Unification, of taking advantage of scheduled celebrations honoring revered North Korean leadwer Kim Il Sung to influence South Korean elections. Kim Il Sung was the founder of the reigning Kim dynasty and is considered a deity by the North Koreans.
The South Korean Parliament is currently led by President Lee Myung Bak, whose rule is is now threatened by an opposition coalition that pledges to improve ties with North Korea. Meanwhile in Pyongyang, the ruling Working Party is meeting and appointing Kim Jong-Un the new party chief, succeeding his father, Kim Jong Il, who died on December 17.
Kim Jong-Un is continuing the unpredictability and unorthodoxy we have come to expect from that ruling family. In February, North Korea signed an agreement to halt missile testing and uranium enrichment in exchange for 240,000 tons of food. The North Korean people are impoverished and hungry. The missile launch is a clear violation of that agreement. The underground nuclear testing, a resumption of testing in 2006 and again in 2009, is an unprecedented extreme provocation.
Japan was the first to react to the proposed missile launch. At the onset, the missile trajectory was threatening to Japan and nations in the region. Now North Korea has shifted the proposed trajectory so that the firing will be aimed directly southward from the point of fire. Japan has indicated it will shoot down any threatening missile from North Korea.
At least one observer, Professor Koh Yu Hwan, Professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, sees the underground nuclear testing as a bargaining chip, to continue food aid in spite of the launching of the long range ballistic missile. He feels the nuclear test may be eliminated by Pyongyang if the food aid is reestablished. He says, “With the nuclear preparations, North Korea is waving its nuclear card at the U.S. and telling them to make a choice.”
If all agencies in North Korea, including family members and the military authorities, are supportive of the launches and the testing, and if further diplomacy proves ineffectual, it will come as no surprise if Japan, the U.S., or other global bodies take extreme measures to remedy the intolerable situation.
Underground test photo courtesy of CTVNews.