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October 4, 2006
North Korea Threatens Nuclear Tests

Kim Jong-Il apparently figured the spotlight of world attention had strayed too far from the Korean Peninsula for too long. Yesterday, Kim threatened to conduct a test of his nuclear weapons, an act that received immediate worldwide condemnation -- but little else:

World leaders lashed out at North Korea's vow Tuesday to test a nuclear bomb sometime "in the future," but offered no clear plan for dealing with aggravated tensions over the dictatorship's nuclear weapons ambitions.

U.S. intelligence officials said they had been monitoring recent movement of people and vehicles around at least one suspected test site. But because North Korea has never conducted a nuclear test, it is difficult for intelligence agencies to determine how close the regime may be to setting off a bomb.

The North Koreans did not elaborate on when a test would occur or whether it would be conducted below ground, which experts say is most likely, or in the atmosphere.

Showcasing a nuclear capability would almost certainly deepen North Korea's diplomatic and economic isolation, and could escalate the military buildup in northeast Asia, where grievances run deep and suspicions between capitals are high.

Kim issued the usual rationalizations for his new threat: ongoing American hostility, the need for a nuclear deterrent against the US, and the supposed economic warfare being waged by the US against Pyongyang. This refers to Kim's robust counterfeiting operation, which has pumped close to $1 billion in fake American currency into the global economy. Dear Leader still complains that we will not lift sanctions on the banks that fence his funny money, a complaint that the New York Times supported twice in its editorial pages.

Unfortunately, people have to take Kim's cries for attention seriously after his unexpected missile tests this past summer, all of which failed miserably. So far, no one has any indication that a nuclear test would meet with any more success than Kim's Taepodong-2 missile, but that hardly provides any comfort. Up to now, Kim hasn't tested any of his supposed nuclear arsenal, a necessary step in design and development. The lack of such a test has allowed the Pacific Rim to hope that Kim's boasting amounts to nothing more than a bluff. A successful test would eliminate that hope and also allow Kim to sell his technology abroad -- perhaps to Iran, which then could avoid the entire issue of enrichment.

If Kim conducts a successful test, then the UN and the other five parties to the talks have some tough decisions ahead of them. The UN abdicated on the issue yesterday, declining to issue yet another tiresome statement decrying Kim's actions and also declining to take any other action. China will not likely allow positive action against the Kim regime, such as targeted strikes on nuclear and rocket facilities, that would destroy or damage Pyongyang's ability to deploy weapons. Kim already faces economic isolation, and any attempt to toughen sanctions will likely fail, considering the starvation faced by the people of North Korea.

That leaves escalation as the best options for pressure in the region. Kim has pursued nuclear arms in a vacuum; the other nations of the region, save China, do not have nuclear arsenals. That may change, especially in Japan, where the new Prime Minister might defy tradition and build up Japan's military deterrent in response to Kim. China does not want to deal with a nuclear Japan; they're peacefully pursuing the Greater Asia strategy that the Japanese tried by force in the first half of the 20th century. They don't want to have a nuclear-armed Tokyo on their flank as they try to expand their hegemony in the region. The Chinese will have to pull Kim up short to avoid it. If we really wanted to put pressure on Beijing, we could start discussing the staging of nuclear weapons in Taiwan, but that has to be a last resort, as the Chinese would almost certainly see that as an unbearable threat to their security.

One thing is certain: Kim's ploys require some kind of significant response, and another strongly-worded memo won't cut it.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 4, 2006 6:14 AM

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» The Spotlight from The Florida Masochist
What to do now? Captain Ed doesn't think the sanction route will work. I agree, North Korea is already isolated, what will increased sanctions accomplish? Very little in my opinion. The only other choice is escalation, and this comes at a mighty risk... [Read More]

Tracked on October 4, 2006 9:40 AM

» North Korea Squalling for Attention from AListReview
North Korea, which has been largely ignored for several months, has scrunched up their eyes, waved their fists and is squalling like a baby with a dirty diaper.  Its the same old thing - a nuclear test.According to the Washington... [Read More]

Tracked on October 4, 2006 10:36 AM

» North Korea Announces Plans for Nuclear Tests from Blue Star Chronicles
Kim Jong Il is playing with his nuclear missiles again while his country starves. Hes making a lot of people very nervous. [Read More]

Tracked on October 4, 2006 6:55 PM

» Why North Korea Wants the Bomb from AListReview
It isn't news anymore that North Korea probably performed underground testing of a nuclear weapon yesterday.  What we should focus on is why?The LA Times points out the obvious:"Showcasing a nuclear capability would almost certainly deepen No... [Read More]

Tracked on October 9, 2006 11:36 AM

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