The possibility of North Korea carrying out a third nuclear test is growing. The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported yesterday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, first chairman of the National Defense Commission, expressed a “strong determination to take nationally grave measures on a practical and intensified level” against the UN Security Council’s latest resolution to impose tougher sanctions on the recalcitrant regime. The KCNA said that Kim ordered a detailed list of tasks to members of the council on national security and foreign affairs after holding a meeting a day earlier.
Though the details of Kim’s directives were not known, he most likely highlighted a push to conduct another nuclear test. Immediately after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2087 to place harsher sanctions on the North after the long-range rocket launch last month, Pyongyang tried to justify the cause of another nuclear test and vowed to press ahead with it through a series of statements and commentaries by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Defense Commission, Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland and Rodong Sinmun. The Rodong Sinmun even argued that Pyongyang has no other choice left due to the people’s overwhelming demand for a nuclear test.
Kim’s “determination to take resolute measures” seems to be aimed at consolidating internal unity by making the third nuclear test a fait accompli. A satellite picture of the test site in the North suggests that Pyongyang has already wrapped up the preparatory steps for the test.
The North’s provocative move raises a serious risk to President-elect Park Geun-hye’s incoming administration even before it officially kicks off next month. It could diminish her campaign pledge to initiate a trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula. The same dilemma applies to U.S. President Barack Obama, who just began his second term in office, given the growing public uproar against his “strategic patience.” Even worse, the new Xi Jinping government of China will probably face rising internal pressure to review in totality its North Korea policies.
Even though the UN Security Council’s latest resolution warns of “significant action” if Pyongyang makes an additional provocation, it could likely prove ineffective. It is time to pursue a fundamental solution to the conundrum by putting all the issues - including the North’s nuclear armament and missiles - on the table. The imminent third nuclear test demands a drastic shift in thinking for those on the Korean Peninsula. Are Korea, the United States and China up to the task?