Why is North Korea threatening to conduct a nuclear test? (+video)
First, to make up for the embarrassment of the failed missile; second, the regime's past nuclear tests didn't go very well.
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President Lee has vowed that South Korean forces will strike back militarily if the North stages an attack similar to the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea in November 2010 in which two marines and two civilians were killed. That attack came 10 months after the sinking in nearby waters of a South Korean navy ship in which 46 sailors were killed.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Inside North Korea: more circus than bread
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Motivating factors for a third nuclear test, says Kim Tae-woo, president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, are North Korea’s desire to demonstrate its place as a full-fledged nuclear power as well as the need to intimidate both the US and South Korea.
A demonstration of North Korea’s nuclear prowess, according to North Korean logic, would result eventually in the US agreeing to negotiations that might again result in promises of food aid.
After this month’s missile test, President Obama suspended plans to ship 240,000 tons of food to North Korea, but Kim Tae-Woo believes that the US might still be inclined to return to negotiations after the next presidential election.
Intimidation of South Korea also appears as key to North Korea’s strategy. North Korea wants to prove, “We are dominating North-South Korean relations,” says Kim Tae-woo.
That strategy assumes special importance considering that South Koreans in December elect a successor to President Lee, barred by the South’s constitution from seeking a second five-year term. The conservative Park Geun-hye, daughter of South Korea’s long-ruling Park Chung-hee, assassinated in 1979, is likely to be the conservative candidate but faces a tough fight from whoever wins the nomination of the opposition Democratic United Party.
China 'on the hot seat'
The question many observers ask is whether China, as the source of most of North Korea’s fuel and much of its food, can play a role in dissuading North Korea from investing so heavily in missiles and nuclear devices.
“The Chinese are on the hot seat,” says Christopher Hill, former US envoy in negotiations with North Korea, now at the University of Denver.
Mr. Hill sees little real difference between policies under Kim Jong-un and those led by his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in December. “The idea that Kim Jong-un is going to back out of this system is a little far-fetched,” he says. “You have a military-first system where the military calls the shots.”
If only “the US and China would work together and resolve this problem,” Hill says, “it would have an enormous impact on Sino-US relations.”
In the meantime, analysts try not to be overly alarmed by North Korean rhetoric. “As long as it’s just words, everything’s fine,” says Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations. “We will be concerned if it escalates into actions.”
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