North Korea may be planning a nuclear test, according to new intelligence reports from South Korea. Such a test would defy United Nations Security Council resolutions and contravene promises Pyongyang made in 2005 to "curtail its nuclear activities in exchange for aid," according to CNN.
News of the possible atomic test comes as North Korea is already facing international condemnation over a controversial rocket test scheduled for this week. Testing an atomic device as well will likely further strain already tense relations between the reclusive nation and its neighbors.
North Korean officials contend that the rocket launch is for peaceful purposes and will celebrate the 100th birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. They say that the rocket is part of a space program, but a number of regional authorities say it is most likely a thinly disguised test of a long-range missile. American and regional officials also contend that the rocket violates UN resolutions.
“North Korea is staging preparations for a nuclear test at the Punggye-ri test site, which is under surveillance by U.S. spy satellites, in case the international community responds with sanctions,” said on South Korean official in an article by The Chosunilbo.
Initial reports indicate that the nuclear test may come several months after the missile launch. North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, and there is some speculation that it may be planning another test to leverage its influence in the international community.
“Once again this shows ... they know how to manipulate the world,” said Andrei Lankov of Seoul's Kookmin University in an article by CNN. “If they do a missile launch and in few months a successful nuclear test, especially a uranium based nuclear device, it will send a very strong message to the world. The same message they always want to deliver – we are here, we are dangerous, unpredictable and it's better to deal with us by giving us monetary and food concessions.”
North Korean officials say that the rocket will launch a satellite into space. To prove that the rocket is for peaceful purposes, North Korea invited a number of international journalists to see the rocket before its launch. Yonhap News Agency reports that the satellite will be used to collect information about North Korea’s agricultural resources and help the nation better respond to natural disasters.
With widespread poverty a significant problem in North Korea, the nation has also come under fire for investing substantial sums in rocket tests at a time when so many of its people are in need. North Korean officials counter that technological developments are critical to advancing the nation’s interests.
“If we don't develop our own technology, we will become slaves,” said the director of the rocket launch site in an interview with the BBC. “We need our own technology to be an advanced country, to be a powerful space nation.”
The rocket launch, which is scheduled to take place between April 12 and 16, comes amid a number of other celebrations to mark Kim Il-sung's 100th anniversary. The Korea Herald reports that several new power plants, factories, and buildings have opened to mark the occasion. Additionally, North Korean officials unveiled a 120-foot rock carving of Kim Il-sung.