Now that North Korea has successfully tested their long-range missile capabilities, what comes next? After two previous launches, what followed was a nuclear-weapon test — and that may be what’s coming now, too. With South Korea about to hold national elections, both Reuters and CBS report on the likelihood of seeing the nuclear hat trick, too:
North Korea’s next step after rattling the world by putting a satellite into orbit for the first time will likely be a nuclear test, the third conducted by the reclusive and unpredictable state.
A nuclear test would be the logical follow-up to Wednesday’s successful rocket launch, analysts said. The North’s 2009 test came on May 25, a month after a rocket launch.
For the North and its absolute ruler Kim Jong-un, the costs of the rocket program and its allied nuclear weapons efforts – estimated by South Korea’s government at $2.8-$3.2 billion since 1998 – and the risk of additional U.N. or unilateral sanctions are simply not part of the calculation.
“North Korea will insist any sanctions are unjust, and if sanctions get toughened, the likelihood of North Korea carrying out a nuclear test is high,” said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses.
The UN didn’t impose any new sanctions, opting instead for the proverbial sternly-worded memo. That probably won’t change anything, South Korean Ambassador Kim Sook tells CBS correspondent Frank Ucciardo. Why? Kim sees domestic politics as the driving force behind the test, not international relations:
Nevertheless, this test and the failure of sanctions will change the direction Seoul plans to take with its obstreperous neighbor, regardless of who wins the election. The New York Times reports this morning that the missile test didn’t change the trajectory of politics south of the 38th Parallel:
No matter who wins South Korea’s presidential election on Wednesday, the end is near for the hard-line policy on North Korea promoted by the departing president: the two top candidates both agree on a more moderate approach. …
Their backgrounds are as different as those of any two Koreans could be. Ms. Park is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea with an iron fist from 1961 to 1979. Mr. Moon is a former student activist who was jailed in the 1970s for opposing Mr. Park’s dictatorship.
But both agree that Mr. Lee’s policy of backing international sanctions to compel North Korea to end its nuclear programs and refraining from dialogue with the North has failed to tame its hostility toward the South. North Korea’s successful launching of a three-stage rocket on Wednesday has not changed the candidates’ promises to provide more generous aid to the North and to try to hold talks with its new leader, Kim Jong-un.
“The launch doesn’t seem to be having much effect on the current presidential contest one way or the other,” said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul who is an expert on North Korea. Here in the South Korean capital, not far from the North Korean border, “most people don’t see this rocket launch as a security threat, for the simple reason that North Korea can use quicker and more effective short- and midrange capabilities to strike the South, if it ever came to that,” Mr. Delury said.
And that will make it even more difficult for the US to get anything more than a strongly-worded memo against the regime in Pyongyang in the future:
After the rocket launching, American officials talked of imposing “Iran-like sanctions” on North Korea, suggesting curbs on investment and banking outside the country and on purchases of North Korean goods. Finding new sanctions that truly hurt will be difficult; the North is already one of the most penalized countries on earth.
But winning approval of those sanctions in the United Nations Security Council will be even more difficult if South Korea appears to be headed in the other direction. Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, clashed on Wednesday with her Chinese counterpart over whether the rocket launching merited a response at all; the Chinese argued it did not. Marshaling support among United States allies will be almost impossible if a new South Korean president is announcing renewed initiatives.
“This could put us back to where we were in the Bush administration,” one American diplomat said, “where the White House was going in one direction, imposing sanctions, and a South Korean president was going in the other.”
Lost in all of the discussion over the missile and nuclear tests and sanctions is the satellite North Korea launched earlier this month. And lost is a good description for Pyutnik, too:
Pyongyang says the device, the size of a washing machine, is working and is beaming revolutionary songs to Earth.
But US astronomer Jonathan McDowell says it may be tumbling, and does not yet appear to be transmitting.
“Those two things are most consistent with the satellite being entirely inactive at this point,” he told the New York Times.
The satellite was designed to point towards Earth, but Mr McDowell said the light coming from it was repeatedly brightening and dimming, indicating it was not yet operating as intended.
“The preponderance of the evidence suggests that the satellite failed either during the ascent or shortly afterwards,” he said.
That’s a bad break for lovers of revolutionary songs from space — but it was nothing more than a cover for the missile test for North Korea anyway.