North Korea’s third nuclear test: Will the after-effects be in their favour?

Published: February 14, 2013

A North Korean rocket launching in January. PHOTO: AFP

North Korea’s third nuclear test has put the tiny, virtually isolated nation back on the map. The recent test did not come as a surprise as satellite reconnaissance had shown high activity at its Punggye-ri testing site, which happens to be only 100km from the Chinese border.

The test took place at 12pm local time and was conducted one kilometre under the ground. The resultant explosion produced an earthquake between the magnitude of 4.7 and 5.2. The blast was reported to be more powerful than the previous nuclear tests conducted in 2006 and 2009. The Russian defence ministry believes that the yield of the blast based on available data appeared to be above seven kilo-tonnes – which is far higher than what was initially expected.

The North Korean State TV revealed the more worrying aspect of the nuclear test during its announcement. According to the official announcement, the test involved the detonation of a miniaturised nuclear device. Now, this essentially means that Pyongyang is nearer to its goal of achieving nuclear warhead manufacturing capabilities and its possession of long-range missiles certainly adds another dimension to North Korea’s military potential.

The US and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), are concerned whether the device was made of highly enriched uranium (a capability allegedly transferred to them by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan) because if so, then it would allow North Korea to increase its nuclear arsenal without being overly reliant on its depleting plutonium stock.

Also quite unsurprisingly, world powers reacted harshly to North Korean tests. Obama came out as usual, threatening “swift and credible action”, while the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon joined with German, Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans to condemn Pyongyang’s actions.

So here’s the situation:

South Korea, which is technically still at war with North Korea, believes that North Korea is a threat to its independence (because Pyongyang wants reunification with its southern neighbour) and regional stability.

In alliance with USA, which has 28,000 personnel in South Korea, it actively monitors developments in North Korea. The US considers the communist nation to be a danger to its security, while Japan, which is also in close proximity to the Korean Peninsula and home to US troops, is also concerned about a nuclear-armed North Korea.

China, though critical of North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, still adheres to the doctrine of maintaining North Korea as a buffer between itself and US-allied East-Asian countries. Though, with passing time – coinciding with its economic rise – China has become ever more critical of Pyongyang’s aggressive and isolationist policies, seeing them as a thorn in their relationship.

The next-expected Chinese president, Xi Jinping has clearly stated that he wants to make Sino-US relations better; this will result in North Korea, which heavily relies on trade with China, to become ever more isolated.

I feel that here lies the key point – the North Korean government’s continued policy of isolation.

It is a state which, though claiming to be communist, is essentially all about keeping the Kim dynasty in power. It is a tightly controlled state that makes huge efforts to cut off its citizens from the outside world. Through party controlled media, it has embedded its warped worldview into its citizens so that everyone outside North Korea’s borders is its enemy, especially the US, which it considers to be its number one enemy.

Therefore, it has to take every measure to stop any ill-intentioned advances into its territory while maintaining self-sustenance.

This propaganda is, like I said, designed to legitimise Kim dynasty’s claim to power — to show that the new ruler, Kim Jong Un, knows his business.

Analysts think that North Korea conducts military tests (including nuclear ones) especially before key dates.

This test came a day before Obama’s State of the Union address and four days before Kim Jong-il‘s (father of current ruler Kim Jong Un) birthday. They think that it is a move to make a strong statement before starting any possible dialogue regarding sanctions and nuclear tests.

Will the nuclear tests have a serious effect on regional security?

For the present, there won’t be any effects as China still continues to maintain links with Pyongyang, deflecting harsh US sanctions on its neighbour, while protecting the regime as it is unsure how a regime change will affect regional dynamics.

North Korea hasn’t and (quite rationally) will not conduct any aggressive manoeuvres against South Korea, thus it leaves room open for negotiations and diplomatic haggling, ensuring that the Kim dynasty remains in power.

In the end, it is neither the US nor South Koreans who will suffer, but only the North Korean people, who will continue to live under a harsh economic environment, where malnutrition is affecting millions of children and every part of their lives is being controlled by a despotic regime.

Read more by Jamaluddin here or follow him on Twitter @einsjam



A student of Information Systems Management at Latrobe University, Melbourne. He tweets @Einsjam (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Working Woman

    Like your analysis. But be it the claim of power for Kim’s dynasty or anything, North Korea need not seek permission from US,UN or anyone .
    This world is a stage where every master is showing up with his puppet. Recommend

  • Affan

    Wow man that is some excellent well researched article. heading towards oblivion unless the regime overthere changes. It is embarassing for humanity that such an inhuman regime is being allowed to exist.Recommend

  • John.C

    @WorkingWoman : your statement in essence is good intentioned but is nevertheless ill informed. From China to Iran, everybody has condemned north korean tests becuase it is neither a democratic benevolent regime nor does it want peace. North koreans have every oppurtunity threatened. Regional security and always shown hostility. Yes one may have the right to own a gun but a mad insane person does not. Recommend

  • pak patriot

    north korea is the best korea!Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Well written article, except for a couple of points:

    South Korea, which is technically still at war with North Korea, believes that North Korea is a threat to its independence (because Pyongyang wants reunification with its southern neighbour) and regional stability. Reunification is largely pursued by doves on the South Korean side under Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy. In fact, North Korea’s official policy is to seek reunification without what it sees as outside interference, through a federal structure retaining each side’s leadership and systems. Also remember that the armistice in 1953 was signed by the North but not by the South. The 15-Jun 2000 North-South Joint declaration stated that both sides would pursue peaceful reunification. The reason that reunification does not take place is because the Kim family need to keep the North isolated to remain in power, so reunification is less of a priority than you would imagine. Pls also remember that the South is much larger than the North in population (more than double).
    It is a state which, though claiming to be communist, is essentially all about keeping the Kim dynasty in power. The North Korean regime jettisoned Marxist-Leninist ideology long back (1972) and replaced it with Juche as their core philosophy. According to Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea is based on the belief that “man is the master of everything and decides everything” (ref Wikipedia). Most international publications call the regime Stalinist although the main similarities lie in the centralized power structure and institutionalized brutality rather than focus on socialism in one country, industrialization or collectivization of resources.

    Everything else is well-structured. Pls also understand that North Korea needs to continue to exist for American troops to be based in the South; reunification will also create a very strong military and economic power that would put Japan under pressure (Japan is still very unpopular in South Korea, and there are disputes on islands between the 2 nations as well). Thus there are several interests apart from the Chinese which do not mind having the Kim family around – any evaluation of the situation is incomplete without taking these into account.Recommend

  • Genius

    @Pak Patriot : your comment was literally too stupid to insult. You call a government that carries out mass murder The Best Korea. how could you possibly say that?Recommend

  • Mao Ze Tung

    China is steadily edging away from north korea and soon north korea will be too isolated, this will prompt war and in this case nuclear weapons will be used mark my words.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    There is nothing dramatic about the test series of Nukes, what iis new and sinister about the last test is that because of the USA foolish foreign policy, the young North Korean Commisar is that it is part of the weaponry destined for the Americas. North Koreans are now ahead of Obama strategy of “all options are on the table”. North korea is prepared to exercise only one opton of ‘attack’ on the land of great opportunities and without a green card. this is scary. The new secretary of defence will now start a “come home” campaig marines

    Rex minorRecommend

  • Yasir Mehmood

    @pak patriot but they have nothing to eat.Recommend

  • Anoop

    @pak patriot:

    I agree. Pakistan will be the next North Korea. Isolated in the world, sacntioned by everyone and China as the only ally.

    At the end, economic power will triumph. Sanctions are the new Nukes, Gentlemen. Quick, not messy, controllable, clean conscience. Post 2014, when you lose your leverage over the US, you will find out first hand.Recommend

  • Rashid


    I agree that a mad insane person should not have a gun. But then it has to be proven that the guy is madly insane. North Korea has fired even a bullet at anybody yet.

    @pak patriot

    ‘north korea is best korea!’


  • Barca Fan

    north korea’s continued isolation policies have resulted in famine and thousands of deaths, yet still it is obsessed with nuclear technology. why not apply the same rigor in agricultural researchRecommend

  • Saadia

    There is an eccentric cycle to tests, which are either a reaction to Security Council sanctions or alleged American and South Korean belligerency.Recommend

  • sanctimonius

    I wonder why Iran and North Korea feel the need to escalate their nuclear programs? clearly they have imaginary enemies.Recommend

  • Xbox Guy

    It’s time to end the socialism of North Korea which suppresses and kills so many Koreans yearly.Recommend

  • XIA

    Good to see China finally losing patience with Pyongyang.Recommend

  • Captain America

    why dont we just nuke north korean communists?Recommend

  • Adil

    Jamal Sahib, do not dare to abuse Dr. Qadeer Khan. He is our national asset. Have some respect please.Recommend

  • ni hao

    North Korea and Pakistan are the strategic assets of China.It gave nuclear technology to China and missile technology to Korea and now there is a so-called synergy between North Korea and Pakistan.The long term target is mainland America. Recommend

  • Pessimist

    pak patriot
    north korea is the best korea!

    Haha, I remember the memes about this statement. It’s very popular in Tumblr. What’s even better is that this statement has given a few Indians the hissy fits. Lovely! Recommend

  • Anoop

    Pakistan is the best country in the world. We cannot compare Pakistan’s nuclear program with a communist regime like North Korea. Recommend

  • Black Jak

    I think i will read the whole article go to wikipedia and then comment appropriately. Recommend

  • Stranger

    Any one can perform nuclear tests or rocket launches. Its not the exclusive privilege of any one.Recommend

  • Graham Gooch

    @Black Jack : your comment has points that are self negating and ill informed.
    You forget that the armistice was signed by north korea becuase it was about to be annihilated by allied forces under macarthur having their fortunes reversed after they(the north koreans) attacked South Korea.

    Secondly you say that north korea wants peaceful reunification with the south without foriegn interferemce but you forget to state that its always its military agression violating UN Sec resolutiomln 1718 and a plethora of those…which by the way South Korea is always wary of and then they have the gall to pursue peace?

    You also forget to state that due to such agreesive action by North, south korean president lee Myung Bak held 5 nation talks without involving north korea because of the volatile mentality of their leaders to whom democracy is an anathema.

    You also state that the isolationist policy to keep kim in power , yet you fail tol to mention the dynasty that has been in power and why there are several gulags for political disessnters. And N then to further weaken your point you mention the Juche philosophy which actually promotes the idea of self sustainence and isolation and was conveniently promulgated to ensure that Kim was kept installed in power. All the while you also fail to mention that Juche itself is based on the communist principles just like stalinism.

    You also mention to conspiracy theories regarding other countries and parties that have interest in keeping Kims in power yet you fail to present any credible justification to support you statement.
    Based on the evidence it is evident that you only rely on wikipedia to find info and act as if you know everything which is demonstrably wrong. kindly do not misle gullible readers with your half informed comments. Regards.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    I will be damned if one could understand who realy is in control of the USA foreign policy.? They continualy provoke other Nations for confrontation. John F kennedy provoked Soviet Union to the point that it started arming Cuba with nuked rockets. It was Khruschev who got persuaded and did not strike USA. Reagon raided Libya and col Gadafi turned to the nuclear program. And when he gave up his proram, he was forcefully brought down. Neither Iran nor North Korea had any interest in nuclear weaponry but due to USA provocation and threats they are being persuaded to go Nuke. The man from the Alcapone territory makes one statement after another which in the straight diplomatic language are considered threats. And there we go again; North Korea reacts instantly and after the last test is again getting ready for the next test which is likely to be more lethal than the previous one. Iranians continue to make statements that they have no interest in wars with foreign Nations nor in a nuclear program as a deterrance. But the USA administration and a dozen others from the USA make statements that “all options are on the table”.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • BlackJack

    @Graham Gooch:
    Thank you for your comments, although they are mostly incorrect. Personal attacks are usually employed as a substitute to substance.
    1. North Korean forces were not about to be annihilated – MacArthur had been in Korea for over 3 years before the armistice and the fighting continued around the 38th parallel for most of that time. At the time of the armistice (and today), North Korea continued to occupy cities like Kaesong which used to be part of the South. Seoul was invaded 4 times during the course of the war, while Pyongyang was invaded once – just to put relative percentage of war in the territories of either country in perspective. North Korea did not sue for peace, India proposed the armistice in the UN which was accepted by the Security Council.
    2. North Korea seeks to keep the international community guessing as to its intentions, and I agree that their credibility is always suspect because of their whimsical leadership. However, the North-South agreement that I mentioned in my earlier comment exists – you may want to read up on it. The Sunshine policy has largely been considered a success (testament to the Peace Nobel awarded to KDJ), which means that there has been progress on both sides.
    3. I have mentioned Juche’s connection to Stalinism in my comment, although the similarities are superficial – it seeks to utilise national resources as a means towards self-sufficiency and prosperity, which can be seen as a parallel to Socialism in one country by Stalin. However, Juche focuses on the pride of the Korean people and has a racist/ nationalist tilt that did not exist in Stalinism.
    4. I have posed 2 simple points – that the US has no reason to be in Korea after unification, and that Japan – Korea tensions could increase once the Korean republic becomes both an economic and military power. I don’t see the conspiracy element here. If you wish to refute these two points based on facts, pls do so.Recommend

  • Graham Gooch

    @black jack : yawn. Neither you presented facts nor did you make any rudimentary sense. I feel sorry for tribune readers who r duped into reading your ill informed comments.Recommend

  • http://gujrat RAW is WAR

    can you eat nuclear weapons?Recommend

  • Anoop

    Haha. the fake intellectualism of Black Jack exposed. I too checked and found out that what ever he wrote in that comment was manipulated to suit his own views. Recommend

  • Nishant

    learn something
    this nation is being fed by China, Recommend

  • Liang

    Of the two nations that are the most EVIL rogue allies of my country (or, rather, my country’s socialist government), I cannot say whether Pakistan or North Korea is worse. There is simply no choice between them; one has no freedom and the other has false freedom…Recommend