North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Programs
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October 12, 2006
Kim Jong-Il’s Assertion of the Obvious
Analysis. By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS. On October 9, 2006, at 0136 GMT, a seismic wave of magnitude 3.58 was detected by several intelligence services. The blast originated near Sangpyong-ri, about 10 miles from Kimchaek City, North Hamgyong/Hamkyong Province, about 60-65 miles from the Chinese (PRC) border. The DPRK had been digging and equipping several deep underground facilities in the area for the past several months.
At 0321 GMT, Pyongyang officially announced, in the form of a KCNA bulletin, that the DPRK had just carried out the underground nuclear test which it had warned it would conduct. “The field of scientific research in the DPRK successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9, Juche 95 (2006) at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation,” the KCNA announced. “The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent. It marks an historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability. It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it.” The DPRK provided no specific data about the magnitude of the nuclear explosion.
Russian defense officials filled in the gaps. They noted that the DPRK tested an operational weapon — as distinct from a “device” — which could serve as a warhead on a ballistic missile. “The force of the test explosion of the Korean nuclear weapon is in the range of five to 15 kilotons,” said Russian Vice-Premier and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. By comparison, he added, “the US atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima during World War II was comparable to 12,500 tons [= 12.5 kilotons] of TNT.”
When US officials, particularly through leaks to The Washington Times, intimated that the North Korean nuclear test was much weaker and thus failed to achieve a proper nuclear explosion, senior Russian military experts sneered. “Our monitoring devices have recorded a nuclear weapon test in North Korea,” stated Lt.-Gen. Vladimir Verkhovtsev, Chief of the Defense Ministry’s 12th Main Directorate which is responsible for all nuclear weapons. “This was a 100 percent underground nuclear explosion.”
There should not have been any technical surprise, Moscow added. “North Korea was ready to test a nuclear explosive device as long as 15 years ago. But it did not go ahead because it feared a negative reaction around the world and harsh sanctions. Now, apparently, the country’s leadership has decided that the United States and Europe are too bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the Iran crisis,” explained Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, former head of the Defense Ministry’s No. 4 Scientific Research Institute, which dealt with the strategic operations base for nuclear forces.
On October 10, Ivanov also responded to the reported US doubts. “Our assessments [of a five-15 kiloton explosion] have not changed. We can affirm that,” Ivanon stated. “Whose monitoring gadgets are located closer [to North Korea]?”
Indeed, there should have been little surprise in the mere conduct of an underground nuclear test. The first credible intelligence evidence of North Korean nuclear weapons surfaced already in the early 1990s, and this data was conclusively confirmed by Western intelligence services soon afterwards. [see Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, July 31,1994: The North Korean Nuclear Arsenal is Deployed, Despite Face-Saving Agreements With the US. This report also appears on GIS.]
The DPRK formally acknowledged having nuclear weapons already in 2002. Concurrently, the DPRK’s doctrine and military exercises left no doubt as to the existence of a fully operational nuclear arsenal and a regional, if not global, delivery system. This was manifested in KPA exercises, deployments, manuals, internal education of officers, as well as the DPRK’s cooperation with Iran and Pakistan. As well, North Korean internal documents, which were made available to western intelligence, explicitly asserted the fallacy and deceptive character of the negotiations with the US and six nation talks on nuclear disarmament. [see Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 1-2, 2003: The War On Terrorism According To Kim Jong-Il.]
Throughout, official Washington elected to ignore all of this evidence, basing instead the US negotiations with the DPRK on the false assumption that Pyongyasng could be cajoled or coerced into self-denuclearization. The absence of a North Korean nuclear test provided Washington with the fig-leaf justifications for a policy out of touch with reality. indeed, after the North Korean testing, the first things the Bush Administration did were to call for the return to the existing negotiations regime, and to spread rumors that the test was a failure and thus did not undercut the “logic” for the continued regime of talks.
Reality is different. Pyongyang conducted its nuclear test in the context of its own strategic development. The date was befitting the internal calendar, not the West’s. The nuclear demonstration was a logical step in a long-term strategy aimed to define and reassert the DPRK’s posture in a changing East Asia and a post Cold War world dominated by the US-dominated Globalization and the War on Terrorism and/or “the Axis of Evil”.
The timing of the current climax had a lot to do with the succession crisis in Pyongyang. Just as Kim Il-Song consolidated the DPRK’s non-nuclear strategic military posture in the latter phase of the Cold War as the foundation of handing over the DPRK to Kim Jong-Il, so does Kim Jong-Il prepare and consolidate the strategic nuclear posture of the DPRK in the US-dominated post-Cold War era in preparation for the legitimization of the succession of, most likely, his second son Kim Jong-Chol. The need for such a move increased in Spring and Summer 2006 with the deterioration in Kim Jong-Il’s medical situation.
According to Russian medical experts, the 64-year-old Kim Jong-Il now requires stronger new diabetes and heart disease medicines, medications which his doctors asked Russian experts to test. The Russian doctors believe that he was diagnosed with serious diabetes and other kidney and liver problems that may be part of complications caused by diabetes. Kim Jong-Il’s anxiety is reinforced by the little improvement in Kim Jong-Chol’s stature following another round of hormonal treatment in western Europe.
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The road to the nuclear explosion of October 9, 2006, started with Kim Jong-Il’s going into seclusion in early July in the aftermath of the successful testing of the DPRK’s new strategic-nuclear command and control system, as well as the country’s nuclear second strike capabilities, which culminated in the ballistic missiles testing. [See Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 7, 2006: The DPRK Missiles: Preparation for the Middle East Crisis? Also carried in GIS on July 6, 2006, and July 20, 2006.] What Pyongyang considered to be a demonstration of strategic responsibility and resolve by shifting away from the erstwhile first-strike doctrine was sneered upon by the US as a technical failure. Hence, as he had done in previous times of bewilderment and crisis, Kim Jong-Il withdrew to spend time in seclusion, pondering the formulating of the next phase in the DPRK’s strategic ascent.
Kim Jong-Il emerged in late August 2006 with a milestone definition of the DPRK’s nuclear war doctrine. By then, Pyongyang was apprehensive about a change in the quintessence of relations with the US. The DPRK sees itself and the US as the primary — and thus equal — combatants on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang now dreaded the seeming marginalization of the DPRK as a result of the negotiated US handover of command of US forces on the Korean peninsula to the RoK. Such a development would undermine sacred pillar of the Juche doctrine, namely, that war is between the US and the DPRK with RoK being an illegitimate puppet of the US.
The crisis in Pyongyang was aggravated by Kim Jong-Il’s loss of confidence in Moscow and Beijing. In a meeting with North Korean senior ambassadors, Kim Jong-Il criticized China and Russia as “unreliable” and declared that the DPRK “must surmount the current difficulties it faces concerning its nuclear development program on its own.” Kim Jong-Il justified his position in view of the unanimous passage of the UNSC resolution condemning the recent missiles’ test-firing.
The first indication of the changes in the DPRK’s doctrine emerged on August 24, 2006, in the speeches and documents in conjunction with the 46th anniversary of “the Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong-Il engraving the first step of the military-first revolutionary leadership”. The political statement stressed that thanks to Kim Jong-Il’s “instruction to promote the national defense industry as the first and foremost work of the country, the strength of the People’s Army has increased”, and “mighty war deterrent force has been prepared so that no enemy may want to confront the DPRK.”
Most significant and authoritative was the statement of Marshal Kim Yong-Chun, the KPA Chief of the General Staff. “We will keenly watch the moves of the United States and its followers including Japan to stifle the DPRK with sharp vigilance and do our utmost to bolster our self-defensive war deterrent, unhindered by anything, tightly holding the revolutionary banner of military-first [doctrine], thus adding shine to the ever-victorious history of the Korean revolution covering centuries,” he declared. “The situation on the Korean Peninsula which is getting more serious due to the dastardly and malicious hostile policy of the United States clearly proves how judicious it is that we have built up stalwart self-defensive war deterrent by carrying through all along the principle of military-first [doctrine], while adhering to the unshakable stand that the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the nation can be defended only when we have great strength.”
Pyongyang’s preoccupation with question of equality with the US was further articulated on August 27, 2006, in a special article by Paek Mun-Kyu, entitled “Reckless Provocation Maneuvers Bringing About the Danger of Nuclear War” published in the authoritative daily Nodong Sinmun. The key message was that a new Korean war would be “warfare of nuclear states”: which means the US and the DPRK, but excludes the RoK. “The US Imperialists have not given up their attempt to invade Korea and are unchangingly pursuing their ambition to eliminate our Republic by armed strength,” Paek Mun-Kyu wrote. This threat is manifested in the series of US-RoK exercises, US force deployments to the Far East, and the evolution of US defense relations with Japan. “The strengthening of maneuvers on war of aggression against Korea by [US Pres. George W.] Bush and his warmongers is a very dangerous act of lighting a spark of nuclear war on the Korean peninsula in the new century.”
However, any such crisis was not going to evolve as planned in Washington because the DPRK had no intention of remaining “a target for pre-emptive nuclear attack” as conspired by the Bush Administration. “The new Korean war waged by the US imperialists can become a fierce offensive and defensive warfare among nuclear states, bringing about unimaginable catastrophic outcomes. When the fuse is lit on the war of aggression against Korea, US warmongers are attempting to swallow up our country in a single gulp, using large-scale modern military power including nuclear weapons. Our retaliatory strike in response to such attempt will be merciless and decisive. We never show mercy to aggressors. Followers aiding the United States’ aggression against Korea will not be able to evade our striking range,” Paek Mun-Kyu stated.
At the same time, Paek Mun-Kyu stressed, Pyongyang was urging the Bush Administration to face reality and come to terms with the DPRK. “The military-first [doctrine] is a mighty precious sword for crushing the US imperialists’ maneuvers to invade Korea and ensuring the peace and safety of the Korean peninsula and the world. By consolidating the self-reliant national defense strength in every manner under the military-first banner, our people will be ever victorious in deterring and destroying the US imperialists’ maneuvers to provoke a new war of aggression. US warmongers should give up their foolish fantasy of provoking our Republic by exercising military force, which was borne out of their devotion to war, and follow the trends of the times toward the road of peace,” Paek Mun-Kyu concluded.
It was in this context that the idea of conducting a nuclear test as the equalizer with the US was first raised by Pyongyang.
The day before, on August 26, 2006, Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper, published in Japan, which had long been used as purveyor of the DPRK’s messages, first raised the possibility of a North Korean nuclear test in response to the US hard-line policy against the DPRK. “It is a well-known fact that the Bush regime is watching for a chance to crush and devastate the DPRK” using all available means ranging from rhetoric to military build-up and to economic sanctions. “This being the situation, it is self-evident that [the DPRK] is left with no option but to take a strong action of response to defend the country from the threat. The missile-firing exercise conducted on 5 July as well was appropriate.”
The Choson Sinbo warned that Washington had failed to comprehend Pyongyang’s message and, instead of working to improve mutual understanding, was increasing the pressure on, and the threats to, Pyongyang. “Therefore, if the Bush regime becomes tougher in the military field as well, it cannot be said for sure that there would be no ‘nuclear test’ by the DPRK for strengthening the country’s defense for self-defense. The blame for all of these things falls on the United States that maintains that its own logic and act is right and that the forces disobedient to it are ‘evil’,” the Choson Sinbo concluded.
There was no reaction from Washington to Pyongyang’s warnings. The reorganization of the US-RoK military relations continued unabated.
In early September 2006, Kim Jong-Il was convinced he knew what to do. In a closed meeting with senior officers in a secluded KPA unit, officially convened to commemorate the 58th national day, he declared his resolve to raise the ante. “The country will imposingly stand as an invulnerable bulwark of socialism [because] it has such matchless ranks of fighters fully prepared politically and ideologically and in military technique,” Kim Jong-Il stated.
Conducting a nuclear test would be the means for demonstrating Pyongyang’s resolve. Over the next few days, Kim Jong-Il and other senior officials summoned Russian and Chinese senior diplomats to formal meetings in Pyongyang in which they alluded to the forthcoming nuclear test and articulated the reasons for such a dramatic undertaking. On September 8/9, 2006, the Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang reported that Kim Jong-Il “made clear his intention” that “North Korea will officially join the nuclear club by carrying out its first underground test of an atomic device” unless there was a dramatic change in US policy. The Russian diplomat was convinced it was “highly likely” that the DPRK would carry out the test in the immediate future.
On September 13, 2006, Pyongyang addressed the issue of nuclear tests in the context of the US war conspiracies against the DPRK. The issue was articulated in a special commentary by Choe Hak-Hhol titled “Criminal Act That Precipitates Nuclear Arms Race” and published in the Nodong Sinmun. “Not long ago, the United States conducted a subcritical nuclear test at the underground nuclear test site in Nevada in defiance of the international society’s vehement opposition and rejections,” Choe Hak-Hhol explained. “The United States’ subcritical nuclear test is a dangerous maneuver perpetrated for the purpose of carrying out pre-emptive nuclear strikes against other countries through the further modernization of nuclear weapons and the development of new-type nuclear weapons.”
The extent of the threat which this nuclear test constituted could be best comprehended in the context of the overall US activities in the region. “The maneuvers of the modernization and development of nuclear weapons the United States is frantically perpetrating are an intolerable act of crime that escalates the nuclear threats, the danger of a nuclear war, and the nuclear arms race in the international community,” Choe Hak-Hhol explained.
By now, there were growing activities in the several deep tunnels in the northern DPRK, suggesting preparations for a nuclear test. Moreover, Kim Jong-Il’s special train was spotted parking for a long time not far from the Chinese border - suggesting he was in the region to personally inspect the preparations.
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In early October 2006, Kim Jong-Il personally addressed a major political-doctrinal meeting with all the KPA commanders and political officers from battalion-level and above. He was flanked by Jo Myong-Rok, first vice-chairman of the NDC of the DPRK and director of the General Political Department of the KPA, Kim Yong-Chun, member of the NDC of the DPRK and chief of the KPA General Staff, Kim Il-Chol, member of the NDC of the DPRK and minister of the People’s Armed Forces, the commanders of the services and arms of the KPA, staff members of the KPA Supreme Command and general officers. Kim Jong-Il introduced new doctrine and outlined the challenges ahead. He announced his “expectation and belief” that the battalion commanders and political instructors “would further strengthen the battalions, the lowest units of the KPA to be commanded and basic combat units, politically and militarily so that the KPA may creditably discharge its honorable mission and duty as the pillar and main force of the revolution.” Interestingly, the meeting was mentioned by the DPRK media only on October 5, 2006.
On October 3, 2006, Pyongyang issued the first official warning of intent to conduct a nuclear test.
The announcement was attributed to the foreign ministry and distributed via the KCNA. Pyongyang blamed the US for instigating the mounting tension on the Korean peninsula and described the forthcoming nuclear test as a balancing act. “Under the present situation in which the US moves to isolate and stifle the DPRK have reached the worst phase, going beyond the extremity, the DPRK can no longer remain an on-looker to the developments. The DPRK has already declared that it would take all necessary countermeasures to defend the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the nation from the Bush Administration’s vicious hostile actions. The DPRK Foreign Ministry is authorized to solemnly declare as follows in connection with the new measure to be taken to bolster the war deterrent for self-defense: Firstly, the field of scientific research of the DPRK will in the future conduct a nuclear test under the condition where safety is firmly guaranteed.” The KCNA statement then repeated the tenets of the DPRK’s declaratory nuclear doctrine, stressing the commitment to no-first-use and to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula once the US withdrew from South Korea and Seoul gave up on developing nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang began articulating the reasons for the forthcoming nuclear test on October 5, 2006, using the Choson Sinbo as the main organ. In an article date-lined Pyongyang, Kim Chi-Yong authoritatively described the positions of the DPRK leadership. Pyongyang now perceives that “the war of confrontation with the United States has entered a serious phase is becoming more pervasive,” he wrote. Under these circumstances, “public reverberations are that it is normal to conduct a nuclear test in the situation in which the country has already chosen the path to strengthening the nuclear deterrent.”
Kim Chi-Yong identified the two dominant factors in the North Korean policy formulation. “One is that a life-or-death resolve to take measures aimed at strengthening the nuclear deterrent without cessation has been firmly made as an irreversible line of the DPRK, unless the United States’ policy of confrontation is altered. Another is that the United States has not made effective responses, and that the DPRK is playing the leading role in the current nuclear standoff.” Pyongyang’s commitment to these policy tenets is “irreversible” and, accordingly, “the DPRK’s declaration of a nuclear test is not empty talk, and it clearly presupposes an action”.
Kim Chi-Yong explained that the mere conduct of a nuclear test is but the first step in a spiraling escalation of crisis on the Korean peninsula. “The trend of the current nuclear standoff still maintains the structure of the DPRK’s response to the United States’ act of hostility. If any change must be pointed out, that is the fact that the intensity of the DPRK’s ultra hard-line measure against the United States’ hard-line measure is increasing without precedent.” Kim Chi-Yong alluded to the recent doctrinal changes in the DPRK in conjunction with the recent adaptation of the military-first doctrine to meet the challenges of the US war on terrorism.
“By the DPRK’s military-first politics, a decision was made to regard nuclear weapons as a war deterrent, but this was the consideration of the stark reality of the international politics of the 21st Century that any country could be relentlessly attacked by big countries, if its strength were fragile, and no-one could prevent it.” This had always been at the core of the DPRK’s doctrine. “The military-first commander of the DPRK has taken the initiative to correspondingly counter the US threat,” Kim Chi-Yong wrote. “The timetable and plan the DPRK has already set to strengthen its nuclear deterrent will be put into implementation intactly without adjustment, as long as the United States’ attitude remains unchanged.”
The most authoritative and explicit articulation of Kim Jong-Il’s own logic for the forthcoming nuclear test came from Kim Myong-Chol. In a series of meetings with Japanese officials, as well as an article in the October 6, 2006, issue of Asia Times Online, he articulated the objectives of the forthcoming nuclear test in the context of the DPRK’s overall doctrine and strategic posture. “The nuclear test, once conducted, will have far-reaching implications for the Koreas and the rest of the world,” he asserted. (Essentially, Kim Myong-Chol repeated what he did in mid-2005 when he discussed the evolution of the DPRK’s nuclear doctrine in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq and the escalation of the war on terrorism. [See Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 4-5, 2005: Nuclear Spring: The Impact of the Fall Of Baghdad on Pyongyang’s Nuclear Weapons Strategy. Also carried on GIS on May 13, 2005.])
According to Kim Myong-Chol, Pyongyang intended the nuclear test to deliver “five messages” to both the people of the DPRK and the rest of the world.
The first point was explaining the DPRK’s strategic build-up in an historical context. Throughout its entire history, Korea fought all its wars on the Korean peninsula, having been subjected to countless invasions and occupations. Now, Kim Myong-Chol stated: “Kim Jong-Il is the greatest of the peerless national heroes Korea has ever produced. Kim [Jong-Il] is unique in that he is the first to equip Korea with sufficient military capability to take the war all the way to the continental US.” Consequently, Kim Myong-Chol explained, “a next war will be better called the American War or the DPRK-US War because the main theater will be the continental US, with major cities transformed into towering infernos. The DPRK is now the fourth-most powerful nuclear weapons state just after the US, Russia, and China.”
Kim Myong-Chol stressed the KPA’s strategic capabilities. “The DPRK has all types of nuclear bombs and warheads, atomic, hydrogen and neutron, and the means of delivery, short-range, medium-range and long-range, putting the whole of the continental US within effective range. The Korean People’s Army also is capable of knocking hostile satellites out of action.” This build-up, under Kim Jong-Il, enables the DPRK, for the first time in Korean history, to transfer the war to the heart of the enemy’s land.
Pyongyang’s achievements are all the more impressive given the overwhelming odds the DPRK had to overcome in order to reach its current strategic posture. “The title ‘the greatest iron-willed, brilliant commander’ is reserved for Kim Jong-Il, who has led tiny North Korea to acquire the most coveted membership of the élite nuclear club, braving all the nuclear war threats, sanctions and isolation efforts on the part of the US. It is little short of a miracle that the leader has outmaneuvered and outpowered the Bush administration against heavy odds.” If one looks at the history of the recent political and economic maneuvers surrounding the DPRK, Kim Myong-Chol noted, one could comprehend the achievements of Kim Jong-Il. Under his leadership, Pyongyang withstood and defied the military threats from the three most powerful countries in the world — the US, Russia and the PRC — as well as the economic threats from the world’s five richest countries: the US, Russia, Japan, the RoK and the PRC.
Despite all their efforts, the DPRK did not budge.
“The second point is that a nuclear test will be a legitimate exercise of North Korea’s sovereign right in supreme national-security interests of the country,” Kim Myong-Chol wrote. The test should serve as the ultimate proof that the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities are not negotiable. “The Kim administration seeks to commit nuclear weapons to actual use against the US in case of war, never to use them as a tool of negotiations. It is sheer illusion to think that sanctions and isolation will stop North Korea from the planned nuclear test.” Kim Myong-Chol accused Washington of this situation. “US hostility, threats and sanctions are the very engines that have propelled the development of nuclear weapons. Absent US hostility, nuclear blackmailing, sanctions, threats of isolation and regime change, the Kim Administration would never have thought at all of acquiring nuclear deterrence.”
The third point addresses the ensuing strategic-nuclear posture in the entire East Asia. In case of a future military confrontation between the US, Russia and China, a nuclear North Korea could tilt the regional balance against the US. “The presence of a mighty nuclear weapons state in Korea should be most welcome to Russia and China,” Kim Myong-Chol observed. He then elaborated on Beijing’s point of view, echoing the PRC’s raison d’être for supporting WMD and ballistic missile proliferation among the rogue states. “The People’s Republic of China has every reason to welcome a nuclear-armed North Korea, whatever it may say in public. The nuclear deterrence of North Korea is a major factor in reducing US military pressure on China on the question of the independence of Taiwan,” Kim Myong-Chol stated.
The fourth point also addresses the regional strategic-nuclear posture. Kim Myong-Chol explained that “the North Korea government of Kim [Jong-Il] does not care at all whether Japan goes nuclear, or that South Korea and Australia follow suit.” Any regional nuclearization will inevitably challenge Washington’s policy of hegemonic dominance through a nuclear umbrella. “The factor that has prevented them from developing their own nuclear weapons is political pressure from the US, not because North Korea was only conventionally armed. The US has insisted that they should be under the nuclear umbrella and buy expensive high-tech weapons from them. Their becoming nuclear powers will signal that the US is no longer a reliable cop. At long last de-Americanization of the US allies and neutralization of the US in the rest of the world will be set into motion. This is one of the reasons why the Kim [Jong-Il] Administration has every reason to secretly welcome the nuclear arming of junior US allies,” Kim Myong-Chol stated.
“The fifth and last point is a long, overdue farewell to the nuclear non-proliferation regime” as unilaterally dictated by the Bush Administration. Had the US not abused their nuclear arsenal to threaten the DPRK, Kim Myong-Chol argued, “North Korea would not have felt any need to defend itself with nuclear weapons.” Kim Myong-Chol anticipated that the example of defiance and self-acquired capabilities would go a long way to inspire and embolden other states to follow the DPRK. “A nuclear test by North Korea will go a long way toward emboldening anti-American states around the world to acquire nuclear weapons. There is a long line of candidate states,” Kim Myong-Chol concluded.
Indeed, Pyongyang’s behavior on the eve of the nuclear test demonstrated its disdain toward the US and efforts to regain confidence of both Moscow and Beijing. However, there is a stark difference between Pyongyang’s attitude toward Moscow and toward Beijing. On October 9, the Russian ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry two hours prior to the test and was given a fairly detailed forewarning. The Chinese ambassador, in contrast, received only twenty minutes forewarning that was fairly vague. Throughout, Iran was the country most intimately involved with the North Korean nuclear effort with senior officials and scientists present in every element of the DPRK’s strategic-nuclear system. Iran is also reported to have contributed to the funding of the DPRK’s nuclear test.
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The actual test was timed to meet a major date in DPRK’s calendar. October 10, 2006, was the 61st anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea. The nuclear test of the pervious day was portrayed in the DPRK media in the context of the anniversary, and not as a major event in its own right. The nuclear test was mentioned as one of many achievements of the WPK during a concert commemorating the WPK’s anniversary which attended by high-ranking government officials. The day’s editorial in Nodong Sinmun also stressed the WPK’s anniversary and only briefly mentioned the test without fanfare.
Again, Pyongyang delivered the explicit message to the rest of the world through foreign organs. The nuclear test should be considered as an integral, albeit important, phase in the tortuous US-DPRK relations. “There are two ways to end the prolonged state of war against the US and make peace: one is a dialogue and the other is a war,” explained the Chosun Sinbo editorial. “North Korea may have judged that it could prevent a disastrous war against the US if it had a strong nuclear deterrence, as the prospects for the resumption of the six-party talks remained dim.” Consequently, and largely because of Washington’s policies, the Korean peninsula is tittering between peace and war. “Pyongyang, of course, wants peace with the US,” the Chosun Sinbo explained. Pyongyang’s “possession and test of a nuclear weapon” increased the likelihood of peace because it enables the DPRK to prevent any abrupt armed clash with the US through mutual deterrence, and thus pursue dialogue as another method of establishing peace.
Not to be perceived as weak or apologetic, the DPRK also leaked threats of escalation. A North Korean official in Beijing warned Chinese and Japanese officials that the DPRK was capable of conducting “additional [underground] nuclear tests” and even conducting a demonstration by “mounting nuclear warheads on missiles” and test-firing them. The official stressed that the DPRK was interested in establishing meaningful talks with the US rather than continue with the nuclear saber-rattling. “We hope the situation will be settled before an unfortunate incident, in which we fire nuclear missiles, takes place. That hinges on what the US does,” the official warned. There was no point in threatening Pyongyang either. “Sanctions can’t be a solution at all,” the official said. The nuclear test is “a sovereign country’s due right,” he noted, adding that “politically and diplomatically, that [test] is an expression of our intention to face the US across a negotiating table.”
With international pressure growing, Pyongyang raised the ante the next morning. There was no point in threatening the DPRK, a KCNA statement warned. New sanctions will be considered as an “act of war” and reaction will be appropriate. “Further pressure will be countered with physical retaliation,” the Foreign Ministry warned via the KCNA.
At the same Pyongyang did not close the door on future negotiations. “We were compelled to prove that we have nuclear weapons to prevent the increasing threat of war by the US and protect our sovereignty and survival. We are ready for both dialogue and confrontation. ... Even though we conducted the nuclear test because of the US, we still remain committed to realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations.”
And with the US publicly committing to not attack the DPRK, Kim Jong-Il’s audacious gambit seems to have succeeded.