Nuclear Crisis on Korean Peninsula

by Michael Cebert

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed on Wednesday January 27 to pursue a U.N. Security resolution condemning North Korea in response to its latest nuclear test.[1] On January 6, 2016, state media from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea, claimed that the communist nation conducted its first successful hydrogen bomb test, leading to increased worry from world powers in Asia-Pacific about the dangers of a North Korea with increasingly powerful nuclear weapons.[2]

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), one of five remaining communist nations in the world, has a long history of international aggravation. Since its defeat by a coalition led by the United States in the Korean War, North Korea has aggressively sought to strong-arm East Asia and the West with threats of war and more recently, nuclear war. North Korea has become an international pariah state for its poor human rights record and its refusal to acknowledge the basic rights of its citizens. Famine-stricken and restricted in every way, the North Korean people risk arrest, imprisonment, and possible execution if they speak out against the cult of personality developed around the Kim family, the dictatorial dynasty. The DPRK also has agitated the international community by their pursuit of a nuclear program. The recent nuclear test is the latest event in a trend of aggressive behavior by the North Korean regime towards its neighbors.

On October 9, 2006, North Korea announced its first nuclear weapons test. On March 26, 2010, the North Korean Navy sank the ROKS Cheonan, a South Korean warship, off the coast of North Korea near Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, close to the maritime demarcation zone. North Korea denied involvement in the incident that claimed the life of 46 South Korean sailors.[3] Several months later, tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated even more when the DPRK shelled South Korean installments on the island of Yeonpyeong, resulting in the deaths of two South Korean servicemen and two civilians.[4] Given the antagonistic history of North Korea towards its Asian neighbors, the recent hydrogen bomb test does not come as a surprise to many.

Despite the rising tensions surrounding the test, experts in the United States have cast doubt on the alleged success of the alleged nuclear test. Reuters reports that American officials believe that North Korean state media doctored video footage of the event in order to show a successful test, while in reality, the attempt failed catastrophically.[5]

Reactions to this event are indicative of a region hesitant to take military action against North Korea. South Korea responded by launching a propaganda campaign, blasting a combination of rhetoric critical of the regime and popular “k-pop” songs across the border. The prime minister of Japan, per the state website, joined the international chorus condemning the launch and lodged “a serious protest against North Korea, and strongly condemns its nuclear test.”[6] China, North Korea’s strongest traditional ally, has condemned the test and vowed to keep the Korean peninsula denuclearized. It remains to be seen what decisive action the United Nations and the international community will take.

[1] David Brunnstrom, “U.S., China Agree on Need for New U.N. Measure on North Korea,” Reuters (January 27, 2016): Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-usa-kerry-idUSKCN0V509V.

[2] BBC News “North Korea Nuclear: State Claims First Hydrogen Bomb Test,” BBC News (January 6, 2016): Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35240012.

[3] Elise Labott and Mike Mount, “North Korea Denies Sinking Warship; South Korea Vows Strong Response,” CNN (May 19, 2010): Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/19/south.korea.ship/index.html?hpt=T1

[4] Jack Kim and Lee Jae-Won, “North Korea Shells South in Fiercest Attack in Decades,” Reuters (November 23, 2010): Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-korea-north-artillery-idUSTRE6AM0YS20101123.

[5] James Pearson, “North Korea Faked Missile Test Footage: U.S. Experts,” Reuters (January 12, 2016): Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missile-analysis-idUSKCN0UQ0CC20160113.

[6] “Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Nuclear Test by North Korea (Speeches and Statements by Prime Minister),” Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet (January 6, 2016): Accessed January 27, 2016. http://japan.kantei.go.jp/97_abe/statement/201601/statement.html.

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