North Korea appears poised to display its nuclear weapons
capability with an underground test, say experts, in a bid to keep
military tensions high and force a return to talks.
North Korea appears more likely now to stage another long-range
missile test or underground nuclear explosion rather than attacking
South Korean targets, according to security experts in South Korea.
"They're not going to do anything immediately," says Lee Jong-
min, dean of Yonsei University's Graduate School of International
Studies, "but I'm fairly convinced they'll conduct another nuclear
test maybe early next year."
In crises stretching back to nuclear negotiations in the early
1990s, North Korea has put the Korean Peninsula into crisis mode
before eventually coming to the table. While the US, South Korea,
and Japan say they oppose a return to six-party talks, last held in
Beijing in December 2008, another nuclear test or additional missile
strikes - on the heels of the North's recent attacks - might be the
North's way of forcing new negotiations.
"I don't think there's anything stopping North Korea now from
going ahead with another nuclear test," says Mingi Hyun, a research
fellow at the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy. Neither South
Korea nor the US, he says, "have given North Korea any reason to
hold off" despite military exercises on land and sea since the
deadly Nov. 23 North Korean attack on a South Korean island.
An influential South Korean think tank, the Institute of Foreign
Affairs and National Security (IFANS), came out with a report Friday
suggesting "a possibility of North Korea carrying out its third
nuclear test" for at least two reasons.
IFANS says the North wants "to seek improvement in its nuclear
weapons production capability" and "keep military tension high"
while promoting the status of leader Kim Jong-il's youngest son, Kim
Jong-un, as the North's next leader.
Analysts have been forecasting a nuclear test next spring ever
since American physicist Siegfried Hecker led a delegation to North
Korea in October and toured a uranium-enrichment facility at the
North's nuclear complex at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang.
The facility represents a major step beyond North Korea's ongoing
program for manufacturing nuclear devices with plutonium at their
core. In October 2006 and again in May 2009, the North exploded
plutonium devices underground, making it the world's ninth nuclear
The North has yet to test a device made of highly enriched
uranium, but is believed to be well on the way to acquiring the
ability and the resources to do so. …