When North Korea put a satellite into orbit last month, it declared that the launch was an exercise of its “right to use space for peaceful purposes” and denounced criticism by the U.S. and others that it was carrying out a ballistic-missile test meant to threaten its neighbors. On Tuesday the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to condemn the launch, which it said was banned under previous resolutions, and moved to strengthen existing sanctions. Today North Korea responded angrily to the Security Council’s move, declaring that it may soon carry out another nuclear test — the isolated totalitarian state’s third — a move its National Defense Commission said was aimed at the U.S.
Any notion that the recent satellite launch was purely peaceful was seemingly blown up in the bellicose statement by the leading military body in the country officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). “We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets, which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people,” the defense commission’s statement read, according to the official KCNA news service.
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Glyn Davies, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, who landed in Seoul on Wednesday for a trip that will include visits to China and Japan, said upon his arrival that it would be “a mistake” for North Korea to carry out another nuclear test. “We would call on them not to engage in further provocations, and we are joined by the international community in that appeal,” Davies said in comments made a day before the North Korean defense commission announced nuclear-test plans. “Now is not a time to make the situation on the Korean Peninsula any more tense.”
North Korea and its Kim family rulers are often portrayed as unstable actors, but the latest move follows a well-worn path, says Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization aimed at reducing the risk of military conflict. “Over the years they’ve said the same thing again and again,” says Pinkston. “People say North Koreans are very unpredictable or whatever, but this is very predictable.”
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The internal logic of the country’s military-first doctrine means that ideas of international cooperation and collective security are not only ineffective but also dangerous to the survival of the regime. Thus a show of force is how North Korea has typically responded to condemnation of its previous ballistic endeavors, with its 2006 nuclear detonation coming three months after a missile test and its 2009 nuclear test coming just weeks after another missile test. The Security Council’s condemnation of North Korea’s December satellite launch also froze any foreign assets of the country’s space-program leaders and barred two of its leaders and two banking officials from international travel. Such steps will likely anger North Korea, which is still celebrating its first successful satellite launch, says Pinkston. “These people who were named, they’re like their great national heroes,” he says.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry has said that North Korea appears ready to test a nuclear device, the Yonhap news agency reported. China, North Korea’s only major ally, went along with the Security Council’s condemnation of Pyongyang on Tuesday. Responding to the latest threat of a nuclear test, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called for calm and restraint, Reuters reported. A similar line was repeated before the December missile launch, to little avail.
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