Pyongyang Says Hello
by Charles Lemos, Sun May 24, 2009 at 11:41:09 PM EDT
With today's nuclear test, the second in the country's history and by all accounts more successful than its previous fizzle, the regime of Kim Jong-il has chosen to remind the world that it still exists and plans to continue to exist. North Korea is today more a family enterprise than anything else, Kim Jong-il intends to leave his progeny a semblance of a country to govern. The long and short of it is that the DPRK, as the country prefers to be called, has used its military threat to squeeze concessions from global powers to maintain and shore up its power at home.
While today's explosion was a calling card sent to Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and perhaps even Moscow, North Korea was also sending a business card to Damascus and Tehran saying hey there, see what we can do. Do business with us. The threat from North Korea is effectively a proliferation threat. Cash-strapped North Korea has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and it could sell its nuclear expertise to states aiming to make plutonium for weapons.
North Korea also has a few limitations it must solve before it becomes a threat to its neighbors. For starters, North Korea is thought to have produced enough plutonium for about six to eight weapons and it has already produced one rudimentary nuclear device back in October 2006. So now with this second device, its plutonium store is lessened. North Korea also faces a miniaturization problem. It likely cannot miniaturize a nuclear weapon to mount it on a missile that it can deploy. North Korea might be able to produce more weapons grade plutonium but it remains a long way from miniaturizing a weapon.
Beyond all this, what the North Koreans really want is to chat one-on-one with Washington. We, on the other hand, prefer the six-party talks and using the United Nations to impose sanctions. Sanctions that restrict North Korea's financial capabilities likely remain the most effective but it bears reminding that China is unlikely to back punitive sanctions on Pyongyang.