North Korea Faces Condemnation Over Fifth Nuclear Test

North Korea successfully carried out its fifth and reportedly largest nuclear test on September 9th, prompting urgent United Nations talks about the creation of stricter international sanctions. Under the third-generation leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea sped up the development of its nuclear and missiles programs on the 68th anniversary of the nation’s founding. Estimates of the blast’s explosive yield have varied from 10 to over 20 kilotonnes, with analysts comparing the latest test to the bomb on Hiroshima that yielded about 15 kilotonnes. The nuclear test triggered a magnitude 5.3 earthquake near the Punggye-ri nuclear site and a fresh wave of global condemnation.

North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Institute announced the testing in a statement which reinstated the need for weapon development for the “safeguarding [of] its dignity and right to existence and genuine peace.” It declared that it will continue to produce “at will, and as many as it wants, a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power.” North Korea’s military expansion, however, continues to occur at the expense of its people with over 25% of its GNP being spent on developing its military assets.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye condemned the North Korean leader for demonstrating “maniacal recklessness”, while the US President Barack Obama expressed the need for North Korea to face severe consequences for its “unlawful and dangerous actions.” Other nations, including Japan, Russia and Australia have condemned the test for putting the world’s peace at risk and further decreasing the quality of life of its people. Likewise, China – North Korea’s only major ally – stated that it was resolutely opposed to the test. The nation has faced five UN sanctions since its first test in 2006, yet these have failed to control North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Accordingly, this latest test demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the trade and diplomatic sanctions imposed following North Korea’s previous nuclear test in January. Tadashi Kimiya, a University of Tokyo professor, believes that “sanctions have already been imposed on almost everything possible, so this policy is at an impasse.” While Security Council talks are due to be carried out shortly, Kimiya affirms that “the means by which the United States, South Korea and Japan can put diplomatic pressure on North Korea have reached their limits.”

The uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of bilateral and multilateral strategies currently in place raises questions about the need to undertake a different approach. World leaders should work towards adopting a humanitarian approach that simultaneously challenges North Korea’s military expenditure and enables its people to acquire an objective understanding about the situation. Ultimately, this approach will empower the people of North Korea to challenge the authoritarian regime and consider international perspectives on the issue. If the international focus shifts from condemning North Korea to providing support for its people, an amicable foundation for dialogue between North Korea and other nations is likely to develop. Fundamentally, preventing North Korea from disrupting world peace requires strategies that delve deeper than international politics.


Maneesha Gopalan