13.05.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

North Korea’s Fifth Nuclear Test Coming Soon?

564564564555Following the North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, the virtual dust had hardly settled, before South Korean experts began to talk about the eminence of the fifth. Yet, the few dates, which South Korea had set for the North Korean nuclear fireworks, have already passed.

On April 7, 2016 the South Korean Defense Minister, Han Ming-goo announced that on 15 March, Kim Jong-un gave the order to prepare for another nuclear test. As explained by the head of the Defense Ministry of the Republic of Korea, the results of inspections made with South Korean and US intelligence equipment of the North Korean nuclear test site near the village of Punggye-ri  in KiljuCounty in North Hamgyeong Province show that they are ready to test, they are only waiting for the order of the government. Tests can be carried out both underground and above-ground.

On April 17, the Yonhap news agency reported a sharp increase in the movement of people and equipment at the Punggye-ri  site and inferred from this that the trial will take place before the beginning of May.

On April 18, the President Park Geun-hye personally stated on the observed signs of preparation for the test: “We are in a situation, in which we do not know whether North Korea could stage provocation as a move to overcome its isolation and to consolidate its internal unity“.

Then a wave of publications appeared that this is how they would celebrate the Army Day, which is celebrated in North Korea on April 25, but, as we see, it’s already May, and the explosion is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, on April 28, the President of the Republic of Korea Park Geun-hye ordered ministries and government agencies to be prepared for North Korea conducting another nuclear test.

However, on May 2, 2016 the US Internet portal 38 North with reference to the results of the analysis of satellite images said that North Korea’s activity at the site near the village of Punggye-ri  of North Hamgyeong Province cannot confidently be considered a sign of preparations for a fifth round of nuclear tests. Yes, in the northern tunnel, where the fourth nuclear test was conducted, there have been sightings of trucks and a bunch of rocks. But it is difficult to say what this is connected to. Not a single person can be seen in the area. However, the website indicates that the North may do the same this time as they did with the fourth nuclear test: carry out it without prior notice.

What is will be tested and why is being actively forecast too. According to an employee of the American Heritage Foundation, Bruce Klingner, there is a high probability, that the tests will involve a nuclear warhead with increased power. Korea University professor Kim Sung-hwan believes that the North will develop charge miniaturization technology. Some experts believe that the reason for this is the coming Congress of the WPK, in anticipation of which Kim Jong-un is going to strengthen his positions and announce the successful testing of a miniaturized nuclear warhead of North Korean production. In this case, the fifth test may be the last step before putting the nuclear weapon into service.

Some statements are simply striking. For example, a representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Korea, Moon Sanyun said that a nuclear test “can be carried out either in the form of an explosion underground, or by detonating the warhead without using nuclear materials.” That is, even if from a technical point of view, a nuclear explosion will not take place, it is considered to have done so simply because the tyrannical regime conducted it.

Naturally, all such statements are accompanied by the rhetoric “we will teach them a lesson”. As the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Daniel Russell said, if the North holds a fifth nuclear test, it would face tougher sanctions, including a ban on exports of workforce. The new sanctions may be unilaterally imposed by the UN Security Council, Washington, by the European Union Member States and Southeast Asia. In addition, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan can take action to strengthen their anti-missile systems and increase their strategic weapons in the region.

What can be said about this? On the one hand, we must remember that after each of the preceding tests, the US-South Korean propaganda immediately increased the hype that North Korea’s next nuclear bomb would be detonated in the near future, and there is plenty of evidence to back it up. In the end, the expansionism and aggression are the indispensable qualities of “the country of darkness.” So talks of the nuclear test in the near future are simply a nod to tradition.

On the other hand, the general development of the situation on the peninsula, in fact, somewhat increases the likelihood that the fifth test is not going to happen in three years, but in a foreseeable future. The general deterioration of the situation, the increased sanctions and the development of the political trends in the Korean peninsula has led to the fact that the North Korean leadership has consolidated its opinion that – North Korea has two allies: its nuclear and missile programs. This means that the North will throw more effort and resources to development of its nuclear missile potential, which periodically need to be tested – not only to show their teeth, but also to check how much we have actually progressed.

It should also be noted that there was not always a specific memorable date for any of North Korea’s nuclear firework show, yet almost every time some propagandist has come up with the assumption that North Korean would certainly launch something on any given occasion. Therefore, there is a chance that the upcoming Congress will be heralded in this way, but it is fairly small. This small probability is based both on the limited resources of North Korea (they do not have infinite amounts of uranium and plutonium), and on the fact that Kim Jong-un realizes just how much it might irritate Beijing and Moscow.

For the rest, the next estimated launch date is scheduled for the nearest future, so very soon our audience will have the chance to find out for themselves how accurate South Korean forecasts really are.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.