North Korea’s Nuclear Test and its Aftermath: Coping with the Fallout

North Korea’s Nuclear Test and its Aftermath: Coping with the Fallout

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CNS Staff

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Since North Korea tested its second nuclear device on May 25, 2009, questions have arisen about what a belligerent, nuclear armed North Korea means to regional and international security. Responding to the nuclear test, along with the recent missile tests, has proved challenging to the countries most invested in the issue of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula—namely the other five countries participating in the Six-Party Talks process. Somewhat ironically, the test has also raised the profile of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and increased the understanding of how the organization can assist nonproliferation and international security.

Soon after the test, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the DPRK's provocative behavior. According to the release, the members of the Security Council "voiced their strong opposition to and condemnation of the nuclear test conducted by the DPRK." The statement then added that council members "decided to start work immediately on a Security Council resolution on this matter." Statements were issued from each of the permanent members of the Security Council that condemned DPRK actions and called for an international response.[1]

On June 12, 2009, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1874 which further tightened existing arms embargos against North Korea and increased the financial restrictions imposed on Pyongyang. Most notably, the new resolution created a legal basis for countries to interdict North Korean ships at sea suspected of carrying items banned by this and other resolutions. According to the resolution, the May 25 test was conducted in "violation and flagrant disregard" of earlier UNSC resolutions, namely 1695 and 1718, both passed in 2006 after North Korea carried out ballistic missile and nuclear tests. UNSCR 1874 also demanded that North Korea "not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology."[2]

The drafting of the resolution was carried out by the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Japan and South Korea.[3] The U.S. delegation had proposed to make cargo inspection to and from North Korea "compulsory" for all UN member states and allowed for a "military option." However, China and the Russian Federation sought a resolution that would avoid military conflict. In the end, the final resolution included a clause which called upon member states to inspect ships, but did not make such efforts mandatory.[4]

North Korea's Foreign Ministry called UNSCR 1874 "another vile product of the U.S.-led offensive of international pressure aimed at undermining the DPRK's ideology and its system chosen by its people by disarming the DPRK and suffocating its economy." According to the statement North Korea rejected the resolution and stipulated three countermeasures "at this early phase of all-out confrontation with the U.S. in order to defend the national dignity and the country's sovereignty." Two of the "countermeasures" referred directly to the further development of fissile materials for the DPRK's nuclear weapons program, namely the weaponization of the plutonium already extracted from the Yongbyon nuclear facility and the commencement of a uranium enrichment program. The third referred actions to be taken if the DPRK is faced with a blockade by U.S. or other forces under the auspices of the new UNSC resolution. According to the statement "An attempted blockade of any kind by the U.S. and its followers will be regarded as an act of war and met with a decisive military response."5]

On June 24, in response to reports that U.S. naval forces were tailing a North Korean flagged ship headed to Myanmar, the North Korean government issued a statement saying that if "the U.S. imperialists start another war, the army and people of Korea will … wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all."[6]

Questions Still Remain about North Korea's Program

North Korea conducted its second nuclear weapon test on May 25, 2009, at 9:54AM local time. According to early estimates from the U.S. government, the test took place 75 km NNW of Kimchaek, North Korea, 95 km SW of Chongjin, North Korea, 180 km SSW of Yanji, Jilin, China and 380 km NE of Pyongyang, North Korea.[7] This placed the 2009 test in the same vicinity of North Korea's first test in October 2006.[8] The first test took place at Mount Mant'ap nuclear test site near the village of Punggye-ri in North Hamgyong Province.

The 2009 test registered 4.7 on the Richter scale according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The test performed in October 2006 registered 4.3. Although there has been no conclusive determination of the exact yield of the explosion, experts point to between 2 to 4 kilotons.[9] In the 2006 explosion, North Korea was reportedly hoping for a 4 kt yield, but only achieved about 0.8 kt. While the yield of 4 kt is considered low, some analysts remain concerned that North Korea is testing lower yield devices in an effort to miniaturize its warhead in order place it on a ballistic missile.

The test came as no real surprise to most analysts; North Korea had threatened to resume its nuclear program – including tests – after the UN Security Council formally criticized the DPRK's April 2009 ballistic missile test as a violation of UNSC resolution 1718.[10] That resolution, passed in the wake of the first North Korean nuclear test in 2006 had, among other requirements, called for the suspension of all DPRK ballistic missile activities. In announcing the May 25 test, North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) noted that that the DPRK had carried out a nuclear test that "was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control." The test will, according to KCNA "contribute to safeguarding our sovereignty and socialism and guaranteeing peace and safety on the Korean peninsula and the surrounding region."[11]

In the aftermath of the nuclear test North Korea also conducted a number of short range missile tests. On May 25, the same day as the nuclear test, the DPRK test fired two short range missiles.[12] The May 25 missile test was followed up by the launching of three more short range missiles on May 26 and another test on May 29.[13] Additionally, numerous sources point to a likely repeat of the April 2009 ballistic missile test in the works, with indications that a Taepodong-2 has been moved to the Dongchang-ri missile facility in western North Korea.

The Dongchang-ri site is newer than the previous launch facility — Musadan-ri on the eastern coast — and not fully completed. The new site in the west is more advanced and apparently equipped with automated systems for fueling the missile; the launch pad is also 10 meters higher. According to one article in the Choson Ilbo, ROK government sources believe one reason for using the Dongchang-ri site is that if "the missile crosses North Korea on an eastward trajectory, it can travel a longer distance than if it was fired from Musudan-ri, while making it easier to track and gather data from radar and other facilities in the North." Additionally, from this site North Korea might be able to test at a trajectory that would not take it through Japanese airspace, and therefore remove the justification for Japan to try to use missile defense to intercept the rocket.[14]

Somewhat puzzling for many experts was the lack of detectable radionuclides in the atmosphere after the May 25 test. Some suspect that North Korea purposely designed the test to minimize the leakage of these particles—and thus removed some ability of the international community to fully analyze this explosion. Experts have also speculated that one reason behind the May missile launches that followed the nuclear test was to keep U.S. and South Korean reconnaissance aircraft at a distance so they could not effectively test the atmosphere for nuclear particles.[15]

The Test and the CTBTO

Ironically, one positive take-away from the test has been the increased confidence placed in the International Monitoring System (IMS) of the CTBTO. After North Korea threatened to test again in April 2009, the CTBTO's International Data Center (IDC) prepared for the possibility of test. The IDC is in charge of analyzing all information received from the hundreds of stations worldwide that make up the IMS. As concerns over the possibility of a new test increased, the IDC took a number of measures, including staffing the center round the clock, an action which will not likely occur regularly until after the CTBT enters into force. Preparations were also made by the CTBTO Public Information Section to ensure that if a nuclear test occurred, the organization would be able to quickly alert both member states and the media. 

According to an official CTBTO press release issued the day of the test, 23 primary seismic stations and 16 auxiliary seismic stations of the IMS detected signals from the DPRK's underground nuclear test at 00:54:43 GMT. The seismic signal made it clear to the IDC that the event was man-made.[16] Immediately after the seismic signal was received, CTBTO Executive Secretary Ambassador Tibor Toth released an official statement saying that the "DPRK's action is a serious violation of the norm established by the CTBT and as such deserves universal condemnation."[17] Later that day, Ambassador Toth, IDC Director Lassina Zerbo, and IDC staff member John Coyne briefed CTBT member states on the IDC's findings. Shortly after, Ambassador Toth, Public Information Section Chief Annika Thunborg, and John Coyne met with members of the press and presented a similar briefing.

On 26 May, the Chairman of the CTBTO, Ambassador Peter Shannon of Australia, convened a meeting of States Signatories of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in which the DPRK's nuclear test was discussed. Statements made during this meeting by delegations condemned the actions of the DPRK and expressed appreciation for the quick response of the CTBT and the overall effectiveness of the IMS.

While the DPRK's nuclear test can be seen as threatening the overall mission of the CTBTO, the performance of the IMS and increased publicity for the organization may help create positive political momentum for the CTBT. The CTBTO's contributions to strengthening international nuclear nonproliferation and security are now more widely appreciated.  The extent to which the IMS was able to detect this test appears to have increased its credibility and demonstrated the difficulty of conducting nuclear test without being detected.

Reaction of Major Stakeholders


In response to the nuclear test, the Obama administration has pushed forcefully for international action to effectively punish Pyongyang. This is in contrast to Washington's more timid reaction to the rocket launch in April, when the Obama administration called only for an adjustment of the sanctions already imposed by UNSCR 1718.[18] However the latest activities by North Korea have created a general perception in the Obama administration that constant negotiations and give-and-take with Pyongyang has been futile.[19]

Shortly after the test, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called North Korea's actions "provocative and belligerent."[20] Clinton reiterated the intent of the UN resolution "to add to the consequences that North Korea will face coming out of the latest behavior with the intent to try to rein in the North Koreans and get them back into a framework where they are once again fulfilling their obligations and moving toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."[21]

The Obama administration pressed its international partners—particularly those involved in the Six-Party Talks—to have a "unified response" to the nuclear test. The State Department sent delegations to Singapore, Beijing, Seoul, and Moscow to discuss security issues as a result of North Korea's tests. President Barack Obama, along with other senior U.S. officials, have also reassured South Korea and Japan that the United States remains committed to their defense.

In a June 16 press conference along side visiting ROK President Lee Myung-bak, President Obama reiterated that North Korea would not be recognized as a legitimate nuclear weapon state and that the United States and its partners would "pursue denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula vigorously." Obama noted further that in light of the past behavior of the DPRK in "constantly threatening their neighbors" that a nuclear armed North Korea "would be a destabilizing situation that would be a profound threat to not only the United States' security but world security." President Obama also expressed concern over North Korea's bad track record with regards to the proliferation of WMD-related materials to both state and non-state actors.[22]

In what appears to be an early indication of U.S. seriousness about implementing UNSCR 1874, U.S. naval forces began tracking a North Korean flagged ship on June 17 as it left port, apparently heading for Myanmar.[23] Although some reports indicated that the ship was carrying weapons, other sources seem to indicate that there is no solid information as to whether the ship is carrying banned materials or not. It is also unclear whether U.S. or other forces will be able to take any action on this ship as it is unlikely that the North Korean captain will allow boarding. Highlighting a weakness in UNSCR 1874, no ship boarding can proceed without approval from the country to which the ship is flagged.


In a South Korean government statement issued following the test, Seoul condemned the nuclear blast as constituting "a grave challenge to the international nonproliferation regime."[24] The statement pointed out that North Korea's nuclear test contradicted "the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agreements reached at the Six-Party Talks," was "a provocation that can never be tolerated under any circumstances," and a violation of UNSCR 1718.[25]

Immediately following the test, Presidents Lee and Obama agreed to "seek a stern, unified international reaction."[26] It was also reported that President Obama stated that the United States would continue to "provide a strong nuclear deterrence for South Korea."[27] On June 16, the two leaders met in Washington DC as part of a state visit by President Lee. At that meeting, Lee and Obama agreed that "under no circumstances" would North Korea be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. Lee continued that the North Korean leadership would "think twice about taking any measures that they will regret," noting that although North Korea may be tempted to attack South Korea, it would be deterred by the strong U.S.-South Korean defense alliance.[28]

In direct reaction to the test, South Korea announced on May 26 that it would fully participate in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). In its announcement Seoul stated that it had "decided to endorse the PSI principles," but "the Inter-Korean Maritime Traffic Agreement reached between South and North Korea will continue to be effective."[29] Since North Korea's rocket launch in April 2009, South Korea had been indicating that it would become a full participant in the PSI, despite concerns that Pyongyang would view Seoul's participation in the initiative as provocative and a further detriment to inter-Korean relations. Indeed North Korea has consistently stated that it would consider such a move as a declaration of war. Following South Korea's announcement, Pyongyang declared that it would attack South Korea if any of its ships were searched; it further stated that the 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War was no longer valid.[30]

North Korea's demonstration of missile technology and nuclear capability has sparked calls from within South Korea to explore its own deterrent options, such as the enhancement of its missile capability. Following the nuclear test, an editorial in Chosun Ilbo, a conservative newspaper, argued that South Korea needs its own deterrent capabilities.[31] Following the April missile test, some government officials, including Prime Minster Han Seung-soo and Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, had  implied that Seoul should consider building-up its missile capability and extending the range of South Korean missiles past the current 300km limit.[32]

Since the inauguration of more conservative Lee Myung-bak's government in February 2008, relations between Seoul and Pyongyang have been steadily deteriorating. The DPRK's second nuclear test, along with the missile launches and South Korea's official participation in the PSI, have also negatively affected the economic ties between Seoul and Pyongyang. On June 11, 2009, in a meeting between North and South Korean officials regarding the Kaesong Industrial Complex, North Korean officials demanded a four-fold increase in the salaries of workers in the complex. South Korean officials have stated that this, and other excessive demands from the DPRK, will likely doom the Kaesong project, as many South Korean investors will pull out of the complex for more stable options in China or other Asian countries.[33]

Public reaction to the test was relatively muted in South Korea, in large part due to the national pre-occupation with the suicide of former president Roh Moo Hyun. Some analysts saw the timing of the test as being a deliberate attempt by Pyongyang to threaten the Lee administration's viability, which was already suffering from the backlash related to Roh's death. Many believe Roh killed himself in response to the unfair persecution by the current administration.[34]


In Tokyo, the response to the DPRK test has also been notable. Prime Minister Taro Aso strongly condemned the nuclear test as an "intolerable act that poses a significant threat to the national security of Japan as well as the peace and safety of the northeast Asian region and the entire international community."[35] Both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Japanese Diet unanimously adopted resolutions denouncing North Korea's actions.[36]

After the Japanese Meteorological Agency detected seismic activities on May 25, they were quick to suspect a nuclear weapon test. The agency reported the seismic readings from North Korea to the Crisis Management Center of the Prime Minister's office approximately 15 minutes after the test took place. This swiftness was a notable improvement from the reaction to the test in 2006, when the agency took almost 90 minutes to report its detection of the suspect seismic activity.[37]

Immediately following the test, the Japanese government requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting to condemn Pyongyang. President Obama and Prime Minister Aso conferred via telephone following the test and agreed tough action from the Security Council was warranted. President Obama also reassured Prime Minister Aso in that conversation that Washington would keep its commitment to defending Japan and maintaining peace and security in Northeast Asia.[38] Additionally, Aso talked with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and both leaders confirmed the importance of tripartite cooperation with the United States.[39]

Japan was heavily involved with the crafting of UNSCR 1874. Japan, along with the United States and South Korea, stressed that the new resolution should include a provision that allows the use of force in conducting cargo inspections of North Korean vessels suspected of carrying WMD-related items. However, China and Russia expressed opposition to that idea.[40] The United States, Japan and South Korea agreed to pursue a strong and unified approach. In a joint statement, the three countries called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).[41] On June 16, following the adoption of the UNSCR 1874, the Japanese Cabinet decided to completely prohibit exports to North Korea and further strengthen restrictions on personnel exchange.[42] In response to the UNSC resolution, the Japanese government submitted to the Diet a bill that enables the Japanese Coast Guard to inspect North Korean cargo on the high seas. Under current Japanese laws, the Coast Guard is not allowed to inspect foreign-flagged ships. While it is not clear whether or not the proposed new law will assign the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force to inspect vessels, some politicians have argued that both the Maritime Self Defense Force and Coast Guard should be allowed to conduct inspection.  However, there is still significant reluctance to involve the Self Defense Forces in such an operation.[43]

North Korea's brinkmanship has emboldened many of Japan's more hawkish politicians. Several politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) National Defense Division subcommittee proposed to incorporate the option of preemptive strikes in the Japan's new National Defense Program Guidelines, which is to be issued at the end of 2009.[44] On June 9, the LDP's defense-policy panels proposed in a report that Japan should have the capability to strike an enemy's missile launch sites, although the report specifically states that Japan will not launch preventive, preemptive attacks due to cautious opinions expressed by several panel members.  The proposal is scheduled to be submitted to Prime Minister Aso soon.  However, some analysts still doubt that this proposal will find its way into the final version of the guidelines as it would be seen as too militaristic for the current pacifist-oriented political culture in Japan.[45] However analysts have also expressed concern that the test could revive debate on Japan's nuclearization and bring about more hawkish defense policies in Tokyo.[46]


North Korea's nuclear test has posed a serious challenge to China, a country with an important stake in the stability of the region. China reacted to North Korea's latest nuclear test with a strong statement expressing its "resolute opposition" and demanding that "North Korea keep its promise of denuclearization and cease all actions that could further worsen the situation."[47] In what was seen as an outward indication of its increasing displeasure with Pyongyang, Beijing cancelled a scheduled visit to North Korea by Chen Zhili, National People's Congress Standing Committee Vice-Chair, and planned visits by DPRK officials to China.[48]

Official Chinese positions in the aftermath of the test have been unequivocal. Not only have foreign ministry spokespersons denounced the test, but high-ranking officers in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have also voiced strong objections. Chinese defense minister General Liang Guanglie, during talks with his South Korean counterpart, warned against any further provocation by North Korea and called on Pyongyang to return to the Six-Party Talks. PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, speaking at the IISS 2009 Asian Security Summit in Singapore, reiterated China's opposition to nuclear proliferation, adding that "the Korean peninsula should move toward denuclearization."[49]

Analyses by Chinese experts reflect a spectrum of perspectives on the future of the Six-Party Talks, the underlying rationales behind the North Korean nuclear test, and the impacts on China's North Korea policy. While very few analysts advocated discarding the Six-Party Talks, most were sanguine about the prospect of the multilateral negotiation process for peninsular denucleraization. Professor Yan Xuetong, a prominent Chinese analyst, suggested that even if the talks resume the nature of negotiation would most likely have changed from nuclear disarmament to nuclear nonproliferation. Zhang Lianhui, a professor at the Chinese Communist Party's Central Party School, echoed this view. Indeed, he argued that North Korea has never considered giving up its nuclear weapons program. What it has done so far were just delaying tactics in order to get maximum economic benefits.[50]

Some Chinese analysts see North Korea's nuclear test as an inevitable development given Pyongyang's threat perceptions and the country's domestic politics surrounding the issue of Kim Jong-il's successor. They point out that Pyongyang was disillusioned by what it considered as the "benign neglect" of the Obama administration's policy toward the DPRK. In addition, the policy of the conservative government of South Korean President Lee is seen by the North as hostile and a major departure from the "sunshine" policy of his predecessors. According to these experts, Pyongyang seeks to gain recognition of its nuclear weapons state status and forces the Obama administration to change its North Korea policy.[51]

Finally, some Chinese analysts are calling for a serious reassessment of Beijing's DPRK policy and its underlying assumptions. They argue that North Korea's test seriously undermines China's security by strengthening military alliances between the United States, Japan and South Korea, and could lead to regional arms races and trigger nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia. There are calls for Beijing to harden its positions on Pyongyang, including the use of economic leverage to send a clear signal to North Korea.[52] A survey of 20 top Chinese foreign policy experts conducted right after the test reveals that half of them are in favor of tougher sanctions.[53]

Beijing has for a long time maintained that denuclearization, peace and stability on the peninsula, and the security concerns of the relevant parties should all be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue. Chinese efforts in the past six years since the initiation of the Six-Party Talks have contributed to a number of specific steps toward the nuclear disablement process. At the same time, questions remain as to whether Beijing has exerted enough pressure over its unwieldy former ally and what else can and should be done to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiation table and toward the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program.[54]

Clearly, Beijing is deeply upset by North Korea's brazen actions. But whether this would be China's time of reckoning in reassessing the values of its ties with Pyongyang remains to be seen. However frustrated with Pyongyang's behavior, Beijing may still consider it imperative to look for a balanced approach to this difficult problem.[55] While Beijing's endorsement of the resolution 1874 reflects its decision to support the international community's unified response and the need to penalize Pyongyang for its provocative actions, the real test lies in whether, how, and to what extent China will enforce some of the provisions contained in the resolution, such as cargo searches and restrictions on financial dealings with the DPRK.


A Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) statement released on May 25 strongly condemned the nuclear explosion as a "violation of UN Security Council resolution 1718." Moscow called on Pyongyang to "show a responsible approach proceeding from the interests of maintaining stability in the region, the sustainability of the WMD nonproliferation regime, respect and observance of the decisions of the UN Security Council." The statement continued that "while recognizing the lawful concerns of the DPRK, we perceive no realistic alternative to ensuring its security other than on politico-diplomatic lines, through the creation of appropriate regional institutions involving all concerned parties."[56]

Moscow's overall response to Pyongyang's nuclear test has been deliberate, yet resolute. Russian diplomats pledged to work out a strong and consensus-based UN Security Council resolution. However, various actors in Moscow have counseled patience, stressing that further isolation of Pyongyang would prove ineffective.[57] Soon after the test, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Borodavkin stated that Russia would not use "unilateral sanctions of any kind."[58] Russian MFA spokesman Andrey Nesterenko further noted on May 28 that "we should not use the language of sanctions but that we need to show self-possession and patience and to hold consultations on all the questions of concern to the parties dealing with this problem."[59] Another MFA source was quoted as saying that "the main thing now is to avoid hysteria" similar to the one in the wake of DPRK's rocket launch.[60] Reports also indicated that, unlike the first test in 2006, Pyongyang did not relay to Moscow through "official" diplomatic and military channels what "time … the test would be carried out."[61]

In a somewhat embarrassing reprise, Russia's Ministry of Defense rushed to provide to the press a gross overestimate of the test yield. According to an early report by the ministry, the nuclear explosion appeared equivalent to 10-20 kilotons.[62] However, unlike in October 2006, when Russia's then-Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov raised eyebrows by his inaccurate assessment, high level officials have abstained from making public statements on technical details.

Moscow expressed support for a "strong" Security Council resolution that would "help practically prevent the further erosion of the nuclear nonproliferation regime" and at the same time avoid "punishing North Korea just for the sake of punishing it."[63] "Although some new restrictions against North Korea cannot be avoided, these measures must be targeted, proportionate to the threat of nuclear proliferation and reversible," Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vitaliy Churkin stated in a June 2 interview.[64] Some analysts have interpreted Russia's support for a "strong" UNSC resolution as move to adopt "a more active, tougher stance" towards the DPRK.[65] Indeed, Lavrov's April 2009 visit to Pyongyang did not culminate in a meeting with Kim Jong-il. In a press conference immediately after this visit, however, the diplomat stated that he believed that Pyongyang stood "ready to reaffirm its commitment to the principles" of the September 2005 agreement from the Six-Party Talks. Lavrov, however, questioned the readiness of "all other parties … not merely to reaffirm this document, but also to fulfill the obligations assumed under it."[66] He raised this issue again this in a May 27 statement.[67] In the wake of the test, Moscow postponed "for an indefinite period of time due to technical reasons" the visit of a Russia-North Korea intergovernmental commission to Pyongyang.[68]

Moscow welcomed the adoption of the UNSC resolution in a June 12 release. In that statement, the Russian MFA noted that: "We regard the resolution as being well-considered and adequate to the situation, and especially note the proper balance kept in it between the very tough sanctions package, which is nevertheless within the scope of Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and a clear-cut positive alternative." Further, Russia called on the DPRK "to correctly perceive the will of the international community expressed in the resolution, to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing military nuclear-missile programs, to return to the NPT, CTBT and the IAEA safeguards regime, and to resume its participation in the Six-Party Talks with a view to finding a mutually acceptable politico-diplomatic untangling of the present knot of contradictions." "We also expect all the relevant parties to avoid any actions that might exacerbate tension," the MFA statement stressed.[69]

Responding to Pyongyang's provocative response to the Security Council's passage of resolution 1874 on June 18, Russian MFA spokesman Andrey Nesterenko pointed to the "deep sadness of the fact that a UN-member state demonstratively declares its refusal to comply with the UNSC resolution." Nesterenko underlined the resolution's "weighted and balanced character" and noted that it was "largely due to the efforts of Russia and China, the envisaged sanctions are applied in accordance with Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which does not foresee the use of military force."[70]


North Korea's intentions surrounding the nuclear test remain unclear. Some argue that the purpose and timing of the test were aimed at gaining concessions from the Obama and Lee administrations. Others argue that the timing points to a power struggle within North Korea for the successor to Kim Jong-il who is very ill.[71] Still others argue that the test was aimed at increasing regime security and assuring survivability.[72] But clearly, a consensus is forming. For years, analysts have debated on the rationales and motivations behind North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Some argue that Pyongyang was seeking to strengthen its bargaining position and therefore it might accept nuclear disarmament in exchange for political and diplomatic recognition, economic assistance, and security guarantee. Now it appears that Kim Jong-il's regime has no intention of giving up its nuclear arsenal. Instead, it is currently demanding that it be recognize as a nuclear weapon state, no matter what incentives the outside world may offer.[73]

This has enormous implication for the international community and the policy options of the major stakeholders. For instance, recent events will lead to another long hiatus, if not the obituary, for the eventful Six-Party Talks. Additionally, if nuclear disarmament is no longer in the cards, at least not in the short term, then the focus must be on containment in two ways. One focus, which deals with vertical proliferation issues, is to contain North Korea's abilities to weaponize and to develop long-range ballistic missile capabilities. In that context, financial restrictions and tightened arms embargoes on critical items and technologies, and on-board cargo searches of suspected shipments of these articles, would be essential to the success of the containment strategy.

A second strategy, focusing more on horizontal proliferation, is to prevent North Korea from transferring critical materials and technologies to potential WMD aspiring states, entities, and/or individuals in accordance with both UNSC resolutions 1874 and 1540. The latest mandates contained in resolution 1874 and the declared mission of the PSI would serve this purpose. South Korea's decision to participate in the PSI is a welcome addition to this unique multilateral effort. But gaining China's support, even if Beijing chooses to remain outside the initiative officially, would be equally, if not more, important in the successful implementation of the most recent resolution.

The international community faces challenges ahead. Implementing resolution provisions requires cooperation among member states, which in turn is possible only if better and timely intelligence sharing and policy coordination can be achieved. At the same time, cargo searches remain a sensitive and dangerous undertaking given the risk of military clashes and escalation of tension should North Korea resist such actions. Minimizing potential military conflicts while maximizing the deterrent affects on potential transfers and/or acquisitions of WMD materials remains a delicate balancing act for all concerned.

Finally, UNSC sanctions should be viewed as a means aimed to achieve broader objectives over the long term: denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace and stability in Northeast Asia. They serve as a strong signal to Pyongyang that provocation and defiance do not pay and only cause the regime greater hardship as well as further isolation. By focusing on a limited set of clearly defined targets, the sanctions, if rigorously implemented and enforced, could have the desired results without in any significant way inflicting unnecessary sufferings on the innocent North Korean people. The international community has spoken. Now it is the time to act, and in a unified manner.

* Contributors to this piece include Mimi Dougherty, Zachary Johnson, Dongjoon Kim, Stephanie Lieggi, Anya Loukianova, Masako Toki, and Jing-dong Yuan.


[1] "UN Security Council Quick to Condemn Nuclear Test,"  Dong-a Ilbo, May 27, 2009,
[2] "Security Council imposes tougher sanctions on DPR Korea," UN News Center, June 12, 2009,
[3] U.N. Members Strike Final Deal Over N. Korean Resolution," Japan Economic Newswire, June 10, 2009, in LexisNexis
[4] "Resolution 1874 (2009), Adopted by the Security Council at its 6141st meeting, on 12 June 2009,"
[5] "DPRK Foreign Ministry Declares Strong Counter- Measures against UNSC's 'Resolution 1874'," KCNA, June 13, 2009,
[6] Hyung-Jin Kim, "N. Korea threatens US; world anticipates missile," Associated Press, June 24, 2009,
[7] United States Geological Survey, "Magnitude 4.7 – NORTH KOREA," USGC website, May 25, 2009,
[8] United States Geological Survey, "Magnitude 4.3 – NORTH KOREA," USGC website, October 9, 2006,
[9] Paul Eckert, "North Korea dangers lurk whatever nuclear test result," Reuters, June 1, 2009,
[10] Chang, Jae-Soon, 2009, "NKorea Threatens Nuclear, Missile Tests," Associated Press,
[11] "KCNA Report on One More Successful Underground Nuclear," KCNA, May 25, 2009,
[12] "N.K. fires missiles from east coast," Korean Herald, May 27, 2009,
[13] "N. Korea Restarted Yongbyon Nuke Facility," Korea Times, May 27, 2009,; "Still more on North Korea apparently preparing ICBM test – Yonhap," BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, May 30, 2009, in Lexis-Nexis.
[14] "South Korean daily looks at North's new western testing site," via BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific – June 3, 2009, in Lexis Nexis.
[15] Jung Sung-ki, "No Radioactive Materials Found Since Nuclear Test," Korea Times, June 4, 2009,
[16] "CTBTO's Initial Findings on the DPRK's 2009 Announced Nuclear Test," CTBTO Official Press Release, May 25, 2009, Although the DPRK announced that it had successfully conducted a nuclear test, the CTBTO has not officially referred to the event as nuclear in nature due to the lack of radionuclide and noble gas evidence in the atmosphere.
[17] "Official Statement Made By CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Toth in regards to the 2009 DPRK Nuclear Test," May 25, 2009,
[18] East Asia Nonproliferation Program, "The North Korean Rocket Launch: International Reactions and Implications," James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, April 27, 2009,
[19] "What 'Engagement' with Iran and North Korea Means," Washington Post, June 16, 2009.
[20] "Clinton Warns North Korea," CNN video broadcast, May 27, 2009,
[21] Ibid.
[22] "Remarks by President Obama and President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea in joint press availability," White House website, June 16, 2009,
[23] Jay Solomon and Yochi J. Dreazen "U.S. Keeps Close Eye On North Korean Ship," Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2009,
[24] "Government Statement on North Korean Nuclear Test," Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea website, May 25, 2009,
[25] Ibid.
[26] "Lee, Obama Agreed to Tough Reaction to NK," Korea Times, May 26, 2009, in Lexis-Nexis,
[27] Ibid.
[28] "Obama: Nuclear N. Korea poses 'grave threat'," Associated Press, June 16, 2009,
[29] "Spokesperson's Press Briefing" by Spokesperson and Deputy Minister for Public Relations Moon Tae-young of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 26 May 2009,
[30] Blaine Harden, "North Korea Threatens To Attack South," Washington Post, May 28, 2009.
[31] "S.Korea May Need Its Own Deterrent," Chosun Ilbo, in BBC Monitoring, 26 May 2009, Lexis-Nexis,
[32] "Calls for Greater Missile Range for S.Korea," ChosunIlbo, 8 April 2009. This limit is in part based on a bilateral agreement between Seoul and Washington in which South Korea agreed to keep its missile range at 300km in exchange for U.S. support for Seoul's entrance into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2001.
[33] Lim Chang-Won, "N.Korea demands extra payments for Kaesong: Seoul," AFP, June 11, 2009.
[34] Moon Ihlwan, "Korea: Roh's Death and a Nuke Test," Business Week, May 25, 2009,
[35] "Japan Aso Slams North Korea for Nuke Test," Jiji Press Ticker Service, May 25, 2009,
[36] "North Korea Conducts Nuclear Test," Jiji Press Ticker Service, May 25, 2009, Lexis Nexis,
[37] "Kakujikken to Misairu Doji toha, souteigai ni Kankeibusho mo Odoroki, [Japan's relevant agencies surprised due to almost simultaneous tests of nuclear and missiles]", Yomiuri Shimbun, May 26, 2009,
[38] "Aso, Obama Agree on Need for Strong UNSC Resolution against N. Korea," Jiji Press Ticker Service, May 26, 2009, in Lexis Nexis,
[39] Ibid.
[40] Peter Alford, "Arguing delays UN response to N-test," Weekend Australian, May 30, 2009, in Lexis Nexis,
[41] "Japan, U.S., S. Korea Agree on Strong Approach to N. Korea" Jiji Press, May 30, 2009.
[42] "Japan decides to impose additional sanctions on N. Korea," Japan Economic Newswire, June 16, 2009,
[43] "MSDF, JCG to inspect North Korea-linked cargo," Daily Yomiuri, June 25, 2009,
[44] "Japan should have ability to strike enemy bases in defense: LDP panel," Japan Today,
[45] "LDP proposes Japan obtain ability to hit enemy's missile launch sites," Japan Economic Newswire, June 9, 2009,
[46] "Japanese A-bomb survivors angered by North Korea's second nuclear test," BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, May 25, 2009, Lexis Nexis,
[47] Press Conference by Chinese MFA Spokesperson, May 25, 2009,
[48] "China Suspends North Korea Exchanges, Yonhap Reports,", June 1, 2009,
[49] "China army general says North Korea must denuclearize," Reuters, May 29, 2009,
[50] "Exclusive: Yan Xuetong Argues that NK Test Has Changed Subject for Talks,", May 25, 2009,; "Expert: North Korea Determined to Develop Nukes," Shijie Xinwenbao, May 31, 2009,
[51] Liu Junbo, "Behind North Korea's Brinkmanship," China Institute of International Studies, May 27, 2009,
[52] "North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program Endangers China," Shijie Xinwenbao, May 31, 2009,; Global Times, May 27, 2009,
[53] Barbara Demick, "China Debates Its Bond with North Korea," Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2009,
[54] "Tipping Point for the Six-Party Talks?" Issues & Insights 9:8 (May 2009), Pacific Forum CSIS,
[55] Christopher Bodeen, "Analysis: NKorea Nuke Test Won't Break China Ties," Associated Press, May 30, 2009,; and Mark Landler and David E. Sanger, "U.S. Presses China for Tough Response to North Korea," New York Times, May 29, 2009,
[56] Statement of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 828-25-05-2009, May 25, 2009, The main points of the MFA statement were reiterated by a presidential spokesperson, see "Russia condemns declared N. Korea nuke test," Interfax, May 25, 2009.
[57] See statement by Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma's international affairs committee, "New sanctions against N. Korea would be a mistake," Interfax, May 25, 2009.
[58] "Moscow says N. Korea can still be persuaded to rejoin six-party talks," Interfax, May 25, 2009.
[59] "Outcome of OIC Council of Foreign Ministers and Sergey Lavrov's Bilateral Talks Held during Visits to Damascus and Beirut," Briefing by Russian MFA Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko, May 28, 2009,
[60] "Russia wants to avoid hysterical international reactions to North Korean test-diplomat," Interfax, May 25, 2009.
[61] "Pkhenyan ne uvedomlyal Moskvu o provedenii yadernogo vzryva," Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 25, 2009,
[62] "Underground nuclear blast equivalent to up to 20 kilotons staged in N. Korea—Russian official," Interfax, May 25, 2009.
[63] Comments made by Churkin, "Russia will support tough UN Security Council resolution on North Korea," Interfax, May 27, 2009. Comments made by Lavrov, "UN SC resolution on N. Korea should be tough-Lavrov," and "Stalled six-party talks not just fault of N. Korea-Lavrov," May 27, 2009, Interfax.
[64] Vladislav Vorobyev, "Vitaliy Churkin: Sovbez gotovit silnoye rescheniye," (UNSC is readying a tough decision) Rossiyskaya Gazeta, June 2, 2009,
[65] Philip Pan, "After Initial Mild Reaction, Kremlin May Consider Tougher Stance on Tests," Washington Post, May 28, 2009,
[66] Transcript of Remarks by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Joint Press Conference Following Talks with ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan, Seoul, 666-25-042009, April 24, 2009,
[67] "Stalled six-party talks not just fault of N. Korea-Lavrov," Interfax, May 27, 2009.
[68] "Meeting of Russia-N. Korea intergovt commission postponed," Interfax, May 26, 2009.
[69] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Statement of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 944-12-06-2009, June 12, 2009,
[70] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brifing ofitsialnogo prestavitelya Rossii A.A. Nesterenko (Briefing by the official Russian representative A.A. Nesterenko), June 18, 2009,
[71] Jim Walsh, MIT Research Associate, in interview with Kiran Chetry "North Korea Nuclear Threat," CNN video broadcast, May 25, 2009,; Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Heejin Koo, "Obama North Korea Options May Be Limited by Regime Power Shift," Bloomberg, May 27, 2009,
[72] Daniel Pinkston from the International Crisis Group in an interview with CNN, "North Korea Motives," CNN video broadcast, May 25, 2009,
[73] Victor Cha, "Up Close and Personal, Here Is What I Learned," Washington Post, June 14, 2009,

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