North Korea is presumed to have completed the physical preparations for a 3rd nuclear test at its Pungye-ri test site in North Hamkyung Province, making the timing of the test the key focus of attention.
As has been widely reported, the presumption that North Korea will conduct a 3rd test stems from precedent, namely that after conducting a Taepodong-2 missile launch in July 2006 Pyongyang went ahead with its first nuclear test in October the same year, and then conducted its second one in May 2009 just one month after doing the same thing. The only thing that is now widely being discussed is the timing.
The South Korean government sees the North’s long-range missile and nuclear tests as part of efforts to secure the regime of Kim Jong Eun. In such a context, the missile launch failure was damaging to the regime’s prestige, and this makes it more likely that the nuclear test will be conducted sooner rather than later.
“Since they cannot say that the Kim Jong Eun regime is strong, they are considering the effects of a nuclear test on regime security,” Oh Gyeong Seob of the Sejong Institute commented. “They have finished the preparations, so now only making a timing choice that can have the greatest possible political effect remains.”
Sohn Gwang Joo of the Gyeonggi Research Insitute agreed, saying, “Rather than dragging it out, it looks like they will probably do it in May.”
“All the physical preparations allowing for the nuclear test seem to have been done. Predicting these things is not easy, but based on the past pattern the possibility of it being this month is there,” Kim Yeon Su of National Defense University added.
However, following the rocket launch of April 13th, the UN Security Council adopted a President’s Statement that noted the UNSC’s determination to act “in the event of a further DPRK launch or nuclear test.” This was designed to put pressure on Pyongyang. In addition, North Korea needs to pay attention to the political situation in China.
“It’s allies in China and Russia are strongly opposed to this, and to that extent it is unclear whether the nuclear test will actually go ahead," Professor Kim concluded.
“North Korea’s aim is to be accepted as a nuclear weapons state,” Sohn added. “While North Korea is going to put pressure on the U.S. in order to obtain more concessions, they will repeat the assertion to China that a Korean Peninsula peace treaty must be concluded.”