The year 2016 kicked off with North Korea announcing it detonated a hydrogen bomb test. This time, Pyongyang has pushed world leaders like the US to introduce tougher sanctions to curtail the country’s nuclear capabilities. This is not the first time the evasive state has disobeyed international protocol, yet Pyongyang has yet to deliver a list of demands in exchange for cooperation. So…what does North Korea want from us?

International response

The nuclear test is allegedly planned ahead for the dear leader Kim Jong-Un’s birthday. The hydrogen bomb is more powerful than the nuclear bomb, but North Korean state media reassured us: “If there’s no invasion on our sovereignty we will not use nuclear weapon. This H-bomb test brings us to a higher level of nuclear power”.  The country is shrouded in mystery, but US intelligence states North Korea could have sufficient plutonium to produce nuclear weapons and long-range missile weapons.

Kim Jong Un,... issued an order to conduct the first H-bomb test of Juche Korea on December 15, Juche 104 (2015) - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Kim Jong Un,… issued an order to conduct the first H-bomb test of Juche Korea on December 15, Juche 104 (2015) – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The UN is prepared to impose the heaviest sanctions the country has ever faced over the years. Further, the UN Commission on Human Rights threatened to charge Kim Jong-Un with gross abuses of human rights. The special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, said: “[It should] be advised and other senior leaders that they may be investigated and, if found to be responsible, held accountable for crimes against humanity committed under their leadership.”

This responsibility falls on the global powers like the US, Russia and predominantly China. On Tuesday, Washington proposed to the Security Council to enforce economic sanctions. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, staunchly said: “These sanctions, if adopted, would send an unambiguous and unyielding message to the DPRK regime: The world will not accept your proliferation. There will be consequences for your actions, and we will work relentlessly and collectively to stop your nuclear program”.

The resolutions include compulsory inspections of any cargoes leaving or entering North Korea, a ban on small arms, limits on aviation fuel, and banning the country from exporting iron, gold and titanium. Moscow has said they needed more time to think, while the Security Council expects China to be firmer with delivering these sanctions since Beijing is Pyongyang’s closest friend. China holds vetoing power, and in the past Beijing has not properly enforced sanctions as it believes sanctions would have a reverse-effect instead.

The rogue state

North Korea came into existence at the end of World War Two. Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, established a Communist government and eventually led an invasion on South Korea in an attempt to reunify the country. The Korean War ceased in 1953, but a ceasefire was never signed and the two Koreas are divided by the Korean Demilitarised Zone.

Under Kim Il-Sung’s rule, he militarised and industrialised the country – but he was also an oppressive ruler. After his death, his son, the late  Kim Jong-Il continued his father’s legacy. He built-up the country’s nuclear capacity while ignoring the desperate famine and poverty that has plagued the country. Although North Korea is small country with a population size of 24 million, it has a reputation as reclusive loose cannon with no apparent desire to open-up to the international community.

Hence, the Six Party Talks was created in 2003 to respond to North Korea’s daring withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The talks required Pyongyang to be: a cooperative member of the global community, restore diplomatic relations with other countries and use nuclear energy peacefully. Members have been debating about complete or partial disarmament of Pyongyang’s weapons. However, North Korea’s continual perverse behaviour has stopped the Six Party Talks from making positive progress.

Timeline of North Korea’s nuclear program

In 1993, the UN accused Pyongyang of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and demanded to have inspections taken place. In the same year, North Korea fired a test medium-range Rodong ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. In the following year, Pyongyang and Washington signed the Agreed Framework which required North Korea to freeze its nuclear programming in exchange for fuel oil and food.

Two years later, the isolated state fired a long-range rocket which flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean, causing much distress to its neighbour. In 2002, Pyongyang became more audacious and expelled UN inspectors while reactivating its main nuclear facility in Yongbyon. On July 2006, North Korea test fired seven missiles including a long-range Taepodong-2 missile which apparently could hit the US.

North Korea's main nuclear facility, Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center by Keith Luse - Licensed by Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

North Korea’s main nuclear facility, Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center by Keith Luse – Licensed by Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Three months later, the country conducted its first test at an underground facility, which prompted the UN to impose Resolution 1718 to ban “the transfer or sales of missiles, combat aircraft, tanks, warships, and nuclear-related products to the government of North Korea”. Things settled in 2008; Washington removed North Korea from the terrorism blacklist while Pyongyang agreed to give access to Yongbyon nuclear site.

In 2009, the erratic leader launched another long-range rocket and even walked out of the Six Party Talks after the UN condemned its actions. Four years later, Pyongyang launched six short-ranged guided missiles.

The world’s most secretive country

It’s hard for the international community to read North Korea like a book as we are all distracted by their eccentricity. Perhaps, like a troublesome child, they want our attention and want us to acknowledge them as a nuclear power.  Thanks to their seemingly trigger-happy and comical leaders, North Korea has become a source of our amusement. And let’s not forget Kim Jong-Un sporting that sweptback bouffant hairstyle which he forced his countrymen to adopt men are forced to adopt, and North Korean hackers breaking into Sony’s computers after The Interview was released.

The Kim family has ruled North Korea like a dynasty – where the father passes his power to the son, whether he is or not he is a competent leader. Just like other tyrants, the elite class enjoy the best. In North Korea, these exquisite luxuries include fine wine, new clothes, ping pong, beach trips and (sporadic) Wi-Fi connections. Choregraphed fancy military parades are dedicated to their supreme ruler, but it does not stop there.  Statues of the cult-like leaders are found across the country and citizens are expected to pay their respects because they believe their leaders have god-like powers.

Propaganda in Gaeseong, North Korea by John Pavelka - Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Propaganda in Gaeseong, North Korea by John Pavelka – Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Like an Orwellian society, the regime eradicates free thought and Big Brother is always there watching you. North Korean defector, Yeonmi Park, claimed state media endlessly indoctrinates citizens to believe their mighty leader could read thoughts. She also said the country was always dark, dirty, had no transportation and spies snooping on disobedient civilians. According to the UN, 10 million North Koreans are living in dire poverty and food production is expected to drop 14 percent due to the drought last year.

Much focus is on the leader Kim Jong-Un; who had a western education and is said to bring about reforms to the country. There was doubt whether this young ruler could have a strong footing in his government, and it is believed this nuclear test was to prove he can lead North Korea to the path to glory. Professor Toshitmitsu Shigemura from Tokyo’s Waseda University commented:

“North Korea has announced that it will hold its first party congress in 35 years in May and Mr Kim may not feel that he has done enough to cement his position, so showing that he now has a hydrogen bomb is calculated to significantly boost his standing”.

Behind North Korea’s wacky antics lies greater ambitions – the desire for us to recognise it as a nuclear power. Kim Jong-Un chose the right moment to test the hydrogen bomb as he knows global leaders are occupied with other conflicts such as Syria to focus their energy on Pyongyang. The rogue nation keeps us hanging by the thread – perhaps this is a deliberate strategy to show us they mean business and they have a bigger bargaining chip.

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Hsin-Yi Lo

Hsin-Yi Lo

I am freelance journalist and writer, and a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Kent. I am originally from Melbourne, Australia.