Responding to Criticism, N. Korea Threatens to Carry Out 4th Nuclear Bomb Test

By Patrick Goodenough | March 31, 2014 | 4:19 AM EDT

Kim Jong-un’s regime has threatened to carry out “out a new form of nuclear test.” Pyongyang previously tested nuclear bombs in 2006, 2009 and February 2013. (AP Photo, File)

(Update: North and South Korea fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other's waters Monday followoing North Korea's sudden announcement that it would conduct live-fire drills in seven areas north of the Koreas' disputed maritime boundary, the Associated Press reported.)

( – North Korea’s threat to carry out a “new form” of nuclear test follows its previous pattern of citing international criticism as justification for actions which the reclusive Stalinist regime was evidently planning to take anyway.

Its latest threat to carry out what would be its fourth test of a nuclear bomb comes three days after the U.N. Security Council in a statement criticized the March 26 test-firing of two medium-range ballistic missiles; and two days after the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) passed a resolution condemning Pyongyang for “widespread and gross human rights violations.”

The regime’s foreign ministry on Sunday called the Security Council criticism “absolutely intolerable” and said it does “not rule out a new form of nuclear test for bolstering up our nuclear deterrence.” The army would hold drills involving “more diversified nuclear deterrence,” it said.

In a separate statement on Monday, the ministry said it “totally opposes and rejects” the HRC resolution, calling it “a product of the vicious hostile policy towards” North Korea. (The resolution passed by a 30-6 vote, with China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam backing Pyongyang. Eleven members from Africa and Asia abstained.)

Although Sunday’s statement linked the threatened nuclear test directly to the latest U.N. criticism, there have been indications for months that a fourth nuclear test is being planned Among them:

--Last October, commercial satellite imagery pointed to new construction work at Punggye-ri, a military site in the country’s far north-eastern province of North Hamgyong, which was the location of all three previous tests, in 2006, 2009 and February 2013.

--Two months later, the chairman of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee, Cho Won-jin, said there were signs that the North “is preparing to carry out a fourth test.”

--On Feb. 11, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told lawmakers in Seoul that preparations for a fourth test at Punggye-ri now appeared to be complete.

--And on March 14, the North’s National Defense Commission, which is chaired by Kim Jong-un, issued a statement saying the regime would continue efforts “to bolster up its nuclear deterrence” adding that “additional measures will be taken to demonstrate its might.”

A similar pattern was seen before the third nuclear test.

On January 24 last year, North Korea threatened it would test a nuclear device after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution including a tightening of sanctions on Pyongyang – on that occasion in response to a Dec. 2012 satellite launch using ballistic missile technology proscribed under earlier resolutions.

Then, too, it sought to link its threat – which it carried out on Feb. 12 – with the new sanctions, yet satellites had detected preparatory activity at Punggye-ri nine months prior to that, and the regime’s official media outlets had also periodically warned of plans to bolster the “nuclear deterrent.”

On Monday, South Korea’s foreign minister warned North Korea of “consequences” if it went ahead with threats for a fourth test.

“Whether North Korea will conduct a nuclear test ultimately depends on the North’s leadership, but their choice will largely determine the future of North Korea,” Yun Byung-se told a gathering of South Korean diplomats.

Last week’s firing by North Korea of Rodong-class ballistic missiles – boasting a range capable of reaching Japan – was the first incident of its kind in four years. The launch came as President Obama was holding a trilateral summit with the leaders of Japan and South Korea in The Hague.

Obama told reporters at that meeting that close coordination between the three countries over the last five years “has succeeded in changing the game with North Korea.”

“Our trilateral cooperation has sent a strong signal to Pyongyang that its provocations and threats will be met with a unified response, and that the U.S. commitment to the security of both Japan and the Republic of Korea is unwavering, and that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable,” he said.

Meanwhile North Korea on Monday declared a “no-fly, no-sail” zone over an area of sea off the west coast of the Korean peninsula, and then began firing artillery in a sensitive area near the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow