[Freemanlist2] North Korea Did It Again - Dr. Alon Levkowitz
Freeman Center For Strategic Studies
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North Korea Did It Again
by Dr. Alon Levkowitz
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 328
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: North Korean adventurism only adds to Israel’s
proliferation concerns. North Korea's fourth nuclear test, the P5+1
agreement to lift Iranian sanctions, and the billions of dollars' worth in
deals between Tehran and Asian and European companies, together constitute a
significant challenge. In addition, Jerusalem faces a difficult task of
being the watchdog that monitors Iran’s adherence to the nuclear deal. One
of the biggest concerns is that Iran will not openly breach the P5+1
agreement, but rather cooperate with North Korea on a "Back Door" plan
towards the bomb, with North Korea surreptitiously doing the dirty work and
developing a nuclear bomb for Iran. For this reason, Israel has a strong
interest in the further imposition of ever-tighter sanctions on North Korea,
as well as the tightening of intelligence surveillance on Iran-North Korea
On January 6, 2016, North Korea held its fourth nuclear test, proclaiming it
as Pyongyang's first hydrogen (H) bomb. Intelligence communities and
scientists in South Korea and the US have raised doubts concerning North
Korea's capabilities to develop and test the H-bomb. By doing so, South
Korea and the US question Pyongyang's credibility and in turn, minimize the
importance of the fourth nuclear test.
It is important not to rule out the possibility that North Korea has
developed the H-Bomb technology but has yet to test it. Nevertheless, even
if it was just a "regular" nuclear test, it raises many concerns that should
be heeded by North Korea's neighboring states, the US, and even Israel,
especially after the lifting of Iranian sanctions.
North Korea's fourth nuclear test challenges states in its region while it
simultaneously opens windows of opportunities for cooperation between
Japan-South Korea-US-China. However, these countries can only excel in
cooperation if they overcome their regional differences and disagreements
over bilateral and multilateral issues.
It is evident that the nuclear test challenges Japan, South Korea, the US,
and China, as they were unable to deter the DPRK for the fourth time. They
are concerned that Kim Jung-un is willing to take calculated risks, even
when these risks come at a dangerously high price. The biggest concern is
that Kim Jung-un will feel invincible and tempted to pursue North Korea's
brinkmanship policy, leading the region into an undesired conflict.
Nevertheless, North Korea's nuclear test might lead to changes within the
region that Kim Jung-un did not quite anticipate. The first one is the
legitimation of Japan's new defense policy. The North Korean nuclear test
will allow Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to justify his new defense
policy and minimize Asian criticism on said policy. The second is the
potential cooperation between Beijing-Seoul-Tokyo-Washington on North Korean
sanctions. Although the four states disagree on many issues, such as the
Senkaku Islands, Spratly Islands, etc., they understand that without
agreeing on sanctions on the DPRK, Kim Jung-un will not be deterred.
Cooperation between China-South Korea-Japan-US will depend on their
willingness to move forward regardless of their disagreements on other
The North Korean nuclear test is not the only potential threat to the region
and Israel. Their submarine-launched ballistic missile (KN-11) tests in May
2015 and failed test in November 2015 indicates that Pyongyang is developing
its second strike capability. The KN-11 missiles will allow North Korea to
upgrade its deterrence against the US forces and pose a threat to US soil.
Once Pyongyang overcomes the technical failures of the November 2015 test,
it will sell the KN-11 to other states, such as Iran, which will allow
Tehran to improve its deterrence against the Gulf states, Israel, and the
As mentioned in the latter, an additional North Korean threat is the
minimization of the nuclear bomb. Although North Korea tested four nuclear
bombs, they lack the technical ability to mount the bombs onto long-range
missiles. Pyongyang has repeatedly stated that North Korea has indeed
developed this technology, but foreign experts doubt these statements.
However, once Pyongyang develops this technology, it will allow North Korea
to threaten US forces and its allies with nuclear missiles.
What can Japan, South Korea, US, Russia, China, and even Israel do?
Sanctions: Pyongyang needs to understand that continuing this modus operandi
is unacceptable. Otherwise, other states might consider following the North
Korean model. The problem is convincing the UNSC to collectively agree and
apply severe sanctions, regardless if Pyongyang defines them as acts of war.
One could expect that the UNSC will pursue relatively limited sanctions, in
which case, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington should impose additional bilateral
sanctions on North Korea. Limited sanctions will send a message to Pyongyang
and Tehran that the costs of breaching the nuclear norms are not that high.
In this case, Israel should try to convince Washington that without
increasing the sanctions on North Korea, Iran will breach the P5+1 agreement
sooner than President Obama estimated.
Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD): Seoul and Tokyo should consider upgrading
their BMD capabilities. The BMD systems will allow South Korea and Japan to
gain an extra defense shield should North Korea miscalculate a nuclear
missile test. Also, Israel could offer to sell the Iron Dome to Seoul and
Blocking Exports: The sanctions on North Korea will further Pyongyang's
interests in exporting its military equipment to the Middle East to increase
revenues. As a preventative method, Washington and its allies should expand
the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to strengthen the inspection on
North Korean military export. Additionally, Israel should tighten its
relations with intelligence agencies in Asia and the US to monitor and
prevent all shipments to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. For Israel, North
Korean adventurism only adds to Israel’s proliferation concerns. North
Korea's fourth nuclear test, the P5+1 agreement to lift Iranian sanctions,
and the billions of dollars' worth in deals between Tehran and Asian and
European companies, together constitute a significant challenge. In
addition, Jerusalem faces a difficult task of being the watchdog that
monitors Iran’s adherence to the nuclear deal. One of the biggest concerns
is that Iran will not openly breach the P5+1 agreement, but rather cooperate
with North Korea on a "Back Door" plan towards the bomb, with North Korea
surreptitiously doing the dirty work and developing a nuclear bomb for Iran.
For this reason, Israel has a strong interest in the further imposition of
ever-tighter sanctions on North Korea, as well as the tightening of
intelligence surveillance on Iran-North Korea nuclear cooperation.
Dr. Alon Levkowitz specializes in East Asian security, the Korean Peninsula
(foreign, security, politics and history), and Asian international
BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the
Greg Rosshandler Family
IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis
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