North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric — which has included a threat to conduct a third nuclear test and launch more long-range rockets — and its description of the United States as a “sworn enemy” should compel the Obama administration to rethink its policy toward the secretive, Stalinist nation, analysts say.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sunday vowed to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures” in retaliation for a U.N. resolution last week that reprimanded his government for launching a rocket in December and imposed more sanctions.
“We really need to think differently about this,” said Joel Wit, a former State Department official who manages 38 North, a program of the School of Advanced International Studies’ U.S.-Korea Institute that is devoted to analysis of North Korea.
“North Korea is on a trajectory to becoming a small nuclear power,” he said. “All that they are doing is designed to meet that objective.”
North Korea called the U.N. resolution an act of war and maintains that it has the right to launch a satellite into orbit as part of its civilian space program. Weapons experts say such launches allow North Korea to develop the technology to build intercontinental ballistic missiles.
At a meeting with top security and Communist Party officials, Mr. Kim “advanced specific tasks to the officials concerned,” the Korean Central News Agency reported. It did not say what measures were planned.
The Obama administration has kept open the door for dialogue with North Korea. Last week, the top U.S. official for North Korea policy, Glyn Davies, said the United States is “willing to extend our hand, if Pyongyang chooses the path of peace and progress by letting go of its nuclear weapons and its multistage missiles.”
However, he added, further provocations from North Korea would make dialogue much more difficult.
“Just because we are open to dialogue doesn’t mean that that is an effective policy,” said Mr. Wit. “We need to give some serious thought to how to stop the continuing deterioration of this situation. We really haven’t done that. It’s like our policy is on autopilot, and this is a serious situation.”
“We are kind of in a death spiral in terms of our policy toward North Korea, and we can’t get out of it,” he added.
Meanwhile, Japan on Sunday launched two intelligence satellites amid concerns in Tokyo about North Korea’s threats.
The latest warning from North Korea followed an essay in Rodong Sinmun, a state-owned newspaper, that said a nuclear test was “the demand of the people.”
Recent satellite photographs of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northeastern North Korea show that the site is in a state of readiness and that the North Koreans can conduct a test in a few weeks, once a decision is made, according to a 38 North analysis.
North Korea has twice before conducted nuclear tests. Both tests — in 2006 and 2009 — were in response to U.N. sanctions for launching long-range rockets.
In April 2009, North Korea quit talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia aimed at ending its nuclear program. The next year, it revealed an industrial-scale uranium-enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex to visiting U.S. scientists.
North Korea’s actions have created an environment where it is harder for the other parties to reach out to Pyongyang, said Scott Snyder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“More significantly, North Korea’s actions are signaling a lack of readiness on North Korea’s part for that kind of dialogue in the first place,” Mr. Snyder said. “Unless the North Koreans signal a willingness themselves to engage in diplomacy and dialogue, it is really besides the point whether President Obama or [South Korean] President-elect Park [Geun-hye] might want that dialogue.”