For North Korea, next step is a nuclear test

Kim Jong Un

North Korea rattled the world on Wednesday by putting a satellite into orbit using the kind of technology that appears to demonstrate it can develop a missile capable of hitting the United States.

Its next step will likely be a nuclear test, which would be the third conducted by the reclusive and unpredictable state. Its 2009 test came on May 25, a month after a rocket launch.

For the North and its absolute ruler Kim Jong-un, the costs of the rocket programme and its allied nuclear weapons efforts - estimated by South Korea's government at $2.8-$3.2 billion since 1998 - and the risk of additional U.N. or unilateral sanctions are simply not part of the calculation.

"North Korea will insist any sanctions are unjust, and if sanctions get toughened, the likelihood of North Korea carrying out a nuclear test is high," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses.

The United Nations Security Council is to discuss how to respond to the launch, which it says is a breach of sanctions imposed in 2006 and 2009 that banned the isolated and impoverished state from missile and nuclear developments in the wake of its two nuclear weapons tests.

The only surprise is that the Security Council appears to believe it can dissuade Pyongyang, now on its third hereditary ruler since its foundation in 1948, from further nuclear or rocket tests.

Even China, the North's only major diplomatic backer, has limited clout on a state whose policy of self reliance is backed up by an ideology that states: "No matter how precious peace is, we will never beg for peace. Peace lies at the end of the barrel of our gun".

As recently as August, North Korea showed it was well aware of how a second rocket launch this year, after a failed attempt in April, would be received in Washington.

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