There is a document floating around Asian capitals that some believe to be a copy of the last will and testament of North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il. In it, he tells his son and successor Kim Jong-un that Pyongyang must "win the psychological war with the United States" by becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.
It's impossible to say whether the will – snippets of which have been published in Japanese and South Korean newspapers – is legitimate. But Kim Jong-un, who on Tuesday defied the world by overseeing North Korea's third-ever nuclear test, definitely seems to be following something like the script his father purportedly left for him.
North Korea is rapidly closing in on having the ability to at least threaten its chief antagonist – the United States – with a nuclear strike. A December satellite launch demonstrated the country can now fire a multi-stage rocket, and the regime's official KCNA wire service said Tuesday that its latest nuclear test was a miniaturized version of previous bombs, overtly hinting at the capability to build a device small enough to mount on a ballistic missile.
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said North Korea now represented a "serious threat" to the country. "We just saw what North Korea's done in these last few weeks – a missile test and now a nuclear test. They represent a serious threat to the United States of America. We've got to be prepared to deal with that," he said in his farewell address to the Pentagon hours after the underground detonation in the snowy northeast of the Korean Peninsula.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, an international monitoring agency based in Vienna, said it detected an "explosion-like" event in North Korea that had a seismic magnitude of 5, meaning the explosion was significantly more powerful than the regime's previous tests in 2006 and 2009.
The United Nations Security Council – which last month tightened existing sanctions against Pyongyang in response to the satellite launch – held an emergency session Tuesday. The 15-member body, which is currently chaired by South Korea, said it "strongly condemned" the test and would prepare "appropriate measures" in response.
The underground blast sent shockwaves through an already tense East Asia. The two Koreas remain technically at war, and South Koreans recently elected Park Geun-hye, the hardline daughter of the country's Cold War dictator, over an opponent who favoured engagement and negotiations with Pyongyang. Ms. Park – who takes office on Feb. 25 – called the nuclear test a "grave threat to the Korean Peninsula and international peace."
There's also the alarming prospect of proliferation. Japanese and South Korean newspapers reported that Iran, which is pursuing a nuclear program it says is for peaceful energy generation only, sent a delegation to Pyongyang to witness the December satellite launch, which many countries viewed as a camouflaged test of ballistic missile technology that North Korea is banned from using. Tehran denied the reports.
North Korea portrayed Tuesday's detonation as a "first response" to what it called threats from the United States – specifically the tightening of United Nations sanctions – and warned there would be unspecified "second and third measures of greater intensity" if Washington continued its policies. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the country's intelligence service believed another nuclear test was possible in the coming days.
Pyongyang has paid a dear price to pursue its nuclear program. The country is desperately poor, with almost no domestic economy to speak of – other than military spending – and sanctions preventing all but the barest trickle of foreign aid from coming in.
Following Tuesday's detonation, China, the last country lending diplomatic and economic support to the Kim regime, expressed new exasperation with its ally. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned the North Korean ambassador to tell him Beijing was "strongly dissatisfied with" and "firmly opposed to" the nuclear test, which China had warned against.
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking hours before he was to give his annual State of the Union address that includes a call to reduce global nuclear weapons, slammed the test as a "highly provocative act" that "warrants further swift and credible action by the international community." Pyongyang's other neighbours, Japan and Russia, also condemned the test.
Canada joined in the criticism. "While we had hoped the passing of dictator Kim Jong-il would have closed a sad chapter in North Korea, we are disappointed that his son has continued the irresponsible path of placing weapons before the well-being of people," Foreign Minister John Baird said in a statement. "Canada will work with our international partners to pursue all appropriate actions and sanctions against the rogue regime in North Korea."
But making friends was not what Kim Jong-il, who died in December of 2011, advised his son to worry about. "We have to win the psychological war with the United States. By standing up imposingly as a legitimate nuclear power, we have to weaken American influence in the Korean Peninsula and work toward lifting international sanctions to prepare external conditions for economic development," his purported will directed, according to excerpts printed last year by Japan's best-selling Shukan Bunshun magazine. The magazine said it got a copy of the will from a senior North Korean defector, Lee Yun-Keol, who has since vouched for its authenticity.
Last week, a propaganda arm of the North Korean government uploaded a video that looked very much like an attempt at waging psychological warfare against the U.S. It showed a Korean man dreaming of a rocket that circles the world before plunging into a flaming New York City. The video, which has since been taken down by YouTube following a copyright complaint (the images of a fiery Manhattan were taken from the Call of Duty video game), was set to an instrumental version of We Are The World.
The alleged will may also hold the answer as to why Kim Jong-un decided to defy even Beijing by going ahead with the latest nuclear test. His father appears to have called China "the country that currently has the closest relations with us, but it could become the country we need to watch most in the future… Avoid being exploited by China."
Whatever the validity of the will, the father looms over the son and his behaviour. The nuclear test comes four days before Kim Jong-il's birthday, which is celebrated as a major national holiday in North Korea.
ONE STEP CLOSER TO A VIABLE WEAPON
Nuclear test No. 1: October, 1998
North Korea has spent years trying to develop nuclear weapons, and its first test involved detonating a nuclear device with a yield of a very low 0.5 to 1 kiloton. By comparison, U.S. nuclear bombs that flattened Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the Second World War were estimated at 13 kilotons and 22 kilotons, respectively.
Nuclear test No. 2: May, 2009
The second detonation had a larger yield of 2 to 6 kilotons, but was still below the 10 kilotons that experts consider a successful blast. As well, like in 2006, North Korea is believed to have tested devices made of plutonium. One year later, Pyongyang revealed a program to enrich uranium, which would give the country a second source of bomb-making materials – a worrying development.
Nuclear test No. 3: February, 2013
North Korea says this test – the first under the country's new leader, Kim Jong Un – involved detonating a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device, which, if true, would be an advance, as the country needs to master the technology to make a nuclear device small enough to mount on a missile. Early estimates put the yield at 6 to 7 kilotons. If the test used enriched urani um, rather than the country's limited stockpile of plutonium, the implications are serious because it turns North Korean into a far more urgent proliferation threat.
HOW THE WORLD REACTED
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, heedless of widespread international opposition, has again carried out a nuclear test, to which the Chinese government expresses its firm opposition." -China's Foreign Ministry
"North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defence commitments to allies in the region." -U.S. President Barack Obama
"It is deplorable that Pyongyang defied the strong and unequivocal call from the international community to refrain from any further provocative measures." -United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
"This nuclear test by North Korea is totally unacceptable, as it constitutes a grave threat to Japan's security, represents a grave challenge to the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime centred on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and seriously undermines the peace and security of Northeast Asia." -Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe