As one of the world’s most isolated states, North Korea already has a weak and vulnerable economy that’s subject to sanctions, so why would it take the risk of running nuclear tests? Wendy Sherman, former assistance Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, believes Pyongyang has carefully weighed up its options and decided it had nothing to lose:
“North Korea is making a judgement that even if we go ahead with this test, we might have to suffer some consequences, but they will be short lived and then the world will have to deal with us as a nuclear weapons state and that gives us power and leverage in any subsequent diplomacy.“¨
Largely based on industry, North Korea’s economy collapsed with the demise of the Soviet Union. Subsequently, millions died of famine. Today, the country still struggles to feed its 23-million inhabitants and is mostly reliant on aid from its neighbours, Russia and China in particular.
But Chinese political expert, Yan Xuetong, says its continued support is in doubt: “China and North Korea’s relationship has moved toward the other direction. It’s become very difficult for these two countries to maintain a strategic partnership and very difficult for these two countries to remain both friends plus comrades.”
With North Korea already under numerous commercial restrictions, the international community has few cards left to play which means Pyongyang’s allies will have a determining role if the new sanctions are to work, according to Asian political analyst, Selig Harrison.
Since re-establishing ties with the south, several projects have caught the eyes of international market watchers, most notably the Kaesong industrial complex. It is an important source of revenue for both countries and one which may be threatened by the fall-out from North Korea’s nuclear test, which risks causing more damage than international sanctions.