The United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency meeting after North Korea conducted its third-ever nuclear test in defiance of U.N. orders. According to international monitors, the underground explosion was roughly twice as large as North Korea’s last nuclear test in 2009. North Korea had vowed to conduct rocket launches and a U.S.-aimed nuclear test after the U.N. Security Council resolution tightened sanctions in response to a rocket launch two months ago. "North Korea has been saying for years they would like to have a peace agreement to formally end the [Korean] war, and they would like to have negotiations directly with the United States," says Tim Shorrock, an independent journalist who has covered Korea for more than 30 years. "The only way out of this for the United States is to hold direct negotiations and talks with North Korea on stopping its nuclear program and stopping its missile program."
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at North Korea. The United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency meeting today after North Korea conducted its third-ever nuclear test in defiance of U.N. orders. According to international monitors, the underground explosion was roughly twice as large as North Korea’s last nuclear test in 2009.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said, quote, "The nuclear test was conducted as part of measures to protect our national security and sovereignty against the reckless hostility of the United States that violated our republic’s right for a peaceful satellite launch," unquote.
President Obama condemned North Korea’s actions and urged, quote, "swift and credible action by the international community." Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, also condemned the nuclear test.
AMBASSADOR SUNG KIM: This is a very provocative act that undermines regional peace and stability. And I think it will be critical for us to coordinate very closely with you and our colleagues in South Korea, going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Today’s nuclear test is North Korea’s first since leader Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.
For more, we’re joined by Tim Shorrock, an independent journalist who has covered Korea for more than 30 years, grew up partly in South Korea. His most recent book is Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing.
The significance of this nuclear test, Tim?
TIM SHORROCK: I think the significance is in that statement you read from the North Korean official agency there, which is that this test is aimed at stemming the hostility of the United States. And I think for the last couple months, and actually couple of weeks, they’ve increasingly been focused on the role of the United States, the role of the United States military in South Korea and the whole Asian region. And they’ve been talking a lot about these massive war games that the United States and South Korea take that take place almost every year, and which one took place last week. And they see the United States and these war games as very hostile and as a threat to their sovereignty, as they put it.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the U.S. and South Korea are doing. What are these exercises that they’re involved in?
TIM SHORROCK: Well, every year the United States and South Korea hold very large military exercises. There’s different ones. There’s one called "OPLAN 5098" 5029 that they—North Koreans take particular umbrage at, which is basically a practice run of regime change in North Korea. It’s ostensibly to prepare for a collapse of the regime. But what they do is they practice first-strike nuclear capability. They practice invading North Korea. They practice taking over the territory of North Korea and having South Korea-U.S. forces, you know, take over it while there’s a crisis there. And there’s other war games, you know, basically aimed at testing all the weaponry the United States and South Korea have, and these are seen as very dangerous.
On the other hand, exploding nuclear weapons and testing nuclear weapons is itself dangerous and a provocation, as a lot of countries have stated this morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I mean, this is the largest nuclear—ever—test, the largest test that has been done to date by North Korea. So, talk about how significant this is, how this fits into politics there and the relationship between North Korea, China, and what this means for the United States on this—it happened, you know, on the eve of the State of the Union address. Do you think the North Korean leader is aware of that?
TIM SHORROCK: Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s the largest test they’ve done, although the reports this morning are contradictory and fragmentary, as they would be only 12 hours after the event took place. But it’s not clear yet whether it was a uranium or plutonium explosion, how large the bomb was exactly. What I read in the South Korean press is that it was actually a smaller kind of test designed, as they’ve been trying to do, to put some kind of weapon on a missile. As you know, they’ve been testing missiles, and they tested one another—they launched one a few weeks ago. So, you know, that’s—that’s unclear exactly how large it is, and we’ll know that in a few days, because there’s massive U.S. intelligence around there that can sniff the air and figure out exactly what kind of explosion it was.
As for the Chinese and the North Koreans, they remain very close, but I think in China there’s—patience is running out. I think they feel that North Korea is being provocative, is upsetting the strategic situation there. China has close economic ties with South Korea, Japan, the entire region. And the Chinese government has said—said a few—made a few statements in recent days that are saying that, you know, this would be a very dangerous step for them to take to test another nuclear weapon. So I think there’s a lot of—there’s a lot of concern in China itself.
I think that for the purposes of this particular test, it’s important for us, as Americans, to keep focused on the role of the United States there, which is massive. And a lot of journalists in America write about it as if the United States is just some kind of neutral observer that happens to be the brunt of North Korean criticism. In fact, there was a Korean War, as we all know, that ended 60 years ago this July. It ended with an armistice; it did not end with a peace agreement. The two combatants that signed the agreement were the United States and North Korea. North Korea has been saying for years they would like to have a peace agreement to formally end the war, and they would like to have negotiations directly with the United States. And I’ve been saying this for years. I think the only way out of this for the United States is to hold direct negotiations and talks with North Korea on stopping its nuclear program and stopping its missile program.
AMY GOODMAN: What would economic integration look like, and how much does North Korea need that support, Tim?
TIM SHORROCK: North Korea needs economic support and economic stability desperately. Its economy is in very bad shape. There are pockets of, you know, healthy economic technological development, such as in software, computer software. A couple weeks ago, you know, a high-ranking executive from Google was there visiting with Governor Richardson of New Mexico. And they actually do export certain kinds of software and certain kinds of computer games. They have the basis for many different kinds of industries—you know, steel and transportation—but over the last 25, 30 years, since really the collapse of the Soviet Union, it’s been downhill.
And they have, you know, some economic ties with South Korea. There’s one remaining large project between this—between North Korea and South Korea, which is called the Kaesong Industrial Zone, where Korean companies have set up and North Korean workers produce goods for South Korean companies for export. But they desperately need, you know, integration with both China. Russia is talking about building oil pipelines through the Korean Peninsula that would go through North and South Korea and send oil from—send energy from the southern ports of Korea. There’s a lot of talk about it, but I think that before anything can happen there’s got to be some kind of peace and stability on the peninsula.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim Shorrock, I want to thank you for being with us, independent journalist who has covered Korea for more than 30 years, grew up partly in South Korea. His most recent book, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing.