By Furukawa Katsuhisa, former member of UN panel of experts on North Korea sanctions
(Interviewed by Shigeta Shunsuke)
Satellite images have shown workers digging a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the northeast region of North Korea since around mid-March. Depending on the state of the tunnel, North Korea may conduct its seventh nuclear test since 2017 on April 15 to commemorate the birth of the late leader Kim Il Sung.
With international media as witnesses, North Korea blew up the main road leading to tunnel No. 3 in 2018 during the dialogue with then-U.S. President Donald Trump. But no images showing the demolition of the secondary road to the tunnel have been confirmed. It is possible that the tunnel sustained little damage and remains.
North Korea unveiled a “five-year plan to develop a weapons system” during a party congress in 2021. It is possible that the country will test not only strategic nuclear weapons it has developed but also less-powerful tactical nuclear weapons for actual warfare based on the plan.
The North is attempting to build the capacities to fight a nuclear war to the end. So [nuclear weapons] are not just a bargaining chip. The country may emphasize negotiations with the U.S., but it seems to have already passed the stage of abolishing nuclear capability.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a decisive influence on North Korea’s nuclear policy. The invasion will set the precedent that countries who have abandoned nuclear weapons will be invaded. Therefore, it has become increasingly important for the North to possess nuclear weapons.
The launch of nuclear missiles requires mass production. The North has a limited capacity to produce the solid fuel that enables missiles to be deployed in a short time. So the effectiveness of international sanctions remains unchanged.