By Foster Klug, AP
SEOUL — North Korea’s nuclear test last month wasn’t just a show of defiance and national pride; it also is advertising. The target audience, analysts say, is anyone in the world looking to buy nuclear material.
Though Pyongyang has threatened to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S., the most immediate threat posed by its nuclear technology may be North Korea’s willingness to sell it to nations that Washington sees as sponsors of terrorism. The fear of such sales was highlighted this week, when Japan confirmed that cargo seized last year and believed to be from North Korea contained material that could be used to make nuclear centrifuges, which are crucial to enriching uranium into bomb fuel.
The dangerous message North Korea is sending, according to Graham Allison, a nuclear expert at the Harvard Kennedy School: “Nukes are for sale.”
North Korea launched a long-range rocket in December, which the U.N. called a cover for a banned test of ballistic missile technology. On Feb. 12, it conducted its third underground nuclear test, which got Pyongyang new U.N. sanctions.
Outside nuclear specialists believe North Korea has enough nuclear material for several crude bombs, but they have yet to see proof that Pyongyang can build a warhead small enough to mount on a missile. The North, however, may be able to help other countries develop nuclear expertise right now, as it is believed to have done in the past.
“There’s a growing technical capability and confidence to sell weapons and technology abroad, without fear of reprisal, and that lack of fear comes from (their) growing nuclear capabilities,” Joel Wit, a former U.S. State Department official, said at a recent nuclear conference in Seoul.
Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons because of what it calls a hostile U.S. policy aimed at invading the North. An unidentified spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned Wednesday of military strikes if the United States repeats recent test flights in South Korea of the nuclear-capable B-52 bomber.
The U.S., South Korea and others say North Korean brinksmanship meant to win aid and other concessions is the real motive. Even China, North Korea’s most important ally, opposes its neighbor’s nuclear ambitions.