North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons and missile tests have set the political world abuzz, with plenty of observers speculating about what Pyongyang hoped to achieve in once more setting the nuclear fox among the chickens.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s seeming disregard for diplomatic disciplinary measures such as economic sanctions and non-binding statements from the UN Security Council continues to confound the international community.

The NY Times has put together a timeline of North Korea’s appearances on the international scene since 1994.

Here’s the story to date:

In 2002, US President George W Bush includes DPRK in the “axis-of-evil”.

2003: Diplomatic discussion between the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and North Korea, dubbed the six-nation talks, commences. Nuclear disarmament is high on the agenda.

In October 2006, a North Korean nuclear weapon test attracts worldwide condemnation. Earlier in the year, North Korea launched seven missiles into the Sea of Japan.

In 2007, the US and four other nations agree to provide North Korea with $400 million in aid after the DPRK undertakes to start dismantling its nuclear facilities.

In April 2009, Pyongyang says a rocket it launched over the Sea of Japan is designed to send a satellite into space. International observers however believe this is a move towards achieving long-range nuclear missile capability, and the UN Security Council extends economic sanctions against the country in response to the test.

Monday, 25 May 2009, North Korea conducts its second nuclear test in North Hamgyong Province, near the Chinese and Russian borders, believed to be similar in size to the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki by the US in 1945.

On Tuesday (ie. yesterday), North Korea follows up its latest nuclear test with three more ballistic missile launches off the east coast.

Here’s what the pundits are saying:

Analysts quoted in CNN reports say North Korea’s latest tests are intended to “improve Pyongyang’s bargaining position”. An Asahi Shimbun editorial, meanwhile, sees Pyongyang’s actions as an attempt to “bring the United States to the negotiating table for nuclear talks”, and says that “the international community needs to act with collective wisdom and patience.”

David E Sangar at NYT acknowledges the challenge Monday’s nuclear test poses to the Obama administration in light of limited options and failure by previous US presidents to pull North Korea in to line. In the Guardian, Martin Butcher argues that to avoid a nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula, Obama must press for North Korea to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation.

Leslie H Gelb at The Daily Beast reminds us why the US doesn’t decisively end the North Korean nuclear threat with an all-out military strike, the reason being the small problem of collateral damage — the destruction of friendly Seoul.

Daniel W. Drezner at ForeignPolicy.com says Obama should push for China to join the Proliferation Security Initiative to give the UN Security Council more punitive clout.

The Times Online’s Richard Lloyd Parry sees the nuclear test as a sign of weakness and political bankruptcy from the megalomaniacal Kim Jong Il.

BBC’s Korea analyst, Aidan Foster-Carter asks “what message is Kim Jong-il trying to send, and to whom?” and in his answer looks at two hypotheses – internal conflict over succession plans, and DPRK’s desire to make a strong international statement.

Peter Fray

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