Pyongyang's Nuclear Logic

Sometimes a Test is Just a Test

A man in Seoul walks past a television report on North Korea's nuclear test, North Korea.  Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

In his State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama described North Korea's recent nuclear test as a provocation that required a firm response. The intended audience for that provocation, though, is up for debate. Some commentators have posited that the test was a signal aimed at China, designed to demonstrate North Korea's independence from its great-power patron. Others think that Kim Jong-un was sending a message to the newly elected president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye. Still other North Korea experts have suggested that the test was actually meant for domestic consumption, to lift the sagging morale of a deprived public or for the regime to curry favor with the military. The intended North Korean signal is being analyzed and debated by U.S. government officials, who hold views across the spectrum.

A much simpler explanation exists. Pyongyang tested a nuclear device for the same reason it

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