1) North Korea’s motivation for the nuclear test
North Korea’s objective with today’s nuclear missile test is to put the international community on edge vis-a-vis its predictably unpredictable acts. By such acts, North Korea will garner the attention, frustration, and fear of the international community, which the DPRK hopes it can convert into diplomatic talks, either bi- or multilateral, which is a forum in which it can solicit economic and non-economic aid, a critically important factor given the dire internal conditions of North Korea today.
2) What to look for now that North Korea has gone through with its nuclear test
This is North Korea’s third missile test since 2006. There are two things that could be of potential risk going forward. First, whether the DPRK’s nuclear test was based on plutonium or uranium enrichment technology. While North Korea’s plutonium stockpile is relatively fixed and limited–thus placing a potential ceiling on the number of nuclear warheads it can produce with plutonium–a successful uranium enrichment nuclear test would signal that North Korea could continue with producing more weapons grade nuclear material for many years to come. Second, expect the DPRK to continue its saber rattling and brinksmanship, especially in the early days of South Korea’s new incoming president, Park Geun-hye, given the unique history between her father, Park Chung-hee (South Korea’s president from 1962-79) and the DPRK’s leadership in the 1960s and 1970s. In short, North Korea will test President Park’s mettle early.
3) What to expect from North Korea now that it has conducted its third nuclear test?
Expect North Korea to follow-up its nuclear test with further provocative acts, up to the very limit of what it thinks can be done without military repercussions. North Korea’s confidence in this respect is based on the international community’s interest in keeping the Northeast Asian region peaceful and stable. After all, if socio-political conditions deteriorate, international security as well as economic conditions can spiral downward quickly and rapidly, given that the Asian markets could turn into another “Asian contagion” effect based on such “black swan” event. The risk of North Korea’s stance is that things may go over the edge, purposely or accidentally, since the two Koreas are on high alert, akin to two sprung traps ready to snap at any given moment.
4) More sanctions against a super-sanctioned state
Several UN resolutions have been enacted against North Korea with little effect. This is not entirely surprising given that North Korea is a super-sanctioned state–that is, one of the world’s most sanctioned states. So more sanctions on top of a plethora of already existing sanctions will not likely be effective. As a Stalinist state, North Korea is seeking legitimacy and respect among its neighbors. Yet it also harbors a deep fear and suspicion of such neighbors. A carrot and stick approach of, for instance, a Reaganesque ramping up of military defense spending along with strategic carrots in the form of performance-based incentives and aid through verifiable and sustainable calibrated expected future behavior, for the benefit of both Koreas, among others, could be one step in the right direction.