By Matthew Allen
When North Korea announced Monday, Oct. 9, 2006, that it had successfully performed a nuclear test, many wondered what impact the incident would have on the world.
Some speculate as to whether North Korea actually has nuclear weapons, but if it does, it has joined an elite group of countries in the world that have such capabilities.
“Having nuclear weapons puts you in a rather exclusive club,” said Eric Hyer, a political science professor at BYU who has studied politics in Asian countries. “There is only a handful of nations in the world that have nuclear weapons, and this prestige is very important to North Korea.”
Hyer said North Korea sees possessing nuclear weapons as a way to raise its status in the world and also protect itself against its enemies, including the United States.
“George Bush has said it [North Korea] is in the axis of evil, and they saw what we did to other nations that we said were in the axis of evil,” Hyer said. “They are nervous, so they are deterring the U.S. from taking action against them by obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Danny Damron, a professor in the Korean Department at BYU with extensive knowledge about Korean politics, said he is not even sure the blast was from a nuclear bomb.
“A large amount of TNT could produce the same type of explosion,” Damron said.
However, Damron did say that if North Korea does indeed have nuclear weapons, it would lead to destabilization in the region.
“Japan has been distancing themselves from the commitments they made at the end of World War II to not have nuclear weapons,” Damron said. “They may end up developing nuclear weapons themselves.”
While North Korea claims it wants to use nuclear weapons in order to protect the region, Mark Peterson, a professor in the Korean Department at BYU, said he thinks the nation”s motives are purely self-interested.
“North Korea is looking for two things: recognition and pay-off,” Peterson said. “Recognition as a significant player in the world with a legitimate government, and pay-off meaning that if the price is right, North Korea would be willing to dismantle the system.”
In order to keep North Korea from selling their new weapons on the world market to terrorists, the U.S. needs to work with North Korea, Peterson said.
“If the U.S. insists on being the moral watchdog and says that North Korea is bad and therefore will not engage in talks, the U.S. policy will continue to be a failure,” Peterson said.
Tsutomu Hamada, a Japanese citizen living in a town on the west side of Japan that is just hours away from North Korea, said he is generally not worried about the incident.
“North Korea is a poor country, so I don”t think they have enough money to make nuclear weapons,” Hamada said by e-mail. “My only worry is that Japan is in range if they do have nuclear weapons.”
Hamada said he believes North Korea likes to make threats, but there is no validity to the claims.
“Kim [Jong Il, North Korea”s leader] might say, ”Give us something or we will launch the missiles,” but that is just silly,” Hamada said.