North Korea May Hold Nuclear Test, Rand’s Bennett Says

Bruce W. Bennett, a senior defense analyst at Rand Corp. who is visiting Seoul, comments on North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests after South Korea’s defense ministry said the North’s rocket launch may have failed:

On rocket launch:

“This launch was decided on, probably a year ago by Kim Jong Il before he died. He was probably very demanding of his scientists. For this kind of failure to occur I assume some people will pay with their lives.”

On nuclear test and Kim Jong Un:

“I would have to think the North Korea leadership is very anxious to have something that eases this failure. Last time they launched in April and had a nuclear test in May. I would suspect they would try to do it more quickly. They may do it within the next couple of weeks, perhaps within the next few days.

“If he really wants to make an impact, he’s going to detonate something closer to the Hiroshima bomb, in the 10- to 20-kiloton range.”

On the missile failure:

“I don’t think it will be particularly good for Kim Jong Un. In the elite a fairly large number do have access to outside information. They’re going to look at this as the failure of a young guy who hasn’t shown his mettle yet.

“It’s going to be destructive in North Korea. We really don’t know the strength of his grip yet. We don’t really know who is making the day-to-day decisions.”

On the international reaction:

“Most of the people recognize it is a violation of a previous United Nations security resolution.

“The key question is going to be China. China was prepared to support them in 2009. In 2010 they hardly said a word. China’s No. 1 imperative is to maintain stability in North Korea. I suspect they won’t be outwardly supportive. I suppose they will refuse to criticize.

“The real question is do we step back and limit our response to military and economic action? Do we take political action? Do we broadcast into North Korea to undercut the regime?”

(Corrects to say 10- to 20-kiloton range in fourth paragraph of story published April 13.)
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