In North Korean nuclear test, an echo of past provocations

undated file photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 in Tokyo by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a consultative meeting with officials in the fields of state security and forei
undated file photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 in Tokyo by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a consultative meeting with officials in the fields of state security and foreign affairs at undisclosed location in North Korea. U.N. diplomats say the United States and China have reached agreement on a new sanctions resolution to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test.
AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, File

North Korea again rattled the international community this week with claims to have staged another nuclear test - their fourth since 2006. Much of the world, including China, the North Korean regime's closest ally, quickly condemned the test, and the U.S. and South Korea began discussing heightened military cooperation.

A similar reaction played out in 2013, the last time the North Koreans tested a nuclear device. On March 17, 2013, shortly after that test, a panel of foreign policy experts joined "Face the Nation" to discuss how the U.S., China, and other nations should respond to North Korea's provocation. Their discussion, which you can read below, touched on many of the same questions being raised in the wake of this latest incident, underscoring just how entrenched and difficult a problem North Korea poses.


BOB SCHIEFFER: Let's just talk about this North Korean thing. David, what's happened? What's this all about?

DAVID SANGER, NEW YORK TIMES: You know, Bob, North Korea as a problem is not new. The armistice was signed 60 years ago, and it's been an on-and-off thing ever since with violations and so forth. What is new is a new North Korean capability. They've now conducted a third nuclear test. And by all the early indications, this time it really worked. They have sent a missile as far as the Philippines. If you do the math on that, they're about halfway to being able to hit the continental United States. That is why you saw the Obama administration, which has not been a huge enthusiast in the past of antimissile defenses, say it was going to bolster the antimissile defense that's up in Alaska and in California.

SCHIEFFER: And this is no small step, we're talking spending what?

SANGER: Probably going to be a billion dollars.

SCHIEFFER: For a missile defense that won't be ready for what, three years.

SANGER: It will be supplementing. And of course they don't, the North Koreans will be able to hit the United States for a number of years. And remember, this is a missile defense that works fully half the time. When they've done tests against dummy warheads, it has a 53 percent hit rate. So it's not a perfect system by any means. But the idea here is not only to create some deterrents, but to make the point to the Chinese that if they can't get North Korea under control, they're going to begin to see a lot more U.S. forces not only in the Pacific but these missile defenses that the Chinese fear are also designed for them.

SCHIEFFER: Danielle, are we placing too much importance on this? Should we be as concerned as the administration seems to be when they send the secretary of defense out to announce we're going to spend $1 billion to try to make our missile defense better.

DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I think we should be more concerned. The problem for us is we've been disinvesting in missile defense. We've been disinvesting in the military. And just because a missile can't reach the United States, doesn't mean that it can't reach our allies in Asia who look to us for their security, are increasingly concerned that we're not going to be there for them in the event of a North Korean breakout or, frankly, a conflict with China. So I think we need to be doing a great deal more. And you're exactly right, part of this is deterrence, part of it is causing our adversaries to believe that we are serious. Up until now, and maybe even -- maybe even including now, they don't believe that.


RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, we ought to make clear to everybody that the next Korean War, if one were ever to happen, is going to be the last Korean War because it's going to end with a unified peninsula, and it's go to be under Seoul, not Pyongyang. And that will hopefully make the North Korean leadership think twice. Also, though, a lot of this message is aimed at Beijing. Probably three-quarter of North Korea's trade still transit Chinese territory. If there's any country that has the capacity not to control North Korea, but to influence North Korea, it's still China. The Chinese always say they have very little influence. They have more than they say they do. We should put pressure on them to do it and there's finally, Bob, we're seeing the first signs of a little bit of Chinese disaffection. At some point they're getting tired of the antics of this country. This is a dangerous ally for China to have. And the more Chinese can pressure them and put the economic screws on them, the better it will be for everybody.

SCHIEFFER: What can we do, David?

DAVID ROHDE, REUTERS: I think that the missile defense is one step forward, working with the Chinese as well. And I think we need to more broadly engage, engage in the region with Asia. And this whole issue of North Korea shows that foreign policy matters. We don't want to engage, I understand the sort of post-Iraq and Afghanistan hangover. But the North Koreans are not giving us sort of a time out to sort out our domestic issues. The Iranians are not giving us a time out. They're pouring tremendous amounts of weaponry into Syria. You know, we have to respond to cyber attacks that David has talked about from China. And this is just this latest example of, I think, the administration needs to step up its game, generally speaking, in foreign policy. They can -- you know, they have to chew gum and walk at the same time.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let's just say that they attack South Korea, they fall under the nuclear umbrella, do they not, as does Japan? We have an agreement with our allies that, you know, an attack on them is an attack on us, and we respond with nuclear weapons. Would we do that?

HAASS: There are still 28,000 Americans in South Korea. So initially it would be a conventional war. We're not going to retaliate with nuclear weapons but we would make it clear to the North Koreans that if there were any threat or use of nuclear weapons, then, yes, everything is on the table. Again, we would hope they wouldn't go that far. We would hope the Chinese would not permit them that far. But you're exactly right. We have security guarantees that do not have ceilings on them. It's one of the reasons this is so dangerous.

SCHIEFFER: Talk about the impact of North Korea on Iran and what Iran is doing. Because somebody was telling me just this week, look, North Korea is the model for the Iranians. They say nobody took North Korea seriously until they started talking about nuclear weapons and having one. And we're not going to stop until we get one, too, because we think it's working. They're paying attention to North Korea.

PLETKA: Well, I don't know how reliable the reporting was, but when North Korea conducted that nuclear test, there were reports that a senior Iranian official was present at the test. That wouldn't be the first time. And it would mean for the Iranians that they are further ahead on their program, which we tend to look at in this sort of isolated soda straw way by looking just down at Iran. If they're working with the North Koreans, then they have in fact been able to be present at a nuclear test. That means they are in better shape than I think many, including the Israelis, strangely, want to admit.

SCHIEFFER: You know, I don't think it's any secret, and maybe the president said this during an interview last week, he considers the threat from North Korea right now more significant than the threat from Iran.

SANGER: Well, it's certainly more immediate in that the North Koreans have conducted three nuclear tests. They've got the missile capability. We don't know that they have the ability to take a nuclear weapon and shrink it down and put it on a missile. We also haven't been able to confirm, although we've all heard the same reports, that the Iranians were at the test -- the North Korean test. But even if they weren't at it -- and I suspect it probably would have been difficult for them to send some prominent Iranians there, even if they weren't at it, they look at the North Korean model, and what do they see? We had a succession of presidents from George H.W. Bush through President Clinton and George Bush saying that they would never tolerate a nuclear North Korea. Well, after three tests, we've tolerated a nuclear North Korea. The North Koreans have been quite successful in showing that they are just irrational enough that nobody wants to go deal with them while they've got a nuclear weapon. And when they look out at the world, just as when the Iranians look out at the world, and they say, where are the places where the United States has participated in an invasion? Well, in Iraq 10 years ago this week, a place that turned out not to have any nuclear weapons. And in Libya, a country that gave up its nuclear weapons and tried to have some kind of accommodation with the West. If you're Iranian, if you're North Korean, and you look at that, you say to yourself, giving up the weapons, even after all of these negotiations, may not be the best approach.