(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Things tend to repeat themselves enough in the continuing North Korean missile and nuclear crises that analysts and journalists often joke that if they pulled out their old reports and changed the dates, they could pretty much describe the latest episode.
That sense of deja vu has descended upon the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks. This month, as it did in April 2009, North Korea launched a rocket. As it did in 2009, the UN Security Council condemned the launch and called for tighter sanctions. As it did four years ago, North Korea on Tuesday "resolutely and totally" rejected the Council's censure. Now it is widely feared that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test, as it did in 2009.
But each time the pattern of provocation, punishment and countermoves replays itself there are some fresh twists, adding an air of volatility to the North Korean crisis.
"The main difference between 2009 and now is that, back then, North Korea acted as if it knew exactly what it was doing under Kim Jong-il," said Choi Jin-wook, of the Korea Institute for National Unification, referring to the North Korean leader who died in December, leaving the government to his son Kim Jong-un, whose grip on decision-making in Pyongyang remains to be tested. "This time, we don't see such a strong control tower in evidence in Pyongyang," he said.
Pyongyang's recent sequence of decisions struck many outside analysts as baffling, even by North Korean standards. The government first made a deal with Washington in February to suspend long-range missile tests and then went ahead with a rocket launching last week, something it knew was regarded by the Americans as tantamount to a missile launch. It then invited foreign journalists for the launching but ended up not showing it to them. Unlike the case with its last two failed satellite launches, this time it admitted to its people that the rocket failed.
Last week, the North Korean military repeated an often-used threat to attack Seoul, the South Korean capital, in what it called a "holy war" against the "traitor" government of President Lee Myung-bak.
Baek Seung-joo, at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul, noted that the statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry condemning the Security Council on Tuesday did not explicitly threaten to conduct a nuclear test, nor did it disavow six-nation nuclear disarmament talks. Attention is now focused on whether North Korea will conduct a new nuclear test, possibly using fuel from its recently disclosed uranium-enrichment programme.
"We are going to see the repetition of the same pattern: a missile launch followed by a nuclear test," said Andrei Lankov at Kookmin University in Seoul. In fact, a uranium bomb would make it "clear why they slapped Uncle Sam to the face, by breaking a freshly signed agreement," Lankov said.
Lee Yun-keol, a North Korean biologist who defected to the South in 2006, wrote in a book to be published this month that North Korean nuclear physicists are expected to conduct a new nuclear test because developing atomic bomb technology has been officially recognised as "Kim Jong-il's dying wish," as was the rocket programme.
Lee, who now leads the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center, a private research organisation, said that the late Kim's "will" was being circulated among the North Korean elite as the guidepost of policy under his son. Kim Jong-un has so far relied heavily on the authority of his father for his rule.
Mark C. Toner, a spokesman at the US State Department, called the North Korean announcement "not surprising, given their recent behaviour" and warned of tightened enforcement of sanctions.
Yet, analysts have long questioned the effectiveness of sanctions. Some analysts said that China may have violated a UN Security Council resolution by providing 16-wheeled missile-launching vehicles that were seen in a military parade in Pyongyang on Sunday carrying a new type of missile.
Ted Parsons of IHS Jane's Defence Weekly pointed out similarities to a known Chinese vehicle: "The same windscreen design, the same four windscreen wiper configuration, the same door and handle design, a very similar grill area, almost the same front bumper lighting configuration, and the same design for the cabin steps."
James Hardy, also at Jane's Defence Weekly, said that if confirmed, China's involvement would breach a 2009 Security Council resolution that prohibits supplying North Korea with "any arms or related materiel, or providing financial transactions, technical training, services or assistance related to such arms."