North Korea Enters “Martial Law” Amid Nuclear Test Tension

Does increased domestic security suggest that a nuclear test could be imminent?
January 31st, 2013

Kim Jong Un is said to have put North Korea under a state of martial law this Tuesday, following an order that preparations for a third nuclear test be completed the same day. While the source was unable to provide any further information about the date of the test, it was also reported to South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo that “the frontline and central units” of the Korean People’s Army “should be ready for a war”.

Although the newspaper’s source is impossible to verify, Kim Jong Un was reported by North Korean media on Sunday to have convened an urgent meeting of senior security officials and presented an undisclosed decision to take “effective, high-profile state measures”.

Consistent with an increased level of military readiness, another source told the Daily NK yesterday that “a status change to preparation for combat mobilization was declared [Wednesday] at midnight.”  The Daily NK’s source added: “worker and Peasant Red Guards were issued with real guns rather than replicas, and the security services went out onto the streets to maintain order.”

Beyond the public security apparatus, a further report at the Daily NK today suggests that emergency lectures were convened throughout North Korea this week, aimed at preparing citizens for a war with the incoming Park Geun-hye administration in the South. The source explained, “people must be on guard at all times and stay prepared to respond to any provocation.”

Reacting to the increased levels of both military readiness and related propaganda output, Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group today told NK NEWS,

“It is critically important to maintain a robust deterrent posture. The balance of forces is something they focus on and understand. The international community must clearly signal that any use of force that escalates to war means the end of the Kim regime and the DPRK.”

Meanwhile, South Korea’s outgoing President Lee Myung-bak today called a meeting with top security ministers to discuss the possibility of a third nuclear test. Afterwards, Lee’s presidential spokesman said that the North would face “grave consequences” if it went forward with any test, but did not elaborate on any details.  Another anonymous South Korean official warned that carrying out a nuclear test would be “unfortunate for North Korea’s future.”

The KCNA today continued their invective to justify further nuclear testing, arguing that North Korea would never denuclearize until the whole world was denuclearized. From Pyongyang’s position this would understandably mean that “any effort to settle the nuclear issue on the peninsula is little short of wasting time on an empty talk.”

Adding to fears of an imminent test, South Korean Secretary for Foreign Affairs and National Security Chun Young-woo told a conference yesterday that North Korea has already made wide-ranging preparations to avoid sanctions for any future test. According to Chun:

North Korea has set up dozens of bank accounts under false names abroad to prepare for reprisals after a future nuclear test…North Korea expected sanctions from the UN Security Council and set up these accounts beforehand, and then transferred the money from other accounts. This tells us that it prepared for a nuclear test immediately after the launch of the rocket at the end of last year.

If fears of a third test realize in the coming days or weeks, tensions will dramatically increase on the peninsula and it is likely that the UN Security Council will respond with more tightening of sanctions.

North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests in the past, in 2006 and 2009, but has given no time-frame for its third test.

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.