By Lee Tae-hoon
A state-run think tank reported Friday that North Korea may detonate a third nuclear device and provoke border clashes to escalate tension on the Korean Peninsula next year.
The Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) reported that through a third nuclear test, Pyongyang could show the world that it has no plans to scrap its atomic weapons program.
"The test would be designed to highlight that the Communist country is a nuclear power," KIDA reported.
It added that Pyongyang might even launch an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching U.S. territories in the Pacific and the western coast of North America.
North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in October 2006 and another more powerful device on May 25 this year. The explosion this year was five times more powerful than that of 2006, it estimated.
"The May explosion has been estimated to have had a 4-kiloton yield, indicating that the North has made headway in developing an operational nuclear weapon," it said.
KIDA reported that if the international community starts to accept the North as a nuclear power, this could cause public opinion in South Korea to move toward building its own nuclear deterrent capabilities.
In addition, the institute said Pyongyang may try to incite military clashes along the inter-Korean border.
It said if the North were to invade islands in the West Sea just south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), it could trigger a strong South Korean response. Such developments may cause the dismantlement of the armistice regime signed after the Korea War (1950-1953) and weaken the NLL that has been the de facto sea border between the two countries.
There have been a total of three clashes along the NLL so far, with the latest taking place Nov. 10.
KIDA also said that although clashes along the 248-kilometer demilitarized zone could take place, such events will probably be short firefights between troops, while air-to-air combat is not likely due to the North's weak air force.