Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

South Korean officials say North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, but is Pyongyang just bluffing this time?

Is North Korea Planning Nuclear Test #4?

South Korean officials say North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test. But is Pyongyang just bluffing this time? 

​Seoul cited increased activity at North Korea's underground nuclear testing site, which would suggest that a nuke is being readied. (Via Arirang News

South Korean news agency Yonhap cited a South Korean official who said a special task force had been activated to monitor the situation. 

This comes after repeated warnings from Pyongyang that it would carry out a nuclear test. Last month, it threatened "a new form of nuclear test." Experts say that could mean the use of a uranium-based device. (Via Euronews)

All three of North Korea's previous tests involved plutonium. The last one in February 2013 was widely criticized abroad and prompted more U.N. sanctions. (Via ITN

Of course, no one outside of the Hermit Kingdom knows for sure what Kim Jong-un is thinking, but it's worth pointing out North Korea does have a history of making threats to extract concessions from its rivals. The question is, will it make good on its alleged provocation this time?  

The Wall Street Journal notes, North Korea "certainly has the ability."

And from The New York Times“The fact that the South Korean military activated an emergency task force meant that it took the North’s most recent activities more seriously.”

Of course, South Korea’s a little preoccupied right now. The reported nuclear activity comes less than a week after a ferry capsized off the coast of South Korea. As of Tuesday, more than 100 bodies had been recovered; nearly 200 are still missing. (Via BBC

The timing it noteworthy for another reason — it coincides with President Obama's trip to the region this week. He’ll arrive in South Korea the same day North Korea will celebrate the anniversary of its army's founding. (Via The White House

Pyongyang recently warned Obama's trip would "bring the dark clouds of a nuclear arms race." But a CNN correspondent suspects that's all just bluster. (Via The Wire

"Whether, of course, they're prepared to detonate a nuclear device ... while the president is in or on the ground, that would be —even by North Korea's standards — an extraordinary provocation." (Via CNN

​Instead, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told Bloomberg there may be another reason for the supposed nuclear activity. 

“By revealing signs, the North can draw attention from Obama and warn him against issuing hawkish statements against the regime during his trip.”

A writer for Time adds, domestically, North Korea has another incentive. 

"North Korea’s hard-working propagandists will package it as a testament to the country’s development under young despot Kim Jong Un and a warning to would-be aggressors.”

A spokesperson for South Korea's defense ministry told state media, South Korean and U.S. officials are sharing intelligence to determine if the nuclear threat is legitimate.