The North Korean nuclear test of a few days ago has created international consternation and revived anxiety about that country. This was the second nuclear test of the last three years, considerably bigger and technically more sophisticated than the first, and only last month there was the launch of a long range rocket. It thus appears that while key members of the international community have been doing what they can to control and reverse that country's nuclear activity, the Pyongyang regime - the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, to give it its full name - has been steadily expanding its nuclear weapons capacity and its missile capacity. The recent test has been condemned with varied severity by all major countries. Even China, North Korea's closest partner - indeed, virtually its only partner - has expressed firm disapproval. But North Korea seems inured to the isolation it suffers and shapes its own path irrespective of the reaction it evokes. It is still far from clear to most observers why DPRK took this step at this stage and where it might be heading. Even the most closely engaged experts and commentators are reduced to talking about the mystification cast by DPRK actions, and the secretiveness and unpredictability of its ways. Being without a fuller sense of what may be at stake only makes it more difficult for the international community to find ways of engaging in meaningful discussions with Pyongyang. For some years now, DPRK has participated in talks about its nuclear plans with five other countries - USA, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. This format owes much to US reluctance to engage in face-to-face talks with a country it has treated as one that lies completely beyond the pale. It has been widely assumed that DPRK was treating its nuclear programme as a means of obtaining an end to the isolation from which it had suffered for so long. Thus slowing down and holding out the promise of bringing nuclear activity to an end looked like a way of forcing diplomatic contact to be established, for aid to flow, for the studied ostracism it suffers to be brought to an end, and the threat to the regime to be lifted. Rather than be made part of an 'axis of evil', it sought a legitimate place in the world community. But if these are indeed Pyongyang's aims, then conducting a nuclear test is possibly the worst way of trying to attain them: hence the renewed speculation about its true motives and expectations. Although the North Korean test has caused much concern, it has not revived alarm that it could become the precursor to further proliferation in the region. A decade or more ago when North Korea's nuclear ambitions were first being put on display, there was great unease: if North Korea took the plunge, it was feared, others were bound to follow. And there were many in the region that had held back until then but might have found it impossible to resist if circumstances changed. However, that particular genie was never permitted out of its bottle. North Korea blew hot and cold for many years, neither fulfilling nor abandoning its nuclear plans, and when it did take the final step three years ago, no one else followed suit. Thus although that first test led to great regional tension, affecting especially South Korea, it did not result in uncontrollable proliferation. Nor have fears to that effect been revived by the latest development. The display of scientific prowess shown by the test has done nothing to enhance North Korea's international standing. It continues to be seen as an island of privation and underdevelopment in a region of growth and increasing prosperity. Some commentators have speculated that the nuclear test, which has been so difficult for many to comprehend, was conducted as a result of internal manoeuvres in the DPRK relating to the leadership. There is little evidence to support any such conclusion, nothing much more than tales told by defectors from North Korea. Yet in the absence of anything more authoritative, these tales have gained some currency. According to one version, President Kim Jong-il is ailing and hence keen to ensure that his successor should now be identified, and that it should be his youngest son Kim Jong-un. The leadership's preoccupation with such political plans has permitted hard line military leaders to come forward and press for more decisive action in establishing DPRK as a nuclear power. If this is indeed the case, it would compel a revised view of where the DPRK nuclear programme is leading. The prevailing view has long been that DPRK was prepared to give up its nuclear and rocket capacity if there were adequate compensation. The six-power talks have been regarded as a forum for determining what DPRK felt needed to be done to meet its requirements, and to see also how far the others could go in response. But the picture would change significantly if it now begins to transpire that DPRK does not intend to give up its deterrent capacity at all but wishes to maintain and develop it, and that it aspires to join the group of nuclear weapons countries. Nobody is at all comfortable with such a prospect. However, there has been no global outburst that could impel DPRK to re-think. True, the UN Security Council met and made a statement condemning the event, but no decisive action was called for, which might suggest that the big powers were unable to agree on a joint course of action. It is also not clear what more can be done at that level, for the DPRK is already severely isolated by multiple sanctions. Yet its lifeline to China remains unimpaired, and so long as that exists, the DPRK can continue along its chosen path. The strongest reaction to the test came, as may have been anticipated, from the USA. Unlike others that have been antagonists of the USA, the DPRK feels that President Obama's accession has made no difference and he has merely continued the hostile policies of his predecessor. Mr. Obama was very critical of the test and his Defence Secretary has warned that the USA will not stand idly by while DPRK acquires the capacity to wreak destruction. Thus the earlier tensions between the two seem set to continue and worsen. India is not directly involved but it has been careful not to appear to be a proliferator or in any way to encourage nuclear proliferation. Thus it cannot fail to regard the latest developments with concern. It can be expected to play its proper part in international efforts to persuade DPRK to reverse its nuclear course and end its weapons programme. The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary. The Statesman of India also published this article today.