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North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Test Tests Global Limits

Posted January 6th, 2016 at 4:37 pm (UTC-4)
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North Korea’s boastful announcement that it tested a hydrogen bomb is being met with condemnation, skepticism and concern.

The United States, United Nations, NATO, China and Russia all condemned the nuclear test.

But the White House is casting doubt on the technological leap Pyongyang claims, saying “the initial analysis is not consistent with … a successful hydrogen bomb test.” A final determination is weeks away as the International Atomic Energy Agency and other intelligence gathering agencies investigate.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at a veteran's conference iin this undated photo released by North Korea's state news agency on July 26, 2015.(Reuters)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at a veteran’s conference iin this undated photo released by North Korea’s state news agency on July 26, 2015.(Reuters)

In the meantime, diplomats are considering another round of economic sanctions North Korea as punishment. And foreign policy experts are weighing in on the possible fallout from this test: that is, whether or not North Korea has gone from fission to fusion.

North Korea’s H-Bomb Test is a Risk-Raising Nuclear Game Changer

Michael Auslin – National Review

If North Korea’s claim of having tested a hydrogen bomb holds up, then East Asia’s nuclear risk has gone up a magnitude. Mastering the technology of a fusion weapon is not easy, and skepticism abounds that the impoverished, isolated regime in Pyongyang has actually made the leap from fission to potential megaton yields. …

An H-bomb makes North Korea an existential threat to South Korea and Japan. Just a single weapon of megaton-yield detonated over Tokyo or Seoul could effectively destroy the economies and government of the two nations, not to mention wipe out significant percentages of their population. Obviously, a North Korea that has mastered the technology of intercontinental ballistic missiles is also a threat of the gravest order to the United States, as well as any other nation in Asia within range of its rockets.

WATCH: White House Spokesman Josh Earnest explains the initial U.S. assessment of the North Korean nuclear test.

The 5 Stages of Reacting to a North Korea Nuke Test

Josh Rogin – Bloomberg View

There’s no real North Korea policy in place in Washington; the Obama administration has pursued a strategy of “strategic patience,” which essentially amounts to waiting for either North Korea or its benefactor China to voluntarily do something productive. So when North Korea forces Washington to pay attention, even if it’s only for a few days, all the U.S. government can do is grieve. And it happens in all five stages. (With apologies to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.)

Stage 1: Denial The U.S. government’s first reaction to any North Korean nuclear test or missile launch is to acknowledge reports of the incident but defer comment until all the data comes in, which can take days. …

Stage 2: Anger

North Korea’s Bombastic Announcement

Barbara Demick – The New Yorker

“If North Korea really did test a hydrogen bomb, its yield should have been about 100 times as large as the yield of this test. Thus the North’s nuclear weapon designs appear to still be very primitive,” Bruce Bennett, a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation, told NK News on Wednesday morning.

Why a hydrogen bomb? In his Oedipal competition with his illustrious predecessors, Kim Jong-un needs to claim something that is uniquely his own accomplishment.

Kim’s birthday is Friday (he will be either thirty-two or thirty-three, his exact date of birth being among the many North Korean mysteries), and the nuclear test might be something of a sensational early gift to himself.

WATCH: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemns the nuclear test by North Korea

5 North Korean Weapons South Korea Should Fear

Dave Majumdar – The National Interest

Though the Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce, North and South Korea are still technically at war. Tensions periodically flare up because of Pyongyang’s ceaseless saber rattling and provocations…. But the Korean Armistice Agreement has, nonetheless, held firm over the past years because of Seoul’s restraint.

North Koreans watch the the televised announcement of the hydrogen bomb test.  January 6, 2016 (AP)

North Koreans watch the the televised announcement of the hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6, 2016 (AP)

In recent years, it has become apparent, however, that the Republic of Korea—with its vibrant and developed economy—can more than handle the North if it came to a conventional military conflict. The North’s forces are mostly comprised of decrepit Soviet hardware from the 1950s and ‘60s. While South Korea enjoys a clear military superiority, there remains the worrying caveat that its capital Seoul—within the range of the North’s massed artillery—would likely be devastated during such a conflict.

Thus, Pyongyang sees its nuclear arsenal as the guarantor of regime survival.


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