News / Asia

North Korea Nuclear Test Sparks Worry

North Korean TV on Feb. 12, 2013 shows an announcer reading a statement on the country's nuclear test. (North Korean TV)North Korean TV on Feb. 12, 2013 shows an announcer reading a statement on the country's nuclear test. (North Korean TV)
x
North Korean TV on Feb. 12, 2013 shows an announcer reading a statement on the country's nuclear test. (North Korean TV)
North Korean TV on Feb. 12, 2013 shows an announcer reading a statement on the country's nuclear test. (North Korean TV)
After three weeks of belligerent warnings, North Korea conducted its third test Tuesday in a nuclear weapons program that dates back to the 1960s.

If preliminary estimates from seismic monitors in South Korea and elsewhere prove correct, this was by far Pyongyang's most powerful explosion of a nuclear device.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the test a "highly provocative act."  His swift condemnation was echoed by governments around the world, including South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

According to former U.S. State Department official Mitchell Reiss, the underground blast is further confirmation that North Korea is heading "very methodically and deliberately" toward enhanced ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons capability.  He said the dual track is extremely worrisome.

"It is alarming enough they are doing each of those separately, but it is the combination of the two that poses significant risks to the United States and our friends and allies in the region," Reiss said.

Later Tuesday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry warned of unspecified "second and third measures of greater intensity" if Washington maintains its hostility.

Related video report by Luis Ramirez
US: North Korea Test Is Serious Threati
X
February 13, 2013 3:38 AM
U.S. leaders have condemned North Korea’s announced test of a nuclear device - the third since 2006. U.S. intelligence agencies, meanwhile, are analyzing the blast to learn whether North Korea’s nuclear program is making progress. VOA Pentagon correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.



U.S. Territory Under Threat

Analyst Bruce Klingner, who studied North Korea for years with the Central Intelligence Agency, said the continental United States is increasingly under threat by the North's progress, including a successful long-range missile test in December.

"South Korean officials, after they resurrected the missile debris from the bottom of the ocean, estimated the rocket could have gone 6,000 [9,500 kilometers] or even 10,000 miles [16,000 kilometers], which would threaten not only Hawaii and Alaska, but even parts of the continental U.S.," Klingner said.

The official North Korean news service claimed Tuesday's test used a "miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive capability than before."

The South Korean Defense Ministry said the blast generated an explosive yield of between six and seven kilotons.  That is stronger than the North’s two previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, but far short of the most powerful U.S. weapons in use today, with a force of about 1,000 kilotons.

Klingner said observers have often been dismissive of North Korea's progress because its long-range missile tests had failed until the December launch.  But that test showed the North was able to place a satellite into orbit - which scientists say is the same capability required to put a warhead "anywhere on the face of the Earth."

Chinese Leverage

Reiss, who is now president of Washington College in Maryland, said the blast presents a serious dilemma for the Obama administration and a new group of leaders in China, South Korea and Japan.

"The bottom line is that the North Koreans have made a strategic decision to be a full-fledged nuclear weapons state.  The challenge right now is what the United States, our friends and allies in the region and, especially, the Chinese, are going to do about it," Reiss said.

The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.
x
The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.
The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.
In New York Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council condemned the North Korean nuclear test, calling it a "grave violation" of previous Security Council resolutions against the North's weapons programs.  Council members will begin working on what they called "appropriate measures" to punish Pyongyang for flouting its authority.

But it is China - North Korea's last remaining major ally - that arguably has enough leverage, through its oil deliveries and other assistance, to force Pyongyang to change its behavior.

The Chinese government issued a statement several hours after the blast expressing its "firm opposition" to the test.  But Tuesday's powerful detonation leaves some skeptical about how Beijing will react, given its increased economic ties to the North.

"It clearly shows how little influence Beijing has, or how little it's willing to use," said Klingner.  "Indeed, their increased economic engagement with North Korea undermines any incentive for [it] to return to the six-party talks," he said.

After the detonation, Pyongyang said the test demonstrated its nuclear deterrence has become "diversified," raising questions about whether North Korea used enriched uranium rather than reprocessed plutonium like in previous blasts.

That worries the United States, South Korea and Japan because while the North has only enough plutonium for six to eight bombs, it can produce enriched uranium well into the future.

Message to Iran

Analyst Reiss said Washington should push Seoul to share intelligence with the Japanese because that would help ensure a coordinated response to the threat.  He also warned Tehran is watching the world's reaction extremely closely.

"If the United States undertakes no sanctions, does not punish North Korea in any way, it will effectively be giving Iran a green light, or at least a suggestion, that it can go down this path as well and not really suffer any consequences," Reiss said.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid