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



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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor 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.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More