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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid