Reports spread Oct. 9 that North Korea tested a nuclear device in the eastern
part of North Hamgyong province at 10:35 a.m. local time. China has indicated
it did detect a small underground test, although the South Korean military
has not raised its alert level. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said
his government has confirmed there has been seismic activity from North
Korea, although he has not received reports on its magnitude.
Geological Survey detected a 4.2 tremor in North Korea, which is smaller than
expected and not big enough to make North Korea an unequivocal nuclear power.
If a test did occur, the most immediate U.S. response will likely be
a strong condemnation and a call for a U.N. mandate for sanctions. If there
is no U.S. military response, Pyongyang will see that as an acceptance of
North Korea as a nuclear power.
Many questions remain, however. Even
if this were a nuclear test, it is not clear that it was a weapon rather than
a device. A nuclear device produces an in-place blast from a mechanism of
indeterminate size and structure. A weapon can be fitted on a missile or on
an aircraft, and is therefore highly compact and ruggedized.
response will be hesitant. China does not seem ready to cut off food or fuel
to North Korea, particularly before winter sets in. Beijing has deployed
additional troops to the border, but that is to seal the frontier. Beijing
will be angry, but its primary concern is to keep the North Korean people
from spilling across the border into northeast China.
will, of course, suspend cooperation in Kaesong and Kumkang and will probably
put its forces on alert. With the drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea, the
South Korean army is now the border patrol. U.S. military units remaining
will have to go on heightened alert and rush Patriot surface-to-air missile
batteries to the peninsula. South Korea could deploy high-level officials to
Japan will work for U.N. for sanctions and Chapter 7
invocation. Japan also will heighten its military posture and increase
diplomacy with China and South Korea in an attempt to show a united front
against North Korea
North Korea will go on high alert nationwide. The
military will assume a high-readiness posture, and the North Koreans will
proclaim their entry into the nuclear club, using sanctions to tighten
control and rally domestic backing. Pyongyang might quickly invite the
International Atomic Energy Agency in to make its nuclear status
"legitimate." It will petition international bodies to accept the new
In any event, North Korea will view the test as a victory.
It will mark the acceptance of the government as a nuclear state. Further
negotiations will have to take place under this new reality. North Korea
cannot be isolated forever. North Korea has bet that anything less than a
complete military invasion is a capitulation. Pyongyang will press for
acceptance, similar to Pakistan. China and South Korea will be key; both
desperately want to avoid any military action. They will end up negotiating
with North Korea, finding a way to make the North comply with international
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China says it 'resolutely opposes' North Korean nuclear tests, appeals for return to talks
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