John Bolton called it earlier this week, and Kim Jong-Il proved him right. This time, the North Koreans got their money’s worth out of a nuclear test, setting off a device that produced a yield similar to that of the Hiroshima blast in 1945:
North Korea on Monday appeared to have detonated a nuclear device, its second such test in three years.
The U.S. Geological Survey said it detected a magnitude-4.7 earthquake in the region, and South Korea’s Cabinet convened in an emergency session, according to Yonhap, South Korea’s semi-official newswire.
Yonhap also said the North had confirmed the test.
Combined with the previous failure, the North Koreans have enough data to gain important technical improvements in their design. The Washington Times notes that the first failure practically guaranteed another test, regardless of the state of relations between Pyongyang, Washington, and the rest of the six-party members. The failure almost certainly threatened the lives of the people in the program, mainly for the embarrassment it showered on Dear Leader. Now they have proven their design upgrades, which means that Pyongyang can proceed on a path of arming itself — and enriching itself by proliferating the designs and the weapons to others.
How many bombs does Kim still have? Experts predicted that Kim only had enough plutonium for six to eight weapons before shuttering the Yongbyon reactor that produced it. After two tests, Kim has to be running low on bombs — or perhaps just plutonium devices. The six-party talks tried getting Kim to admit to working in parallel on highly-enriched uranium weapons, the same kind of bombs Iran is pursuing.
Barack Obama issued a cautious reaction, one that Kim will find much to his liking:
Today, North Korea said that it has conducted a nuclear test in violation of international law. It appears to also have attempted a short range missile launch. These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations. North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security.
By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community. North Korea’s behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation. It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.
The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants action by the international community. We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the Six-Party Talks as well as other members of the U.N. Security Council in the days ahead.
“Warrants action”? Well, I’d guess that Obama wants another strongly-worded memo from the UN Security Council. After the last missile launch, China and Russia refused to agree to even that much until a lot of arm-twisting produced … a weakly-worded memo. We now have had three administrations pursue negotiations through the UN and through regional talks, mostly consisting of showering Kim with money, food, and fuel, and getting almost nothing concrete in return. Even Yongbyon’s destruction, one of the few tangible results of the diplomacy, is in the process of being reversed.
We’ll see if Obama offers anything more emphatic in dealing with Pyongyang. Thus far, Kim seems remarkably unimpressed with the new American President, as do the Iranians. But hey, they’re just tiny countries compared to the old Soviet Union, so they’re not a threat … right?