Earlier today, North Korea bragged about the “spectacular success” of its first ever hydrogen bomb test. However, it still isn’t entirely clear if it actually happened. The US doesn’t think it did, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest saying that the initial analysis wasn’t “consistent” with what North Korea claimed. Nonetheless, this analysis isn’t definitive, and some experts have said that North Korea detonated a different type of hydrogen bomb.
Regardless of the veracity of their claim, it is clear that North Korea conducted a new significant nuclear test despite calls not to do so. According to the US Geological Survey, the underground test corresponded with a magnitude-5.1 seismic event centered 12 miles east-southeast of Sungjibaegam, comparable to readings from North Korea’s 2013 plutonium test. Norsar, a Norway-based group that monitors nuclear tests, estimated that a blast equivalent to less than 10,000 tons of TNT occurred. This might seem like a lot, but it’s smaller than those of the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and far less than other thermonuclear weapons, which are often as potent as millions of tons of TNT.
After analyzing the atmosphere for traces of radiation, experts in the US or South Korea could have an answer as to what happened. Nonetheless, many remain skeptical, as North Korea has had trouble with even the basics of a fission weapon, so the thought of them creating an even more complicated hydrogen bomb seems unreasonable. Regardless, the test did get the world’s attention, which might have been exactly what the small Communist dictatorship was going for in the first place.
The UN has previously tried various measures to curb the country’s nuclear efforts, such as a travel ban, a freeze on overseas financial assets and embargoes on arms, nonproliferation and luxury goods. Yet none of this seemed effective, so the question remains: what can be done? The UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting today, where the members condemned the test. Even China, who has typically spoken out against strong sanctions against North Korea, have condemned their neighbors for not giving any advanced notice. Such a unanimous condemnation, where NATO, Russia and China are all on the same side, is rare.
Despite the fact that it’s such a small and poor country, North Korea’s secrecy, seclusion, hostility and unwillingness to play by traditional rules makes it an unpredictable and dangerous foe. While North Korea hasn’t done much to develop its economy, it’s put a major focus on the military, and has a standing army of 1.2 million active soldiers and 7.7 million reservists out of a country of 25 million. Nonetheless, North Korea’s conventional weaponry is dated, one reason that experts believe the country has been looking towards nuclear weapons. But how close they are to using effective is unclear.
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