North Korea, one of the pillars of Bush’s “axis of evil”, conducted an underground test of a nuclear bomb last night about 50 miles northwest of the northern city of Kilju. According to predictions by Russian officials, the bomb generated a blast of between 10 and 20 kilotons, which places it in the range of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”; the two atomic bombs that ravaged the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
North Korea is part of the Pacific-Asia region, which is also occupied by China, South Korea and Japan. China is the only other nuclear power in the region; however it is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which attempts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. China’s stance on nuclear weaponry has been fairly steady, though the proximity of this nuclear test could spur China to ensure its own nuclear arsenal is operational.
South Korea has been at odds with North Korea since the early 1950s, and the two are technically still at war even though an armistice was signed more than 55 years ago. Their border is the most heavily armed in the world, and the introduction of President Lee-Myung Bak has served to reignite hostility between the two countries. Bak has publicly called for the nuclear disarmament of North Korea, a demand that has angered Kim Jong-Il. But he’s always pretty angry.
The last regional neighbor is Japan, the only country to have ever been subjected to a nuclear attack and a steadfast supporter of all treaties and attempts to de-nuclearize unstable states. According to Al-Jazeera, “analysts fear that if Japan felt pressured into developing nuclear weapons, it would trigger an arms race‚ across the region.” Personally, after the atrocities faced by their people in 1945, I really don’t see any way in which Japan would seriously consider developing a nuclear arsenal.
North Korea hasn’t always been so defiant. It actually ratified the NPT in 1985, but withdrew from the treaty in 2003 after being accused by the U.S. of operating an illegal uranium weapons program, claims that were later said to be misinformed. Since then North Korea has been the subject of the six-party talks, a series of diplomatic sessions between China, the U.S., Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea to try and peacefully resolve all security concerns that stemmed from its withdrawal from the NPT.
Three years after the first six-party talks and just one year after admitting it had nuclear weapons, in 2006, North Korea launched seven missiles into the Sea of Japan and conducted an underground test of a nuclear device, citing “hostile U.S. policy” as the main cause. Following the two events, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on North Korea as a punishment for its defiance.
Soon after, in 2007, talks resumed and North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear weapons facilities in exchange for fuel oil and the stabilization of international relations between the U.S. and Japan. The sanctions were periodically lifted by the U.S. and other countries as North Korea met certain requirements.
However, in April 2009, North Korea decided to pull out of six-party talks indefinitely after the UN Security Council criticized and labeled what North Korea claimed to be a failed satellite launch as a long-range missile test. The country then banned all international nuclear inspectors and vowed to continue enhancing its nuclear arsenal and technology, something, it seems by the magnitude of yesterday’s blast, it had been doing all along.
North Korea also tested ballistic missiles yesterday, which has incited some panic among civilians who see it as an indication of an impending nuclear attack. However according to several experts North Korea cannot launch a nuclear attack because it has not weaponized its nuclear arsenal.
So while this is a particularly troubling event, let’s see what comes of the UN meeting and what steps the international body will take to ensure this stops now. Hopefully it is, as many are predicting, just a method of compensation by Jong-Il. His health is rumored to be declining so quickly after last year’s stroke that he is already thinking about his replacement.
The favorite? Why, his youngest son, of course.
UPDATE: UN Security Council releases statement unanimously condemning North Korea’s actions. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon “‘strongly deplores’ the latest test as a ‘clear and grave’ violation of past resolutions,” CBC reports.
Stick with Blast for developments.