Monday, October 09, 2006

Fallout: Reaction to North Korea's nuclear test

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You've all heard the news. North Korea has conducted a nuclear test.

Reaction from the international community was predictable. There was outcry, with President Bush calling the test "provocative," "a threat to international peace and security". "The North Korea regime remains one of the world's leading proliferators of missile technology including transfers to Iran and Syria," he said. "Once again, North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond". It is not clear how it will.

According to The New York Times, "The United Nations Security Council today began working on a resolution condemning North Korea's action, shortly after President Bush denounced the announcement of the test as a 'provocative act,' one that requires an 'immediate response.'" It is not clear what that means, although, according to the BBC, the U.N. Security Council has condemned the test and "will also consider what steps to take next, including sanctions that could be mandatory and enforceable". The U.S. has already "circulated a 13-point draft resolution seeking targeted sanctions".

An analysis in the Financial Times suggests that the test is "a sign of weakness". Regardless, it's hard to know what kind of a sign it may be without even knowing the scope of the test. The BBC: "The size of the bomb is uncertain, with estimates varying from 550 tons of destructive power to as much as 15 kilotons. The 1945 Hiroshima bomb was 12.5-15 kilotons." And yet, "[t]he French Atomic Energy Commission says the blast measured about one kiloton or less and could have been the result of a failed nuclear test". Indeed, "the claimed test does not necessarily mean North Korea has a fully-fledged nuclear bomb or warhead that it can deliver to a target".

The possibility of a failed test raised by the French AEC is backed up by Defense Tech's Jeffrey Lewis, who suggests that "the test was probably a dud". He provides a follow-up at ArmsControlWonk, calling the test a "failure". See also Kevin Drum here.

So what do we know? Not much. It was likely either a small bomb or a dud.


More to come...

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