Just hours after announcing they had developed a more advanced nuclear weapon — claimed to be a hydrogen bomb — North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. The test was the nation’s most powerful to date, with the U.S. Geological Survey measuring tremors at a magnitude of 6.3, while South Korea measured it at the much lower magnitude of 5.7. According to the New York Times, both measurements would indicate a weapons test “five to six times” more powerful than the nation’s previous nuclear tests. Estimates place the power of the blast at 120 kilotons and the DPRK referred to it as a “complete success.”
South Korea, China, and Japan condemned the test soon after, with South Korea saying the test is an “absurd strategic mistake” and the Japanese calling a sixth test “extremely unforgivable” while filing a protest with North Korea’s embassy in Beijing. They have also requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council over the incident.
Experts confirmed that the device seen in images shared by North Korea hours before the test did resemble a “two-stage thermonuclear device,” but doubts were cast. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the New York Times that he questioned both at the device being authentic and the claim that the nation could mount any device onto an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile:
“The size of the seismic signal of the recent test suggests a significantly higher explosive yield than the fifth test,” Mr. Albright said. “Getting this high of a yield would likely require thermonuclear material in the device.”
But he said he was “skeptical that this design has been miniaturized to fit reliably on a ballistic missile.”
The Times adds that this test is likely aimed more at China and President Xi Jinping in response to the nation’s recent change in stance regarding sanctions against North Korea.
The test’s timing was a major embarrassment for Mr. Xi, who on Sunday was hosting a summit meeting of the so-called Brics countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Renmin University in Beijing, said the timing of the test — on the day of the summit meeting’s opening ceremony, in the Chinese city of Xiamen — appeared to be deliberate.
“This will test whether China is prepared to go ahead with more radical actions like cutting off oil supplies to North Korea,” Mr. Cheng said.
China’s role in how the world will react to North Korea’s latest nuclear test will be important going forward, especially for the United States. While President Trump threatened to bomb North Korea in response to a rumored nuclear test in April, the reality of “fire and fury” from the United States would be highly unlikely given the risks within the region. Any attack would most likely be catastrophic for Seoul in the south and possibly harmful in relations with both China and Russia. That said, a war of words is sure to continue from Trump and allies and the test comes right after joint-military drills with the United States and South Korea. That show of force was in response to North Korea’s most recent missile test that traveled over Northern Japan into the Pacific Ocean, a test the DPRK claimed was preparation for their threatened strike against Guam.
The nuclear test is the latest in a string of escalations since Donald Trump became president and is also the first such test faced by the new administration.
UPDATE: President Donald Trump has responded to the North Korean nuclear test: