North Korea Nuclear Test Makes West, Russia and China Join Together to Counter Global Security Challenge
Peter KORZUN | 08.01.2016 | WORLD / Asia Pacific

North Korea Nuclear Test Makes West, Russia and China Join Together to Counter Global Security Challenge

On Dec.6 the United Nations Security Council condemned the North Korean hydrogen device test conducted a day before and said it would immediately start work on new «measures» against the country. The Council was unanimous calling the trial «a clear threat to international peace and security». 

In a statement to the press, the Council’s 15 members also recalled that they have previously expressed determination to take «further significant measures» in the event of another North Korean nuclear test, and in line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, they said the Council will begin to work immediately on such measures in a new resolution.

«In line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, the members of the Security Council will begin to work immediately on such measures in a new Security Council resolution», he said, noting that the test was «a clear violation of Security Council resolutions», Elbio Rosselli, Uruguay's UN ambassador and president of the council this month, told reporters.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the development «deeply troubling» with the UN Security Council vowing to immediately begin considering the «significant measures» it had promised to take in the event of another nuclear test by the country. Calling the announced incident «a grave contravention of the international norm against nuclear testing», Mr. Ban, addressing reporters at UN Headquarters, added: «This act is profoundly destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international non-proliferation efforts. I condemn it unequivocally». 

Russia condemned the bomb test, saying it would amount to a gross violation of international law if confirmed. The Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, called for «cool heads» and a «proportionate response». 

Russia’s presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: «President Vladimir Putin has ordered to study thoroughly the readings of all monitoring stations, including seismological ones, and analyze the situation in case the reports about the (H-bomb) test are confirmed».

Meanwhile the Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: «Such actions are fraught with further aggravation of the situation on the Korean peninsula, which is anyway marked by very high potential of military and political confrontation».

China, the North Korea’s neighbor enjoying special relationship, spoke out strongly against the latest test, saying it had no notice. Beijing joined Russia and NATO to condemn the test. The UN Security Council demonstrated rare unanimity at a time of deep discord on issues like Syria’s conflict and the fight against Islamic State, the Shiite-Sunni Muslim divide and migration among other things. 

The Security Council has adopted four major resolutions condemning North Korea since its first nuclear test in 2006 — one after each of the 2006, 2009 and 2013 tests, and another after a satellite launch in December 2012. All have imposed sanctions on North Korea and sought to both stop it from getting the equipment it needs to develop its nuclear weapons program and to pressure it to give up the pursuit of nuclear capability. Clearly, none of these have had much, if any, impact. The Six Party Talks on North Korean nuclear program have been dormant since 2009.

Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington, argued that stiffening existing sanctions, while sending a political message, would be insufficient. «Ratcheting up sanctions pressure demonstrates that there is a cost to violating Security Council resolutions», she said in an email. «However, sanctions alone are not going to change Pyongyang’s behavior. North Korea has complex illicit trafficking networks for evading sanctions, and not all countries in the region are adequately enforcing existing measures».

Atomic weapons are plutonium-based and involve a process called fission that splits plutonium into smaller atoms, releasing massive amounts of energy. Hydrogen bombs are made with uranium. Instead of splitting big atoms, it combines small atoms to release a massive nuclear force hundreds of times more powerful than an atomic weapon. The Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs, for example, were a-bombs. The atomic blast at Hiroshima killed between 90,000 and 140,000 people, so a hydrogen bomb could potentially kill far more. But the radiation from any blast can be as damaging as the blast itself, and make land uninhabitable for generations to come. 

The U.S. last conducted a nuclear weapons test in 1992, Russia (the USSR) in 1990, while China last did so in 1996. India and Pakistan last ran a nuclear test in 1998. But North Korea has continued to flout the test-ban treaty.

In May last year, North Korea said it had the ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons, a development that would allow it to deploy nuclear weapons on missiles.

If North Korea’s claim was true, the test makes the country join the ranks of the world’s thermonuclear powers, but many experts were sceptical, pointing out that the earthquake caused by the detonation at the Punggye-ri test site measured 5.1 on the Richter scale. This was no stronger than the tremor recorded during the last nuclear test in 2013. The device tested in North Korea reportedly had a yield equivalent to 6,000 tons of TNT and was described as a 'miniature device'. By comparison the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15,000 tons. The relatively low yield has prompted speculation that the North Korea device tested isn't a 'real' H-bomb but a half-way house between an atomic and hydrogen bomb.

The US also cast doubt. «The initial analysis is not consistent with the claim the regime has made of a successful hydrogen bomb test», said Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman. Air particles, satellite images and seismic data will all be analyzed to learn more about this test – and establish exactly what device was used. It's possible North Korea has a «boosted» weapon, one that uses a small amount of fusion to boost the fission process, but is not a hydrogen bomb, but whether there was a hydrogen element isn't known. David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, called the latest nuclear test «largely a mystery» and surmised that North Korea didn't test a standard two-stage hydrogen bomb, in which an atomic blast sets off a thermonuclear explosion. «North Korea can bluff», said Albright, the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security. «It can claim that it now knows how to achieve high yields with thermonuclear concepts. It is difficult to prove it does not».

Indeed, given the secrecy surrounding North Korea, it may be difficult to ever know; the last test, in 2013, has experts split over whether the device detonated then was plutonium or uranium. 

Even if it wasn't an H-bomb, there's little doubt that North Korea did conduct a new significant nuclear test despite persistent calls not to do so. The trial was viewed as further evidence of the steady expansion of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The country is now believed to possess up to 20 nuclear weapons – about half of which are loaded onto ballistic missiles. Last year, North Korea tested a submarine-launched missile and declared its intention of mastering the technology for thermonuclear weapons. After its last nuclear test in 2013, the North restarted a plutonium reactor that it had shut down at its Yongbyon complex in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord. The Yongbyon reactor is capable of producing six kilograms (13 pounds) of plutonium a year - enough for one nuclear bomb. 

Pyongyang is currently believed to have enough plutonium for as many as six bombs, after using part of its stock for at least two of its three atomic tests to date. 

Whether an H-bomb or not, it was North Korea's fourth nuclear test and marked a striking act of defiance that flew in the face of enemies and allies alike who have warned Pyongyang it would pay a steep price for moving forward with its nuclear weapons program. 

The test is another security challenge that cannot be tackled separately by the West alone. It needs Russia and China to do it effectively. This is another evidence to prove the fact that no matter the how much divided the West, Russia and China may be over some international issues, they need to join together to meet global security challenges.