North Korea tests 'threaten international peace'
North Korea's nuclear ambitions could pose a threat to international security, Nato general secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this evening.
Speaking to RTÉ News in Dublin this evening after North Korea launched its third underground nuclear test this morning, Mr Rasmussen said the move "might further destabilise the situation in the Korean peninsula – but they are also developing missile technologies – so it might constitute a threat to international peace and security."
The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned the test and vowed to take action against Pyongyang for an act that all major world powers, including traditional ally China, have denounced.
North Korea claimed the atomic test was merely its “first response” to what it called US threats, and said it will continue with unspecified “second and third measures of greater intensity” if Washington maintains its hostility.
The underground test, which set off powerful seismic waves, drew immediate condemnation from Britain, Washington, the UN and others. Even its only major ally, China, summoned the North’s ambassador for a dressing-down.
Monitoring stations in South Korea detected an earthquake in the North with a magnitude of 4.9 which corresponds to an estimated explosive yield of 6-7 kilotons.
The yields of the North’s 2006 and 2009 tests were estimated at 1 kiloton and 2 to 6 kilotons. By comparison, US nuclear bombs that flattened Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the Second World War were estimated at 13 kilotons and 22 kilotons.
US President Barack Obama said nuclear tests “do not make North Korea more secure.” Instead, North Korea has “increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Outgoing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta compared the country to Iran, labelling them both as "rogue states".
“We just saw what North Korea has done in these last few weeks, a missile test and now a nuclear test. They represent a serious threat to the United States of America, and we’ve got to be prepared to deal with that,” he said.
In an emergency session this afternoon the UN Security Council unanimously said the test poses “a clear threat to international peace and security” and pledged further action.
"The members of the Security Council strongly condemned this test, which is a grave violation of Security Council resolutions," South Korean foreign minister Kim Sung-hwan, whose country is president of the council this month, told reporters.
He said the council would now consider "appropriate measures." The non-binding statement was approved by all 15 council members.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington and its allies want the Security Council to pass a resolution that would "augment the sanctions regime" already in place due to Pyongyang's 2006 and 2009 atomic tests.
The council statement was agreed at an emergency closed-door session convened by South Korea. Diplomats say negotiations on new sanctions could take weeks since China is likely to resist tough new measures for fear that new sanctions could lead to further retaliation by the North Korean leadership.
Beijing has also been concerned that tougher sanctions could further weaken the North's economy and prompt a flood of refugees into China.
The United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - the five permanent members of the 15-nation council - all condemned Pyongyang's latest nuclear test, which an international nuclear test monitoring agency in Vienna said was roughly twice as large as that of North Korea's 2009 nuclear test.
Mr Obama said "the danger posed by North Korea's threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community."
Mr Obama will be giving his annual state of the union address later this evening. Several diplomats said it was possible that was why North Korea chose this day to detonate an atomic device, since Pyongyang traditionally makes such moves on important days in the US calendar.
China's reaction was more muted. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned the North Korean ambassador to China to protest against the North's new nuclear test. Mr Yang said China was "strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed" to the test.
Several council diplomats said the United States and its allies would push for tough new sanctions rather than merely expanding existing measures imposed after Pyongyang's 2006 and 2009 atomic tests.
US ‘not threatened’
North Korea's third nuclear test may be aimed at showing its foes it can develop a warhead for a missile but it is still a long way from being able to threaten the United States, proliferation experts say.
The secretive Asian state is widely believed to be trying to develop a device that is compact and light enough to fit on top of a missile. North Korea said the test, which was condemned by world powers, had used a miniaturised device.
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) executive secretary Tibor Toth said the action "constitutes a clear threat to international peace and security and challenges efforts to strengthen global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation".
The international monitoring agency said the "explosion-like" event that North Korea described as a nuclear test had a seismic magnitude of 5, around twice as large as a test it carried out in 2009 and much bigger than one in 2006.
"It seems as if Pyongyang wants to send the message - true or not - that it can employ a missile with a nuclear warhead and that previous problems with their nuclear tests have been overcome," Jim Walsh of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said.
No lies on test
The North's ultimate aim, Washington believes, is to design a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States. Pyongyang says the programme is aimed merely at putting satellites in space.
However, North Korea still had a long way to go before it could credibly threaten the United States with nuclear weapons, said Daryl Kimball from the Arms Control Association, a US-based research and advocacy group.
"It is likely to be years away from fielding an ICBM which could deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland," he said.
Kimball said the test was an embarrassment for China's leadership and Pyongyang may have jeopardised the aid and diplomatic support it receives from Beijing.
China criticised the previous tests but did not roll back on aid. But Beijing had signalled that if North Korea undertook further tests, it would not hesitate to reduce assistance.
Test ‘threatens stability’
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the test by North Korea of a nuclear explosive device”.
He said the test threatens peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and was a challenge to Irish foreign policy of advancing global nuclear disarmament.
“Nuclear weapons are never a means to guarantee peace and security; far from it, they pose the greatest threat of all. The regime in Pyongyang must realise that today’s act is reckless and provocative and will only isolate it further from the international community,” Mr Gilmore said.
He called for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to be immediately brought into force.