UN condemns North Korea over hydrogen bomb test

White House casts doubt over claims of successful testing of weapon by Pyongyang

North Koreans in Pyongyang cheer and applaud as their government announces the successful testing of a miniaturized hydrogen nuclear device. Video: Reuters

 

The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned North Korea’s nuclear test and is pledging to pursue new sanctions.

North Korea said it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear bomb on Wednesday, but atomic weapons experts and the White House cast doubt on the isolated nation’s ability to make such an advance in its arsenal.

The test, the fourth time that North Korea has exploded a nuclear device, unnerved South Korea and Japan and drew world criticism, including from China and Russia, Pyongyang’s two main allies.

Initial analysis of the test is not consistent with Pyongyang’s claim of a successful hydrogen bomb test, the White House said, but any nuclear test would be a “flagrant violation” of UN Security Council resolutions. “The initial analysis is not consistent with the claim the regime has made of a successful hydrogen bomb test,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a briefing. He said the White House was working to learn more about the reported test, and that any nuclear test by North Korea would be “provocative and a flagrant violation” of Security Council resolutions.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned North Korea’s action, calling it “profoundly destabilising for regional security,” while US House Speaker Paul Ryan said it “looks like a provocation”.

A statement issued by the Security Council after emergency closed-door consultations on Wednesday called the test “a clear violation” of council resolutions, adding “therefore a clear threat to international peace and security continues to exist”. The council said it had previously expressed determination to take “further significant measures” in the event of another North Korean test and would begin work immediately on a new sanctions resolution in light of “the gravity of this violation”.

North Korea has been under UN Security Council sanctions since it first tested an atomic device in 2006.

Earthquake

The explosion caused an earthquake that was measured by the United States Geological Survey. The nuclear test was ordered by leader Kim Jong Un and successfully conducted at 10am local time, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said.

“Let the world look up to the strong, self-reliant nuclear-armed state,” Kim wrote in what North Korean state TV displayed as a handwritten note.

US government experts do not believe the device was a hydrogen bomb, US government sources said. It likely will take several days to determine more precisely what kind of nuclear device Pyongyang set off as a variety of sensors, including “sniffer planes,” collect evidence.

South Korean intelligence officials and several analysts also questioned whether Wednesday’s explosion was a test of a full-fledged hydrogen device, pointing to the fact that it was roughly as powerful as North Korea’s last atomic test in 2013.

Stocks across the world fell for a fifth consecutive day as the North Korea tension added to a growing list of geopolitical worries and China fuelled fears about its economy by allowing the yuan to weaken further. No countries were given advance warning of a nuclear test, South Korea’s intelligence service said, according to lawmakers briefed by intelligence officials. In previous such tests, Pyongyang had notified China, Russia and the United States beforehand, they said.

US Presidential Candidates

While a fourth nuclear test had long been expected, the claim that it was a hydrogen device, much more powerful than an atomic bomb, came as a surprise, as did the timing. It made North Korea a topic on the US presidential campaign with the first state nominating contests weeks away.

The vote is in November.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton condemned the test as a “provocative and dangerous act” that the United States should meet with sanctions and strengthened missile defenses. “North Korea must have no doubt that we will take whatever steps are necessary to defend ourselves and our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan,” she said in a statement.

Republican candidate Donald Trump said the onus was on China to solve what he called the North Korean “problem”, and if it did not, the United States “should make trade very difficult for China.”

North Korea has long coveted diplomatic recognition from Washington, but sees its nuclear deterrent as crucial to ensuring the survival of its third-generation dictatorship. While the Kim government boasts of its military might to project strength globally, it also plays up the need to defend itself from external threats as a way to maintain control domestically.

The North’s state news agency said Pyongyang would act as a responsible nuclear state and vowed not to use its nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty was infringed.

North Korea’s only significant ally is China, but relations have been strained in recent years because Beijing does not approve of the weapons testing on its doorstep and wants Pyongyang to return to long-dormant six-party talks, chaired by China and including both Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

China said it firmly opposed the test, which it said took place “irrespective of the international community’s opposition”.

“We strongly urge the DPRK side to remain committed to its denuclearisation commitment, and stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular briefing.

Doubts Raised

“Given the scale, it is hard to believe this is a real hydrogen bomb,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

Joe Cirincione, a nuclear expert who is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security organisation, said North Korea may have mixed a hydrogen isotope in a normal atomic fission bomb.

“Because it is, in fact, hydrogen, they could claim it is a hydrogen bomb,” he said. “But it is not a true fusion bomb capable of the massive multi-megaton yields these bombs produce”.

The USGS reported a 5.1 magnitude quake that South Korea said was 49km (30 miles) from the Punggye-ri site where the North has conducted nuclear tests in the past.

The test may mark an advance of North Korea’s nuclear technology. The claim of miniaturising, which would allow the device to be adapted as a weapon and placed on a missile, would pose a new threat to the United States and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea.

The North’s previous miniaturisation claims have not been independently verified. Many experts also doubt whether the North possesses missile technology capable of reliably delivering a warhead to the continental United States.

Conventional atomic bombs split atoms from heavier elements such as uranium or plutonium. They occur in one stage. The process is called fission. Hydrogen bombs have a second stage after fission. This fusion stage releases much more energy.