I think that the risk of a nuclear weapon being used somewhere in the world today is higher than it has been in a very very long time, arguably going back to the Cuban Missile crisis.
That’s from former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who spoke to Bloomberg after North Korea said it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
The new device – detonated hours after images emerged of Kim “inspecting” an apparent nuclear weapon – demonstrated “unprecedentedly big power,” the North claimed, employing a riff on Trump’s trademark “bigly” descriptor.
As usual, it’s impossible to verify all of Pyongyang’s claims, but the gist of it is that everyone’s favorite Hermit Kingdom now has a hydrogen bomb that can be jerry-rigged onto one of their ICBMs. These were the original bullet points:
- Kim Jong Un guides work for nuclear weaponization on spot
- Kim Jong Un watched H-bomb to be loaded into new ICBM
- New H-bomb adjustable from tens kiloton to hundreds kiloton, also can be detonated at high altitudes
- Kim says North Korea can produce nuclear weapons as many as it wants
- Kim orders scientists to successfully conclude final-stage research, development to make state nuclear force perfect
Apparently, the “high altitudes” bit is a reference to the threat of the North launching an electromagnetic pulse attack on the U.S. electrical grid. Or in other words, Kim has been listening to too many Right-wing American radio hosts. Maybe his generals should take a page out of John Kelly’s book and cut off his access to InfoWars.
Anyway, they said all of that and then a few hours later they conducted a test at Punggye-ri, triggering a magnitude a magnitude-6.3 earthquake (according to the U.S. Geological Survey). That compared to the magnitude-5.3 quake triggered by the North’s test in September 2016.
“It’s big — an order of magnitude bigger than anything else we’ve seen the North Koreans explode,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. “A larger weapon can obviously wreak more destruction. But I think there is also a political aspect — the North Koreans want an arsenal as modern as anyone else.”
So that’s the sixth nuclear test since 2006 and the first under Trump in the U.S. and Moon in the South.
“This act would indicate that the DPRK’s nuclear program is advancing rapidly, once the test is confirmed,” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization said Sunday.
China is irritated. “The Chinese government urges north Korea to obey UN resolutions and stop wrongdoings that make the situation worse,” the China foreign ministry said in a statement. For those interested, here is a reminder of why China has the leverage here, via BofAML:
NK’s trade data are very useful for understanding the geopolitical outlook for the region. As Chart 1 suggests, repeated sanctions since 2006 have not curbed NK trade. Rather, they have simply shifted flows to China, which now accounts for about 90% of NK trade. Of course, there is likely a lot of unreported trade, but given China and NK’s long border, most unreported trade is also probably with China. Note that data on the price of rice and the black market value of the NK Won also suggest sanctions have yet to impose significant pain (Chart 2).
Finally, note that trade is vital to NK since it accounts for 20% of GDP and NK imports virtually all of its oil. In our view, this suggests three things. First, it is not necessarily true that sanctions “don’t work” since tough sanctions have never been attempted. Second, given Korea’s dependence on trade for oil and other vital products, a shutdown of trade would cause a severe recession once inventories are run down. Third, the key to making sanctions work is full cooperation from China.
Meanwhile, here’s something disingenuous from Moscow:
- RUSSIA CONDEMNS NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR TEST: RYABKOV
- RUSSIA CALLS FOR COMPOSURE AFTER NORTH KOREA TEST
As for Seoul, the South is reportedly “discussing ways to possibly deploy the most powerful strategic assets the U.S. military has,” National Security Council head Chung Eui-yong said in briefing on Sunday. He didn’t immediately clarify what the hell that means.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Forces Korea commander have now agreed to prepare and implement a U.S.-S. Korea military response “soon,” South Korea’s JSC said in text message.
You’ll want to watch Trump’s Twitter feed today for the latest. As usual, that’s the best place to get a read on whether they’ll be a tomorrow or not. I’m sure John Kelly is trying to pry the President’s phone out of his hands as we speak.
For now, we’ll leave you with the characteristically hilarious official statement from the North on today’s “prefect success” of a test:
Pyongyang, September 3 (KCNA) — The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK gave the following statement in connection with the perfect success in the test of a hydrogen bomb for ICBM:
Scientists in the nuclear field of the DPRK successfully carried out a test of H-bomb for ICBM in the northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK at 12:00 on September 3, true to the Workers’ Party of Korea’s plan for building a strategic nuclear force.
The H-bomb test was carried out to examine and confirm the accuracy and credibility of the power control technology and internal structural design newly introduced into manufacturing H-bomb to be placed at the payload of the ICBM.
The result of the experimental measurements showed that the power specifications of nuclear warhead including total explosion power and fission to fusion power rate and all other physical specifications reflecting the qualitative level of two-stage thermo-nuclear weapon fully complied with design figures. It was also confirmed that even though the recent test was carried out with the bomb of unprecedentedly big power, there were neither emission through ground surface nor leakage of radioactive materials nor did it have any adverse impact on the surrounding ecological environment.
The test re-confirmed the precision of the compression technology of the first system of the H-bomb and the fission chain reaction start control technology and proved once again that the nuclear material utility rate in the first system and the second system reached the levels reflected in the design.
Symmetrical compression of nuclear charge, its fission detonation and high-temperature nuclear fusion ignition, and the ensuing rapidly boosting fission-fusion reactions, which are key technologies for enhancing the nuclear fusion power of the second-system of the H-bomb, were confirmed to have been realized on a high level. This helped prove that the directional combination structure and multi-layer radiation explosion-proof structural design of the first system and the second system used for the manufacture of the H-bomb were very accurate and the light thermal radiation-resisting materials and neutron-resisting materials were rationally selected.
The test helped draw the conclusion that the Korean-style analytic method and calculation programs for the complicated physical processes occurring in the first and second systems were put on the high level and that the engineering structure of the H-bomb as a nuclear warhead designed on the Juche basis including the structure of the nuclear charge of the second system was creditable.
The test once again confirmed the reliability of the concentration-type nuke detonation control system fully verified through a nuclear warhead detonation test and test-launches of various ballistic rockets.
The perfect success in the test of the H-bomb for ICBM clearly proved that the Juche-based nukes of the DPRK have been put on a highly precise basis, the creditability of the operation of the nuclear warhead is fully guaranteed and the design and production technology of nuclear weapons of the DPRK has been put on a high level to adjust its destructive power in consideration of the targets and purposes. It also marked a very significant occasion in attaining the final goal of completing the state nuclear force.
The Central Committee the WPK extended warm congratulations to the scientists and technicians in the nuclear field in the northern nuclear test ground on their successful H-bomb test for ICBM.