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North Korea declares second nuclear test 'successful'

After its first test in 2006 which was pronounced a nuclear 'fizzle', Pyongyang has once again defied the international community and brought swift condemnation with a second test that may have earlier technical problems. While China has been reluctant to support previous efforts to impose sanctions on North Korea, China's response to the latest North Korean test was unusually strong.

While North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006 provoked global alarm, at that point Pyongyang's intentions were arguably a greater source of concern than its demonstrated capabilities. That test, which apparently yielded less than a 1-kiloton explosion, was regarded as "some kind of a nuclear damp squib," or what is technically referred to as a nuclear fizzle. North Korea's second nuclear test which took place on Monday appears to have been more successful. According to Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group, "the North Koreans had suggested to the Chinese that its test would be in the 4-kiloton range," and the initial results from seismic readings indicate that the yield of the explosion was indeed approximately 4 kilotons. While this is well below the 20-40 kiloton range for tests conducted by other nuclear powers, a nuclear warhead with a 4-kiloton yield would be small enough to carry on a ballistic missile. Within hours the UN Security Council condemned the nuclear test. "Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current council president, made clear in a statement that the condemnation was only an initial response, and that more will follow. He said it was too early to give any specifics," the Associated Press reported. " 'The members of the Security Council have decided to start work immediately on a Security Council resolution on this matter,' he said. "US Ambassador Susan Rice said the 15-member council agreed that work on the new resolution will begin Tuesday." The Washington Post noted: "The UN action followed a wave of international condemnation today of North Korea's nuclear test. Early in the day, the underground test just before 10am local time was declared a 'blatant violation of international law' by President Obama and denounced by Russia, China and Japan. 'By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community,' Obama said in a brief statement outside the White House. 'North Korea's behaviour increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea's isolation.' "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned leaders of the so-called Six Party talks, including Japanese Foreign Minister Nakasone and South Korean Foreign Minister Yu. The UN Security Council five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - scheduled a separate meeting at 3.15pm, just before the full council was to convene. "Diplomats noted that, while Beijing has resisted previous efforts to impose sanctions on North Korea, China's response to the North Korean test was unusually strong. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was 'resolutely opposed' to the test, according a statement quoted by the Xinhua news agency." Scott Snyder, Director of the Center for US-Korea Policy at The Asia Foundation said: "North Korea's latest test directly defies Chinese interests by enhancing Japan's security anxieties and giving momentum to countermeasures (ie, debates in Japan over acquisition of preemption and even nuclear capabilities) that are ultimately contrary to Chinese interests. North Korea's actions force China to choose between short-term support for a North Korea that continues to risk Chinese interests by promoting regional tensions and enhancing instability and China's long-term needs to uphold international non-proliferation norms and remove the sources of instability on the Korean peninsula." Joe Cirincione noted: "this represents President Obama's first foreign policy failure. Obama followed the advice of staff who recommended ignoring North Korea. The argument was that North Korea had no place to go and would eventually come back to negotiations. This was a strategy endorsed by many former Bush officials. There was nothing like the diplomatic approaches that Obama has started with Iran - and North Korea noticed. "Obama officials even put preconditions on renewing negotiations, reportedly blocking Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth from going to North Korea until that country promised not to conduct another missile test. Officials also backed the tough line taken by South Korea, including curtailing fuel shipments to the north. "But North Korea will not be ignored. It is time to shift gears. We need a coordinated effort with China that combines pressure with incentives. Not just promises to talk, but a clear description of what North Korea could gain from stopping and then rolling back its programme, coupled with official attention that gives it the respect it thinks it deserves - however repugnant that [may] be." Last week, under a Wall Street Journal headline, "Get Ready for Another North Korea Nuclear Test," John Bolton wrote: "In October 2006, North Korea witnessed the incredible diplomatic success it could reap from belligerence. Its first nuclear test brought resumption of the six-party talks, which gave Kim Jong Il cover to further advance his nuclear programme. "Now, Kim is poised to succeed again by following precisely the same script. In April, Pyongyang launched a Taepodong-2 missile, and National Security Council official Gary Samore recently confirmed that a second nuclear test is likely on the way. The North is set to try two US reporters for 'hostile acts.' The state-controlled newspaper calls America 'a rogue and a gangster.' Kim recently expelled international monitors from the Yongbyon nuclear complex. And Pyongyang threatens to 'start' enriching uranium - a capacity it procured long ago. "A second nuclear test is by no means simply a propaganda ploy. Most experts believe that the 2006 test was flawed, producing an explosive yield well below even what the North's scientists had predicted. The scientific and military imperatives for a second test have been strong for over two years, and the potential data, experience and other advantages of further testing would be tremendous." Earlier this month, Siegfried S Hecker, codirector of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, wrote: "To make better bombs, particularly to miniaturise them and have confidence to mount them on missiles, North Korea would have to conduct one or more nuclear tests. Although it must have been tempted to conduct a second test after the limited success in October 2006, North Korea has been constrained by its meager plutonium inventory and by the threat of international sanctions. If it had another 8 kilograms available, it could decide to conduct another test. The addition of one more bomb to Pyongyang's small arsenal would not represent a greatly enhanced threat, yet a more sophisticated arsenal would. "Little is known about the North Korean uranium enrichment programme. Suspicions about the programme have intensified since US analysts found traces of highly enriched uranium on two separate sets of items provided by the North Koreans in late 2007 and in 2008. My judgment remains that it is highly likely that North Korea has a uranium enrichment research effort but not at an industrial scale. The curious announcement that Pyongyang could pursue building a light water reactor on its own may allow it to reveal its uranium enrichment programme now that it has the cover of doing so for civilian purposes. North Korea doesn't likely have the materials or technology for such a programme, however, making an alliance with Iran an ever-increasing possibility."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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