North Korea’s nuke-bomb test: A reality check

As published int the Manila Times February 15, 2013

North Korea’s successful underground nuclear-bomb test last Tuesday has suddenly made Asia a dangerous place in which an all-out war or even nuclear devastations, intentional or accidental, cannot be ruled out until that militarized rogue state is totally disarmed.

Consider how North Korea has accelerated in the past three years its program to become a full nuclear power:

• 2009: In April, North Korea tested its first long-range rocket, Unha-2, which while practically laughed at by the West as a disaster, actually had two of its three stages firing as planned, and thus represented a big jump in its rocket capability. In May 2009, North Korea’s second nuclear device was successfully detonated.

• 2012-2013: In April again, its Unha-3 rocket was launched, but splintered soon after take off. Eight months later though, another long range missile was tested, which was successful this time, with some of its debris falling 200 kms east of – or passing — Luzon in the Philippine Sea. South Korean scientists who recovered and examined its liquid-fuel engines claimed it had the capacity to reach mainland US, and certainly Japan.

The nuclear device exploded Tuesday was more powerful, estimated to be the equivalent to 6-10 kilotons of TNT compared to 1-7 kilotons for the second device. More significantly, the country’s official press Korea Central News Agency described it as a “smaller, lighter device.”

North Korea’s message within the span of a little more than a month: We have (or “will soon have”, if the US doesn’t step it, according to analysts) a nuke, a smaller, lighter one we can load on a missile to deliver it as far as the US. Only two other super-powers, China and the defunct USSR, had that capability. Furthermore, the type of nuclear device it detonated sent another chilling message: We can now make more nuclear bombs. This is because the recently detonated device, according to experts and intelligence-services’ reports, used highly enriched uranium, which North Korea only in 2009 constructed a facility to manufacture. This is in contrast to previous devices based on plutonium, which however North Korea has only a limited amount at its disposal, estimated to be good for only 4-8 devices.

The recent nuclear test has made what previously impossible a possibility: A small country, one of the poorest, and led by a totalitarian regime, can now produce as many nuclear devices it can, and launch a nuclear attack or at least try doing so, against the richest, most powerful country in the world.

Being just a thousand kilometers from Pyongyang, Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is particularly worried with North Korea’s nuclear capability.

With its recent elections, Japan’s is now run by a nationalist, right-wing government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the kind that would take concrete steps to defend itself against a nuclear threat. After all, it is only nation, which can declare “Never Again” in terms of being the victims of a nuclear device.

The US went to war in 2003 on the claim that Iraq had vague, chemical weapons of mass destruction it was hiding. Would it hesitate in the case of North Korea, which has announced to the world that it has deliverable weapons of mass destruction?

It is not just the North Korean’ nuclear test’s implications in Asia that has worried the US and the West. Israeli intelligence believe that North Korea has been secretly cooperating with Pakistan and Iran for the development of deliverable nuclear devices. The Asian rogue state had shared its missile technology with Pakistan and Iran, while it got its centrifuge technology for enriching uranium from a Pakistani scientist. “North Korea may have utilized an enriched uranium core for the first time in the current test, “ retired Israeli Lt. Colonel and nuclear physicist Rafael Ofek wrote in an article in Israeli Defense. “It is therefore possible that North Korea is also a ‘test lab’ for the nuclear weapon that Iran is developing,” he wrote.

Since the advent of the nuclear age, the scenario of a mad dictator having nuclear weapons has been world’s worst nightmare, with the US invasion of Iraq subliminally a project to subdue such a despot. All the elements of that nightmare are there: North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un appearing to be in the same mold as grandfather Kim Il-sung and father Kim Jong-il, who presided over the deaths of millions of their own people due to wars they waged and famines they caused; a militarized state; the need for the young new dictator to demonstrate his pwer. What could be more frightening?

The world heaved a sigh of relief when Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack about a year ago on December 17, 2011, as it had seemed impossible for the Korean military and its people to allow another Kim to rule and continue the country’s destitution. Yet the 30 year-old Kim Jung-un has swiftly consolidated his power, and appears to be a worse sociopath than his father and grandfather, deluded that his small, impoverished country will one day defeat the “imperialist’ powers.

And this is happening in our part of the world. The North Korean problem is the US’ biggest head-ache, not China, not its territorial disputes with us, nor other ASEAN countries. China is the sole state that has influence in North Korea, as it continues to provide it with financial aid and trade. Any action by US to defang North Korea would have to be approved, even actively supported by China. Until Kim Jong-un is ‘dealt with” by the US, in the way it dealt with Saddam Hussein, the South China Sea dispute for the Americans, is nothing.

E-mail: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

Archive of my column is at www. trigger.ph