Friday morning on Sept. 9th, North Korea conducted its fifth and biggest nuclear test. A South Korean military official announced this news hours after South Korea noticed unusual ground-shaking activity near its neighboring northeastern nuclear test site.
Coincidentally, this was launched on North Korea’s 68th anniversary of their founding, when Korea was divided into two regions by the U.S. and USSR to jointly organize Japanese surrender in 1945 after World War II.
According to CNN, North Korea claims that this was its most powerful test to have “successfully detonated a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on ballistic rockets.” This would allow North Korea to generate “a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power.”
Many concerns were brought to the United Nations Security Council as they claimed the test was “a clear threat to international peace and security.” This blast occurred in Punggye-ri, which is North Korea’s underground test site, and was estimated to be double the power of their last recent test in January. While their test in January was measured to be about four to six kilotons of TNT, their recent explosion last week was estimated to be ten kilotons. According to IHS Jane’s analyst Karl Dewey, “It would be smaller than both Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but it would still rip the heart out of a city.”
Earlier this year, North Korea successfully tested their most recent hydrogen bomb, which was so severe that this lead to punitive sanctions on the North Korean regime. However, later in February, a US official director who was familiar with the evaluation of the test explosion, claimed that the components with the hydrogen bomb had partial failed tests. Hydrogen bombs are known to be about a hundred times more powerful than the similar atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII. While the test was not successful, the seismic disturbance from the explosion shook the area with a magnitude of 5.1, feeling like a moderate earthquake.
While North Korea views the South and the United states as their main enemies, they claim their “scientists and technicians carried out a nuclear explosion test for the judgment of the power of a nuclear warhead,” according to the North Korea Central News Agency. However, concerns rise as this shows North Korea can now easily set a nuclear device on a missile. This raises concerns that Punggye-ri is gearing closer to their goal of a nuclear war with missiles that may one day threaten and possibly strike the U.S. mainland.
Although North Korea is continuing to advance their nuclear and missile performances, there has yet to come a time when North Korea can pair these two has effectively. However, concerns are rising as this country is testing weapons at a significantly quicker pace within this year. Also, not to mention their neighboring South Korea who worries that Punggye-ri is continuing its goal of “mounting a nuclear warhead to ballistic missiles faster than previously estimated,” as CNN described.
While the United Nations imposed a set of sanctions from the hydrogen bomb in January, no sanctions are delivered to this recent explosion. Chinese analysts explain that Beijing will not adjust their allegiance to North Korea or force the country to limit its nuclear weapons, as the United States recently demanded, even though North Korea remains dependent on China for food and oil. Without China’s support, North Korea’s economy would crash to the ground within a year and have to choose between maintaining their nuclear weapons or supporting their own economy. It is unlikely that China would cut off North Korea’s oil supply, because they do not want North Korea to gain supplies from Russia. In addition, this will not stop Kim Jong-un to surrender his weapons. Because North Korea is supported by China, the US cannot rely on China for progress on reducing the North Korean nuclear threat.