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Sanctions Fail, North Korean Provocations Go Nuclear With Fifth Test

REUTERS/KCNA

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

North Korea confirms that it pulled the trigger Friday on its fifth and most powerful nuclear test.

The U.S. Geological Survey detected seismic activity equivalent to that of a 5.3-magnitude earthquake emanating from an area near North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site at around 9:30 a.m. Pyongyang time (PYT). The suspicious earthquake was in fact a North Korean nuclear test, Korean Central Television (KCTV) broadcaster Ri Chun Hee confirmed at 1:00 p.m. PYT.

North Korea’s latest test, which was conducted on the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), sparked global outrage and concern.

“The international community needs to deal with North Korea firmly and make Pyongyang understand the costs of taking such provocative action,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told President Barack Obama during a 10-minute phone call. Abe considers the test a “grave threat.”

“The only thing that the Kim Jong Un regime can gain from the nuclear tests is stronger sanctions from the international community and its isolation. Such provocation will eventually hasten its path to self destruction,” South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye said, calling the North Korean regime “fanatically reckless.”

President Obama is also reportedly very concerned about the test and its impact on U.S. allies. “The President indicated he would continue to consult our allies and partners in the days ahead to ensure provocative actions from North Korea are met with serious consequences,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told ABC News.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sternly criticized North Korea’s latest test. “This is in clear violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions and in complete disregard of the repeated demands of the international community. It is a deeply troubling and regrettable act,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in a statement.

Even China and Russia, two states which enjoy good relations with North Korea, condemned the nuclear test. “We insist that the North Korean side stop its dangerous escapades and unconditionally implement all resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” the Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We strongly urge the DPRK side to honor the commitment to denuclearization, abide by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and halt all moves that could aggravate the situation,” explained the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement.

Shortly after seismic activity was detected in North Korea, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection activated an emergency contingency plan for radiation monitoring and management along the Korean border.

A comparison of the seismic waveforms for this test and those of North Korea’s previous tests indicates that this was North Korea’s largest test thus far. North Korea’s latest test was two to three times larger than its fourth test in January, according to analysis provided by Douglas Dreger, a professor of geophysics at UC Berkley.

“Scientists and technicians of the DPRK carried out a nuclear explosion test for the judgement of the power of a nuclear warhead,” the North Korean Nuclear Weapons Institute revealed in a KCNA statement.

It is unclear whether or not North Korea has actually managed to mount nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles, but mounting warheads is a key goal for the Kim Jong Un regime. Kim encouraged individuals involved in national defense science “to put increased spurs to mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles” in order to deal with the possibility of an “unpredicted total war and nuclear war with the U.S. imperialists” after a ballistic missile test Aug. 24.

Current reports indicate that the latest test involved a 10-kiloton bomb. January’s nuclear test was only a 7-kiloton bomb.

Prior to the recent test, the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS revealed increased activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Satellite images from late August show maintenance and excavation operations in the area. The report in the institute’s “38 North” blog indicated that these could potentially be preparations for a fifth nuclear test.

Reports that North Korea restarted its nuclear program surfaced in mid-August, when the DPRK’s Atomic Energy Institute revealed that its planned production of enriched plutonium for nuclear weapons is “on schedule.”

North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world. President Obama vowed to increase sanctions on North Korea after it conducted a series of ballistic missile tests earlier this week.

The blast occurred as Obama was making his way home after a tour of Asia which included stops in China and Laos for the G20 summit and ASEAN and East Asia summits. North Korea’s latest nuclear test is a slap in the face to Obama’s calls for increased pressure on North Korea.

“The idea…is to force a crisis in the peninsula, at a time and place of their own choosing, in which the American president is faced with options so unappetizing that he (or she) will hesitate, blink, or back down. And as soon as the American president does this, the US-ROK alliance will be finished,” explained Nicholas Eberstadt, a Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in an AEI press release.

“Today’s detonation wasn’t just about testing nuclear technology. It was about testing America’s resolve. Now is the time for the administration to act,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce in an official statement.

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