17.12.2015 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

North Korea and the Hydrogen Bomb

4353453454Talks about hydrogen bomb of North Korea were successfully superimposed on a new round of speculations that the North was about to”whack” again. Way back on October 30 the South Korean media, citing a source in the government, reported that works on construction of a new tunnel are conducted on the nuclear test site in North-East of the North Korea: that allegedly active movements of people and vehicles were recorded, and this indicates that there is an ongoing construction of a new tunnel for a nuclear charge.

South Korean Intelligence representatives at the meetings with members of the Parliament have also repeatedly stated that North Korea continued to prepare for launching a long-range ballistic missile and for nuclear tests.

When North Korea banned passage of ships in the Sea of Japan near the port city (and the naval base) Wonsan from November 11 to December 7, it was considered as an alleged launch of a sea-based ballistic missile, but ended up with the unclear test on November 28, which we wrote about.

Earlier, in September 2015 the US Institute for Science and International Security reported that the main North Korean nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which was restarted after the full renovation, had got new “hot cells”, which, according to experts, may be used to divide isotopes and tritium – a necessary component of thermonuclear weapons.

However, several times predictions about the exact launch or explosion date were not justified. For example, it was much expected for something by the 70th anniversary of the WPK, but when it did not happen, the named reason was nothing but only pressure from the international community, including China, and probable technical issues.

Statement of the South Korean Government sources about unusual activity at the North Korean nuclear test site was also disproved by American experts who had analysed satellite images of the facility, made in the period from September 27 to October 25.
In their view, the images showed no signs of the construction of the new tunnel there.

That is why in these cases it is necessary to remember which of their own actions in the sphere of strengthening of military power are justified by anti-North Korean narratives. For example, according to Sol In Je, an employee of the Korea Institute for Defence Analysis, if Pyongyang holds the fourth nuclear test, South Korea and the United States may begin negotiations to place mobile missile complexes THAAD on the Korean peninsula. It is worth to remind about the anti-missile complex KAMD and missile defence Kill Chain as well.

Another example: the US decision to sell a new type of Harpoon anti-ship missiles to South Korea. This small missile has got subsonic flight speed, its maximum firing range may cover the whole territory of the North. Pyongyang stated in the North Korean Party newspaper “Rodong Sinmun” issue of November 29, that the purchase of the missiles is a crime that would create a serious threat on the Korean peninsula.

Moreover, the Southerners launched the newest submarine. Now they have fifteen submarines against as many as 70 of North Korea. It sounds impressive, if we forget that the vast majority of the North Korean submarines are mini-submarines or semi-submerged boats for hidden saboteurs landing.

And finally, there are news about relatively old affairs. At the beginning of December, William Perry, a former Pentagon Chief, told in his interview to “Voice of America” Radio Station, that in 1994 after the government of the DPRK refused to accept experts from the IAEA, the United States had a plan to launch air strikes on the nuclear research centre in Yongbyon. The transfer to the diplomatic solution of the issue happened only after it became clear that the immediate response from Pyongyang will be an attack on the South Korea.

What is important to understand in all this? First, the threat felt by the DPRK leadership is not an illusion, and there is no possibility for Pyongyang to restrain the military pressure of South Korea and the US with conventional methods. It pushes for the development of its nuclear and missile programs, and it will keep on pushing until the foreign policy context is not changed so that Pyongyang will no longer feel the acute threat which can only be balanced with the nuclear card. After all, regardless of whether there is or there is not a bomb (this applies to both: the atomic and hydrogen), those who are going to “bring values of democracy on the tips of missiles to the DPRK” must take into consideration the possibility of retaliation, which makes their potential victory to be at least a Pyrrhic victory. And as the western or American public opinion is satisfied only with a “shutout” victory, it is better to be careful and look for other options, as it eventually happened when Clinton was in power.

Second, the possibilities of the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea itself is constrained by the same foreign policy context. The chance that the North uses it in an aggressive offensive war, does not even seem to be science fiction, but a fantasy in which, unlike our world, there are crazy dictators who do not understand that use of nuclear weapons even in the inter-Korean conflict does not solve strategic tasks, but it allows the international community to strike the taboo offender with its nuclear weapons.

Third, although scientific and technical potential of the DPRK in this area remains subject of debate, there are definitely some developments there. As Chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs Alexei Pushkov said, he would not be surprised if the message contained some degree of readiness. A number of other military experts also do not deny the theoretical possibility. Moreover, North Korea is not a member of NPT, and legally they may produce thermo-nuclear or neutron bomb.

Therefore, regardless of whether statement of Kim Jong-un was a narrative for the internal use, or it is necessary to consider it as the signal for the US, it must be heard. At least in order to escape to face the consequences of a new nuclear exacerbation later on.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D, Chief Research Fellow of the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.