24.01.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

DPRK Hydrogen Bomb Trial: International Reaction

2342343343North Korea’s actions could not but cause a reaction from the “civilized world”, and it can be assumed that all the parties concerned “played their role as usual”, albeit with some comments. For example, while condemning Pyongyang’s actions in general, none of the leaders openly confirmed the fact that tests of thermonuclear weapons took place. As RF and USA officials said, “If this fact is confirmed, it would be a dramatic violation of certain UN Security Council resolutions and should not be left without a tough international response.”

Of course, no one welcomed nuclear tests. More or less, all the neighboring countries noted that this fact did not increase the regional stability and increased tensions, threatening the non-proliferation regime. Some accused the DPRK of violating international law, although, in my opinion, this is not completely correct. It is more about the DPRK consistently ignoring four UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit it from developing missile and nuclear programs. Even though some critics question the role of the UN, there is no alternative to its global arbitrator’s role today. And for this reason the North Korean actions cannot but cause censure. Anyway, at the end of the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on January 11, all the 15 Member States decided to start working immediately on a new resolution on the DPRK. The DPRK’s participation in the Davos forum was cancelled, and its denuclearization might be included in the outcome document of the forthcoming G7 summit in Japan in May. As Kyodo News reported, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to introduce this issue to the agenda of the summit because of the danger of such actions for the international community.

South Korea will aim at the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution on North Korea this month. For later on, the Chairmen of the Security Council will be countries that are “too friendly” towards Pyongyang – Venezuela and Angola.

In the meantime, propaganda broadcasting has resumed at the border as a form of local response. North Korea responded in kind and even flung a bag of their leaflets on the South Korean territory, but there have been no shootings at the speakers yet. However, just in case, target practice was conducted in the Yellow Sea, and the head of the Joint committee of the South Korean Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces Lee Sung Jin announced that “Pyongyang might opt for more provocative actions” and the South Korean armed forces must maintain readiness for any provocations and challenges from the North.

Domestically, new sanctions against the North are being discussed, and the companies participating in the much-aspired trilateral “Rajin-Khasan” project were deprived of the government funding.

More importantly, ultra-conservatives from the ruling Saenuri party again urged the Government to consider the development of Seoul’s own nuclear weapons: “It is time for us to peacefully arm ourselves with nuclear weapons for self-defense to repel the North Korean terror and aggression,” said Yoo Won-chul, the leader of the parliamentary fraction “Saenuri”, during an interview.

The UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond urged South Korea and other countries in the region to be more restrained in their responses to provocations of the DPRK, although the context was not clear.

The USA opted for a traditional demonstration of force and sent a B-52 bomber to South Korea, which, followed by two pairs of fighters (US and South Korean ones), made a demonstration flight at low altitude near the town of Osan, Gyeonggi Province, where the US air base is located. The bomber was armed with nuclear missiles and “bunker buster” bombs, which are theoretically capable of striking North Korean underground utilities. The bomber is often referred to as the “flying fortress”, and is the basis of the US “nuclear umbrella”, which protects the allied countries, including South Korea.

Moreover, according to Yonhap news agency, the US government is considering sending the aircraft carrier “Ronald Reagan” to the Korean Peninsula or transferring US strategic weapons there.

Russia and China are holding consultations: on January 8, a telephone conversation between Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation I.V. Morgulov and Special Representative of the Government of the PRC on the Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei took place. During the conversation, the parties agreed that Pyongyang’s actions violate the UN Security Council resolutions and can lead to the escalation of military and political tensions in the region, but stressed the common approaches to a diplomatic solution of the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula in the framework of six-party negotiations.

On the other hand, it can be noted that the reaction to the fourth nuclear test of North Korea is not as severe as they could be. There were times, when the Security Council would meet on this issue the next day. But not today.

China’s tougher reaction could also have been expected, and although an official protest was declared by the Foreign Ministry to the DPRK ambassador, Xinhua news agency and a number of other major national publishers stated: “Yes, their actions are unacceptable, but we know well the reasons, and who is pushing them to take such risky steps.” However, this will be discussed in a separate article.

The North awarded the bomb-making team on January 12 and continues to raise the stakes; they stated that they had not only a hydrogen bomb, but also a thermonuclear warhead. As for any controversy about whether it was “a bomb or not” that they came up with: “…If only we had no geographical limitations and had a vast territory, our scientists are determined to carry out consecutive tests of hydrogen bombs with a capacity of several hundred kt and Mt, capable of instantly destroying the entire territory of the United States, which is desperately trying to strangle our cradle and source of happiness – the DPRK.” However, in a following statement dated January 15, they again stressed that “We do not want any escalation of tension or provocation towards anyone because we are now concentrating all our efforts on building an economic power” and the bomb is “simply an element of the normal process of the parallel development of economy and nuclear power.”

In this context, the author would like to recall his opinion expressed in 2013 on the previous test and its consequences although, due to the global international situation, the forecast is developing more smoothly than expected, but in the long term, the problem remains.

What can be expected otherwise?

Regardless of the type of explosion, the nuclear test is a cold shower on those hotheads who believe that the South Korean army would destroy North Korea in 90 hours.

The test will cause a wave of tension and possibly a new arms race with the pretext of fighting the DPRK’s nuclear threat. The USA and its allies will try to play the “they have the hydrogen bomb, we need to handle this urgently…” card to its maximum.

As usual in such cases, the likelihood of a conflict increases as a result of irrational factors, and not due to the thoughtful will of the parties.

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.