05.10.2019 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

BC: North Korea and the Hydrogen Bomb


BC stands for NEO’s Banned Classic. This article was originally published by our journal on 17.12.15. For some reason, this article is missing from Google search results. Since this article remains pretty relevant to those geopolitical events that are taking place on the geopolitical stage today, we deem it possible to present it to our readers once again. Should it go missing again, you may be confident that you will see it republished by NEO once more, should it still remain relevant by that time.

Talks about a North Korean hydrogen bomb were successfully superimposed on a new round of speculations that the North was about to lash out again. Way back in late October the South Korean media, citing a source in the government, reported that work on the construction of a new tunnel was being conducted at a nuclear test site in northeastern North Korea: that allegedly active movements of people and vehicles were recorded, and this indicates that there are preparations being made to place 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 the launching of 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) of Wonsan from November 11 to December 7, it was considered as a prelude to a sea-based ballistic missile launch, but ended up instead as being 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 a full renovation, had 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 detonation date were not justified. For example, it was much expected for something by the 70th anniversary of the WPK, but when this did not happen, the named reason was alleged pressure from the international community, including China, and probable technical issues.

Statements from South Korean government sources about unusual activity at the North Korean nuclear test site were 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 new tunnels 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 a fourth nuclear test, South Korea and the United States may begin negotiations to place mobile missile complexes (THAAD systems) on the Korean peninsula. It is worth remembering 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 missile to South Korea. This small missile has 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” on November 29, that the purchase of the missiles is a crime that would create a serious threat on the Korean peninsula.

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

And finally, there is news about relatively old affairs. At the beginning of December, William Perry, a former Pentagon Chief, told “Voice of America” 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. A diplomatic solution was arrived at only after it became clear that the immediate response from Pyongyang would have been an attack on South Korea.

Why is it important to understand all this? First, the threat felt by the DPRK leadership is not an illusion, and there is no possibility for Pyongyang to restrain military pressure from 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 these until the foreign policy context leaves Pyongyang no longer feeling an acute threat only nuclear weapons can defend against. 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 Pyrrhic at best. And as Western or American public opinion is satisfied only with absolute 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 will use it in an aggressive offensive war, does not even seem to qualify as plausible fantasy. It is a far-fetched fantasy where crazy dictators do not understand the use of nuclear weapons even in the inter-Korean conflict does not solve strategic tasks, but instead allows the international community to strike the offender with its own nuclear weapons.

Third, although the scientific and technical potential of the DPRK in this area remains a 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 the NPT, and legally they may produce thermonuclear or neutron bombs.

Therefore, regardless of whether the statement of Kim Jong-un was a narrative for 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 the consequences of a new nuclear escalation 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“.

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