After months of tense posturing, threats, attempted negotiations and bold defiance, North Korea reported that it conducted a successful underground nuclear test Monday (October 9), becoming the eighth country in history to detonate a nuclear device. The test drew immediate condemnation from the international community, including the White House and North Korea's close ally, China, which denounced the test as "brazen," according to CNN.
The U.S. said, if confirmed by the Pentagon, the test would be seen a "provocative act" by a country that is considered by many governments to be unstable and unpredictable under the leadership of enigmatic President Kim Jong-il.
Most concerned was South Korea, which warned that it would react "sternly and calmly," with the country's president saying that South Korea considered the test as a maneuver that "broke the trust of the international community" and which threatens the stability of the Korean Peninsula and all of northeast Asia.
As the U.S. awaited confirmation of North Korea's claim, President Bush said Monday morning that even the claim itself "constitutes a threat to international peace and security," adding, "the United States condemns this provocative act. Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond." Bush said he spoke earlier in the morning with the leaders of China, South Korea, Russia and Japan, and said all reaffirmed their desire for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
"The transfer of nuclear weapons by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action," Bush warned.
The North Korean press agency stated that "the nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent. It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA [Korean People's Army] and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability. It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it."
According to South Korean defense officials, the apparent test took place in Hwaderi near Kilju city, with Russian officials saying their equipment confirmed the test of a device measuring five to 15 kilotons. That amount would put the device in the same range as the 15 kiloton device the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima to end World War II in the first-ever use of a nuclear weapon during wartime. According to news reports, China was given a 20-minute warning before the test; it then passed on the information to the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
The U.S., which had been warning North Korea to abandon its goal of testing a nuclear device, was said to be consulting with allies around the world and gearing up to request sanctions on Monday during an early morning meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York, CNN reported. On Friday, the Security Council threatened North Korea with unspecified serious action if it carried out a nuclear test.
Seismic data appears to confirm that a test took place. The U.S. Geological Survey Web site recorded a light 4.2-magnitude earthquake in North Korea at 10:35 a.m., about 240 miles northeast of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. The North Korean press agency said there was no radioactive leakage from the test site, but some officials warned that it's possible the device could have a been a more primitive conventional explosion meant to mimic a nuclear detonation.
Even if American "sniffer" planes can pick up evidence of nuclear byproducts in the air, The New York Times reported that it is unknown if North Korea has the ability to make a bomb that could be fitted atop one of its missiles, one of the country's few big exports, which it has sold to Iran, Syria and Pakistan.
In addition to raising tensions with long-time economic supporter China and neighbor South Korea — with which it fought a bloody war from 1950-1953 — the reaction to the test is being closely watched by Iran and other states suspected of attempting to follow North Korea's path into the nuclear club, according to the Times.
The explosion was the culmination of nearly 40 years of work on the project by one of the world's poorest and most isolated countries, which the Times said has long feared that its government would be unseated by the U.S. or its more powerful regional neighbors. It also followed nearly 20 years of diplomatic failure to stop the country's nuclear program, which officials now fear could be tapped by rogue nations or terror groups as a source of nuclear material. In 2003, President Bush said the U.S. would never "tolerate" a nuclear-armed North Korea.
[This story was originally published at 9:00 am E.T. on 10.09.2006]