Back in October 2006, I speculated (accurately) that North Korea’s nuke test was a “fizzle”. Yesterday, North Korea (aka the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea – DPRK) conducted another test, this time achieving a yield of aproximately 20 kilotons. As I said in the 2006 article:
North Korea has repeatedly shown itself to be technologically backward – for example, after eight years of trying, it remains unable to launch an ICBM. Arguably, 60-year-old nuclear technology is nearly as challenging as 50-year-old rocket technology. Consequently, it is extremely unlikely that North Korea would attempt anything more advanced than a 1st generation plutonium bomb along the lines of the “Fat Man” that was first tested by the U.S. in July 1945. A 1st generation device should have a nominal yield of around 20 kilotons – hence, the “dud” speculation.
It appears that North Korea has finally gotten it right.
There are no real details at this point. If we assume that the North Koreans are still relying on their existing plutonium stockpile, they’ve obviously figured out how to get around the Pu-240 problem. Even so, given the torturously slow pace of their technological advance (they still haven’t managed to successfully launch an ICBM), North Korea isn’t likely to become a threat to the U.S. for some years.
The U.S. perhaps can afford to be complacent. Japan, which is in North Korean missile range, cannot. The Japanese have “breakout” capability that would give them deliverable thermonukes in a year or so. All that is required is the exercise of political will to make it happen. Along with the SM-3 ship-launched ABM acquired from the U.S., which is carried by their home grown Aegis DDG’s, Japan has a credible missile defense. In light of the Korea’s experience with the Japan in the first half of the 20th century, Kim Jong-Il should be loath to provoke the Japanese into arming themselves with thermonukes. Yet, that is precisely what is going to happen if the diminutive dictator continues on his present course.