Why Is North Korea’s Fifth Nuclear Test Different From Its Other Tests?

September 13, 2016

Jeffrey Lewis

The following is an excerpt of an article in The Atlantic:

Many people seem to have trouble accepting that North Korea really is building nuclear weapons. It seems so incongruous, this backward little peninsular nightmare as a nuclear power. But North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, with progressively larger yields, since 2006. And now the North Koreans claim to have tested a nuclear weapon small enough to arm a missile. Do we believe them? After all, this is North Korea we’re talking about.

North Korea’s propaganda apparatus is pretty proud. In March, Kim Jong Un, the country’s leader, posed with a mock-up of one of the bombs, the same design that North Korea now claims to have tested and intends to deploy on its arsenal of long-range ballistic missiles. “It is very gratifying to see the nuclear warheads with the structure of mixed charge adequate for prompt thermonuclear reaction,” he said then.

How to assess the merit of these claims? One seemingly oblique but constructive way is to look at the fifth nuclear tests of other countries—the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China. These five fifth tests are a fairly telling set. By their fifth tests, all five countries had demonstrated the technologies to reduce the size of first-generation weapons, and were well on their way to building thermonuclear weapons. Their scientists were quite competent, and their place in the world as nuclear powers widely acknowledged. So why hold North Korea to a different standard? Viewed through the lens of these past tests, it’s hard to escape the reality that North Korea is, indeed, a real nuclear power.

Continue reading at theatlantic.com.

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