Peter Brookes: North Korea rattles world

Some might passively put press reports of the latest occurrence of North Korean nuclear “naughtiness” – its fourth nuke test since 2006 – in the convenient category of Pyongyang just popping off again.

But if claims of a new test are true, it’s pretty darn important.

While not yet verified, the North Korean regime claims the underground blast was a test of a hydrogen bomb – or H-bomb. If so, it would be North Korea’s first test of such a weapon, having previously tested atomic bombs.

And the difference between an atom bomb and an H-bomb is huge.

An H-bomb (aka thermonuclear weapon) often yields thousands of times more (that is, megatons of TNT) explosive power than an atom bomb (that is, kilotons of TNT). In fact, an atom bomb is used to ignite an H-bomb.

Think about it: Pyongyang’s possible “big bang” just got bigger.

Plus, the North Koreans also assert the test involved a “miniaturized” weapon, which is “nuke-speak” for a test that involves a device presumably small enough to be fitted in a warhead and mounted on a ballistic missile for launching at some unfortunate target.

Considering that it’s believed by some that North Korea has the capability to reach a good part of the U.S. with a long-range ballistic missile and may be able to arm it with a nuclear warhead, there’s plenty of reason for concern.

But despite Pyongyang’s chest-beating pronouncements, there’s plenty of skepticism among nuclear experts, especially since the reported seismic disturbance data seemed to make the test look more like an atom bomb than an H-bomb.

The international community, especially Pyongyang’s neighbors, will be collecting and examining seismic, atmospheric and other data to get some insights into the reclusive country’s contentions to see what really happened
and where the threat stands.

But, if it did conduct a nuclear test, why now?

Well, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un was pretty plain about it, according to CNN, writing in a letter aired on North Korean TV that the purpose was to: “Make the world … look up to our strong nuclear country and labor party by opening the year with exciting noise of the first hydrogen bomb!”

Essentially: Happy Nuclear New Year, Everyone!

Seriously, the move probably had two purposes:
1) To make its people proud of their leader and North Korean technology, despite desperate conditions at home; and 2) To stoke anxiety and fear abroad, perhaps creating some benefit for the regime.

Looking at history, that seems about right for Pyongyang.

Unfortunately, whether this was an H-bomb as opposed to an atom bomb, it’s still a troubling development, especially when put into the broader context of Pyongyang’s provocative international politics and its continuing commitment to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The fact is that North Korea will likely have learned something from its latest test that will benefit its strategic programs – not to mention that the regime might be willing to share its nuke know-how with others (Iran, for example).

Unfortunately, North Korea’s new nuclear knowledge from this most recent test isn’t to our benefit – since we and our allies, including Japan and South Korea, are directly in the crosshairs of those Nork nukes.

This article first appeared in the Boston Herald.  Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a Fort Valley resident. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter. Email: BrookesOutdoors@gmail.com.