Nuclear News Round-up: North Korea

North Korea just conducted their fifth nuclear test September 8th, with what appears to be their largest yield yet witnessed. Experts are estimating the warhead likely had a blast strength of at least 10 kilotons, which is equivalent to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. This test comes just eight months after North Korea's last nuclear test, and amid a dramatic spike in missile testing, with North Korea launching over 30 ballistic missiles in 2016 alone. Current North Korean missile technology is not believed to threaten the United States mainland but experts are concerned they could reach into South Korea, Japan, and China.

What can North Korea's missiles reach?

What can North Korea's missiles reach?

The test spurred an outcry from nations across the world, including North Korean ally China, who announced they are “resolutely opposed” to the test and warned North Korea to refrain from further actions that would worsen the situation. In a statement given today, President Obama condemned the test in the "strongest possible terms," and warned that "the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state."

The United Nations, having recently tighten economic sanctions against North Korea in March, called for an emergency meeting to discuss the test, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling the test a "brazen breach" of U.N. resolutions and calling for the need to strengthen the global nuclear test ban regime. The test comes a day after a group of 33 Republican Senators sent a letter to President Obama threatening to withhold congressional funding for the existing International Monitoring System (IMS) for nuclear tests if the administration binds the U.S. to any requirements related to the U.N.'s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the Senate declined to ratify after President Clinton first signed the treaty in 1996. The U.S. has recognized a national moratorium on nuclear testing since 1992, but has refused to ratify the CTBT since it's inception twenty years ago. The treaty will not come into force until all nuclear armed states ratify the treaty, although certain components of the treaty, such as the IMS that was threatened to be defunded, are already enacted. The IMS is responsible for detecting the seismic event that indicated the nuclear test.

Watch every nuclear test conducted over the past 71 years

Faced with a North Korea that is unfazed by sanctions, many experts are calling for a different approach to slow down the rapidly accelerating nuclear program.“The current sanctions-only approach, however tough, is simply not working, and continuing on that track is a recipe for even greater failure,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “The next president, even before Inauguration Day, will have to have a strategy in place to try to effectively engage with the North to try to leverage the sanctions regime in place to achieve some restraint on North Korea’s nuclear missile activities.”

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, after the successful test in January, expressed his fears that a nuclear North Korea would increase the risk of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. With their dire economic situation and the increasingly stringent economic sanctions imposed upon them, Perry fears North Korea "could be tempted to give its economy a boost by selling some of its nuclear technology or fissile material to another party, whether a nation state or terror group." 

See North Korean nuclear facilities, missile comparison and how the bombs are made

Ultimately, Perry concludes that it is too late to prevent a nuclear North Korea. "We must deal with North Korea as it is, not as we wish it to be." Instead, he argues that the most important goal would be a moratorium on further testing

It is past time that the United States takes the North Korean threat seriously. Our 15 years of failure demonstrate the need for a different approach. 

Read more of William Perry's thoughts on North Korea

Read More on North Korea