Update: This morning, President Barack Obama acknowledged the North Korean nuclear test—as well as the possible test of a short-range missile—saying it was “not a surprise,” but calling the tests “a matter of grave concern,” and “a threat to threat to international peace and security.”
By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community. North Korea’s behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation. It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.
Obama pledged continued support of the Six-Party Talks and UN action. An emergency session of the UN Security Council is expected to convene later today.
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Last week, Kim Myong Choi, the “unofficial spokesman for Kim Jong-il” wrote an opinion piece in Asia Times Online describing North Korea’s decision to follow “Plan B” after deciding that “the Obama administration has in three ways seriously infringed on the inalienable sovereignty and national dignity of the DPRK.” (These insults are rather complicated – for example, not only is Kim angry that the US asked the UN Security Council to condemn the DPRK’s recent satellite launch, the article claims the satellite launch was in part a fireworks display to honor Kim and so the complaint "hurt the prestige of Kim Jong-il in the eyes of the Korean people and spoil the festive mood that enveloped the DPRK in the wake of the re-election of Kim Jong-il as chairman of the National Defense Commission. ")
So what is Plan B?
The Kim Jong-il administration has learned the hard way that there is no point in negotiating with the US government on a bilateral or multilateral basis while the US remains hostile with no intention of adopting a "live and let live" policy towards Pyongyang.
Plan B envisages the DPRK going it alone as a fully fledged nuclear weapon-armed state, with a military-first policy, and then growing into a mighty and prosperous country. It will put the policy of seeking reconciliation with a tricky US, a helpless superpower with a crippled economy that is losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the back burner.
Last night, North Korea apparently decided to make sure this new plan was noticed:
North Korea has conducted its second nuclear test, the country’s state news agency announced Monday.
The confirmation came little more than an hour after the U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude 4.7 seismic disturbance at the site of North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006. The North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency said Monday’s test was conducted "as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way."
There is also an unconfirmed report that North Korea tested a short range ground to air missile last night.
Cheryl Rofer of Whirled View – who provides extremely knowledgeable coverage of nuclear issues – pointed last week to a report in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists by Siegfried S. Hecker on the actual DPRK nuclear capacity. It’s worth a read to place this new test in more context than we are likely to see in the media. While Hecker was worried about the possibility of a new test, he reminds us that:
North Korea has sufficient material for at most eight nuclear weapons and perhaps as few as four.
Update 2: Cheryl at WhirledView weighs in on what we know and don’t know as of now – read here.