North Korean Test Provokes Widespread Condemnation

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, November 2006 | Go to article overview

North Korean Test Provokes Widespread Condemnation


Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today


North Korea conducted an explosive test of a nuclear device Oct. 9, provoking widespread international condemnation. Five days later, the UN Security Council approved a resolution imposing additional sanctions on North Korea.

Although the test, Pyongyang's first, was likely only partially successful, North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency announced the test as a success. An Oct. 16 statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence partly confirmed North Korea's claims, stating that an "analysis of air samples" collected two days after the test "detected radioactive debris," confirming that North Korea had "conducted an underground nuclear explosion." However, the statement added that the "explosion yield was less than a kiloton," suggesting that the test fell short of the yield North Korean officials had anticipated (see page 14).

An Oct. 11 statement from North Korea's Foreign Ministry, as well as several North Korean officials, indicated that Pyongyang might conduct additional tests. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao, however, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told a Chinese envoy that the country is not planning to take such action. But North Korea may do so in response to "unfair external pressure," Liu told reporters Oct. 24.

Six days prior to the test, North Korea's Foreign Ministry pledged to refrain from the first-use of nuclear weapons and "strictly prohibit any...nuclear transfer."

In the wake of the test, Pyongyang and its negotiating partners all claimed that they remained committed to six-party talks designed to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, began negotiations in 2003 but have not met since November 2005. However, following an Oct. 31 "informal meeting" of representatives from China, North Korea, and the United States, China's Foreign Ministry announced that the talks would resume "soon at a time convenient to the six parties."

The test marked the second time in approximately three months that North Korea has defied warnings from the international community. In July, North Korea tested several ballistic missiles, prompting Security Council Resolution 1695. (See ACT, September 2006.)

North Korea Acts

Explosive testing is widely regarded as necessary for developing reliable, lighter-weight, and more-advanced nuclear warheads, such as one that could be delivered by a longer-range ballistic missile. (See ACT, December 2005.) For some time, the U.S. intelligence community has estimated that North Korea likely has at least one or two nuclear weapons from plutonium it extracted prior to 1994. Since early 2003, Pyongyang is believed to have extracted plutonium that could be used for several additional weapons. North Korea also is suspected of having a uranium-enrichment program, which could also produce fissile material for weapons (see chronology, page 27).

The CIA had previously assessed in 2003 that North Korea had "validated" simpler nuclear weapons designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests.

North Korea had issued signals for more than a year that it might conduct a nuclear test. (See ACT, June 2005.) Its most definitive pronouncement came on Oct. 3, when North Korea's Foreign Ministry announced that Pyongyang would "in the future conduct a nuclear test." In the statement, North Korea denounced what it says is Washington's threat to attack North Korea with nuclear weapons and efforts to otherwise undermine its government through a variety of means, such as constraining its financial transactions with other countries. North Korea's test was in response to this policy, according to an Oct. 11 statement from its Foreign Ministry.

Following the test, President George W. Bush denounced North Korea's actions and pushed for a quick UN security Council sanctions resolution. …

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