North Korea just completed its fifth nuclear test on Friday, its most lethal one so far.
CNN reports that the nuke that North Korea tested unleashed 10 kilotons of power, double the amount of the heinous regime's previous nuclear test in January. The North Korean government claims that the nuke "could be mounted on ballistic rockets."
"The United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state," President Barack Obama declared in a statement, threatening the North Korean regime with additional sanctions and other unspecified consequences.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye decried the regime as "fanatically restless" and suggested that the "provocation will eventually hasten its path to self-destruction."
Who is to blame for allowing North Korea's nuclear test to get this far, and how serious is it? Here are seven things you need to know about it.
1. North Korea now presents a "very high" national security risk to the U.S. Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton gave this dire warning in a Friday appearance on Fox Business's Varney & Co.
"This blast, by most of the estimates, based on the seismic, puts it in the range of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima," Bolton said. "So we're talking about a very serious capability, whether North Korea puts it on the top of a ballistic missile or sells it to a terrorist organization, this threat level is very high for the United States and its friend."
Back in January, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think-tank released a report that found evidence "of military and scientific cooperation between Iran and North Korea suggest that Pyongyang could have been involved in Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic-missile program, and that state-run trading companies may have assisted in critical aspects of Iran’s illicit nuclear-related activities."
In other words, the think-tank found evidence that North Korea may be working directly with Iran on developing nukes, and if North Korea were to give Iran this powerful nuke, it could spell trouble for the Middle East and the world at large.
2. The latest nuclear test also shows that North Korea's nuclear program has advanced at an alarming rate. Foreign Policy's Jeffrey Lewis explains that North Korea has enough plutonium to create as many as 20 nuclear bombs:
When Kim Jong Un posed with that bomb in March, he called it a “Korean-style structure of mixed charge … adequate for prompt thermonuclear reaction.” Mixed-charge. Thermonuclear. It’s a bit ambiguous, but I think it is very likely the North Koreans are claiming two things. First, they use composite pits of both Pu and HEU (mixed charge) and they “boost” the yield of the explosion using a gas of hydrogen isotopes (prompt thermonuclear reaction).
That means there might be as little as 2 kilograms of plutonium in each device. And so divide by 2. The existing stockpile of about 40 kilograms of plutonium would be enough for about 20 nuclear weapons, with more on the way. Oh, and don’t forget to add whatever uranium is left over for all those HEU bombs, if they decide to build some of those. Let that sink in.
The bomb in March Lewis is referring to is what North Korea tested on Friday morning.
Lewis also points out that the bomb's design allows it "to be produced in fairly large numbers and deployed with the missile units of the Strategic Rocket Forces," with more nuclear tests on the way based on "the tunneling at the North Korean nuclear test site."
"It’s a nuclear force, one that poses a threat to South Korea, Japan, and U.S. forces in the region," writes Lewis. "And it’s likely to keep growing. If we do nothing, I suspect it will grow in number, grow to threaten the continental United States, and eventually grow to include very powerful staged-thermonuclear weapons. And all this is going to happen sooner that you think."
So how did North Korea get to this point?
3. North Korea was formed in 1948, after Japan relinquished control over Korea at the end of World War II. Korea was split between two countries. The northern part of the country was controlled by the Soviet Union, which put Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jon-Un's grandfather, into power to run North Korea. The U.S. backed the southern part of the country, which is now South Korea. The Korean War broke out from 1950-1953 after North Korea attacked South Korea to form an entire communist state of Korea, and they failed, as the war concluded with an armistice. But North Korea's aggression only continued thereafter.
4. China has been North Korea's largest enabler in their nuclear testing. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) describes China as "North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner, and main source of food, arms, and energy" ever since the Korean War, where China fought alongside North Korea. China has also "helped sustain Kim Jong-un's regime, and has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of avoiding regime collapse and a refugee influx across their 870-mile border," according to CFR.
There have been some forms of punishment that China has supported against North Korea in 2006 and 2013–and they were unable to prevent the country from facing the scorn of the United Nations Security Council–but North Korea is still dependent on China for trade and economic aid.
Bolton placed a serious portion of the blame on China for North Korea's most recent nuclear test in his Friday appearance on Fox Business after host Stuart Varney said that China approved of North Korea's nuclear test.
"I think China has been less than honest with the United States for 25 years on North Korea's nuclear program," Bolton said. "I think, although they say they don't want North Korea to have nuclear weapons, they've never done a thing seriously to stop it. So whether they approve this specific one or not, China's wink-and-a-nod and perhaps even direct cooperation with North Korea, has brought us to this extremely dangerous point."
5. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are also responsible for emboldening North Korea to even have nuclear weapons in the first place. The New York Post summarized this in a January editorial:
Back in 1994, President Clinton prepared to confront North Korea over CIA reports it had built nuclear warheads and its subsequent threats to engulf Japan and South Korea in “a sea of fire.”
Enter self-appointed peacemaker Carter: The ex-prez scurried off to Pyongyang and negotiated a sellout deal that gave North Korea two new reactors and $5 billion in aid in return for a promise to quit seeking nukes.
Clinton can be seen in the video below touting the deal as an end to North Korea's nuclear program:
"This is a good deal for the United States," Clinton said at the time. "North Korea will freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program. South Korea and our allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the spread of nuclear weapons."
But as the Post's editorial points out, North Korea eventually admitted in 2002 that they never abided by the deal, and in 2005 they declared that they had nukes.
There was also a deal in 2007 under President George W. Bush in which North Korea received "economic aid and diplomatic benefits" as they claimed they would dismantle their "nuclear facilities," according to The Japan Times, but once again North Korea did not uphold their end of the bargain. For that, Bush deserves some blame.
But Bush wouldn't have had to deal with it if not for Clinton and Carter's appeasement of the North Koreans in 1994. The regime may not have ever been able to reach this point.
6. North Korea has also been emboldened by President Barack Obama's weakness on the foreign stage. Obama's approach to North Korea has been that of "strategic patience," which the Congressional Research Service describes as Obama trying to push North Korea toward "denuclearization as previously promised in the Six-Party Talks; closely coordinating with treaty allies Japan and South Korea; attempting to convince China to take a tougher line on North Korea; and applying pressure on Pyongyang through arms interdictions and sanctions."
In other words, nothing but stern statements and some sanctions here and there. As expected, this has done nothing to deter North Korea from their nuclear testing.
In 2013, Obama failed to act after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad crossed Obama's red line of using chemical weapons on his own people. U.S. New and World Report's Barry Pavel wrote at the time, "Potential military adversaries such as North Korea and Iran no doubt are emboldened, seeing a pusillanimous U.S. president hemmed in by domestic politics, reduced budgets and a lack of resolve to wield American power when needed."
It also doesn't help that the missile defense program is "down almost to zero" under Obama, according to Bolton.
7. It may already be too late. Hot Air's Ed Morrissey had this ominous passage in his post on North Korea:
Diplomatic protests and empty threats haven’t changed the Kim regime’s march to ballistic nuclear weapons. For that matter, neither have trade deals and promises of talks. The only paths left are either open war or forcing China to clean up the mess that it has shielded for decades in Pyongyang, and it’s far from clear that any of the nations arrayed against Pyongyang have the will to force either. It will probably take a nuclear attack from North Korea for anyone to take effective action against the Kim regime, and by then it will be too late.
It’s a very disturbing development, one that has implications that potentially outweigh the stakes we face in the Middle East. That might not be for long, though, because we’ll have exactly the same problems with Iran as we do with North Korea in ten to fifteen years. If we’re lucky.