The Clear Logic of the Latest North Korean Test

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September 4, 2017
Joshua Pollack

The following op-ed is an excerpt from The Atlantic.

In honor of the Labor Day weekend, North Korea conducted a massive nuclear test on Sunday, its sixth and by far its largest. The test appears to have involved the country’s first true thermonuclear device—a “hydrogen bomb,” involving both fission and fusion. Some of us prefer to hit the holiday sales, but Kim Jong Un, never one to endorse unfettered capitalism, obviously had his own ideas.

Still, it shouldn’t be too surprising. North Korea publicized unspecified nuclear-fusion experiments back in May 2010. Its scientific publications document a handful of such experiments and related activities. Recently, researchers found that a North Korean trading company was marketing lithium-6, an important ingredient for making hydrogen bombs. Well, never mind what I just said about capitalism.

But it’s not as if the North Koreans themselves haven’t been broadcasting their intentions. In December 2015, Kim Jong Un visited a historical site associated with North Korea’s arms industry, declaring the country to be “ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb.” On January 6, 2016, the country conducted what it described as its first experimental H-bomb test, although its modest explosive yield provoked doubts in other countries about how much nuclear fusion actually could have been involved.

The doubts were noticed. Two days later, in public remarks at a celebration of the test, Jang Chol, president of North Korea’s State Academy of Sciences, offered a warning: North Korea would continue advancing its weapons technology at full speed. If the country’s enemies belittled the accomplishments of North Korea’s scientists and technicians, he added, “we will deal a crushing blow to the bastards’ heads by detonating another type of hydrogen bomb.”

Read the full op-ed at The Atlantic

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