Wall Street Journal
North Korea Says It Conducted
Successful Nuclear Weapons Test
By EVAN RAMSTAD
October 8, 2006 11:45 p.m.
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea declared it successfully tested a nuclear
bomb early Monday. In a statement issued by the country's state-run news
agency, North Korea said there was no radioactive leakage from the test,
indicating it occurred underground.
There were no immediate details about where the test occurred. There was
also no immediate confirmation of the test by U.S. and South Korean military
and government sources in Seoul.
North Korea said last Tuesday that it planned to test a nuclear bomb "in the
future" but didn't set a specific date. The warning drew condemnation from
nations around the world.
The United Nations Security Council on Friday approved a strongly worded
statement that "deplored" North Korea's assertion that it was planning a
nuclear test. A test, the statement said, would "represent a clear threat to
international peace and security." The strong wording implied the prospect
of international sanctions against the country if a test was carried out.
Military analysts and atomic scientists will try to determine the size of
the bomb and details about its construction by looking for the presence of
certain chemicals in the atmosphere above and near the Korean peninsula.
A U.S. military "sniffer" plane began flying between Japan and North Korea
shortly after the North issued its Oct. 3 statement that it would conduct a
nuclear bomb test. Prior to the blast, analysts estimated North Korea was
capable of building a nuclear bomb with 10 kilotons to 20 kilotons of
"This is like carpet bombing for months on end, compressed into a single
nanosecond," says Jon Wolfsthal, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington.
In comparison, the bomb dropped by the U.S. on Nagasaki, Japan, at the end
of World War II had 21 kilotons of explosive force. The largest weapons in
the U.S. nuclear arsenal today possess more than 1,000 kilotons in force.
With the test, North Korea becomes the ninth country in the world to possess
nuclear capability. The others are China, France, Great Britain, India,
Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the U.S. All but Israel have confirmed they
have held tests of nuclear weapons.
China's foreign ministry had no immediate comment in the hours after the
reported test, which is likely to put Beijing, North Korea's prime
benefactor, in an extremely difficult position. It is also sure to anger the
Chinese leadership, which had issued stern warnings to the North not to go
ahead with the detonation.
China will be under increased pressure from Washington to use its economic
leverage to pressure Pyongyang, something it has been extremely reluctant to
do so far. China is North Korea's major supplier of food, energy and
But it has been loath to squeeze the regime of Kim Jong Il, fearing it could
precipitate a collapse, leading to refugee flows into China or, more
worrisome from a Chinese strategic perspective, to conflict on the peninsula
or the absorption of North Korea by U.S. ally South Korea.
Beijing policymakers also worry that North Korea's move to become an
unambiguous nuclear state could upset the balance of power in East Asia,
encouraging Japan to strengthen its military capabilities.
If North Korea's claims of a nuclear test prove true, Japan would appear to
be the most immediately vulnerable to North Korea's nuclear ambitions. It is
within range of the North's missiles, as demonstrated in 1998, when one was
launched over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. China is a traditional ally
of the North, and Pyongyang sees South Korea as part of the same nation.
However, regardless of what may or may not have happened in North Korea,
experts don't expect Japan to move toward developing nuclear weapons of its
own. Such a move would have the potential to kick off an arms race in the
region and put Japan in even more danger. Instead, Japan would continue to
rely on its security treaty with the U.S. for nuclear defense, and boost the
scope of this -- as shown by its involvement in the missile defense
"I don't see the Japanese going nuclear as long as the U.S. [security]
guarantee is credible, which it is," says Kenneth Pyle, founding president
of the National Bureau of Asian Research in Seattle.
Still, he said if a nuclear North Korea is emerging, it might push Japan to
spend more on defense, which it currently limits to 1% of the country's GDP,
compared with a little over 4% for both the U.S. and China.
Write to Evan Ramstad at