Home / Robert Farley / Nork Nukes Redux

Nork Nukes Redux


My latest at the Diplomat expresses skepticism that the North Korean nuclear test is something to get all that excited about:

The first and most important lesson is that North Korean policy towards its neighbors does not appear to have appreciably changed in Kim Jong Il’s wake. North Korea continues to test ballistic missiles, it continues to test nuclear devices, and it continues to decay socially, economically, and in terms of the conventional military balance.  North Korea is stuck on the wrong side of history, and the detonation of 1950s era nuclear devices does nothing to solve that problem.

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  • Hanspeter

    Having a 50’s nuke might not seem like a lot, but it can cause time travel.

    • Keaaukane

      If we have enough refrigerators everyone will survive…

  • Mike in DC

    Is there any indication that this was a fizzle? The yield seems awful small for a test by a country without a heavily developed nuclear weapons program. It was my impression that small bombs (less than 10 KT) were actually a hard thing to do because it required a bunch of tricks to get the fissile material to super critical mass and keep the yield down below a certain point.

    • Ed Marshall

      The official DPRK line is that this was a miniaturized weapon, which if true is cause for concern. It’s something they might actually be able to deliver to South Korea or Japan.

      What I suspect given the rhetoric of the state media running up to the test is that they were trying for a thermonuclear weapon Alarm Clock flavor and failed. If you are conservative in your design, but your fussion boosting failed you would get a yield and result that is a pretty good match forensically with the publicly available data (to the extent that sort of estimation is extremely hard to do).

    • Derek

      Not likely. 5 kt (roughly the lower bound here) isn’t that small. Even for a simple program like NK’s, a fizzle is only really a safe assumption for sub-kt tests.

      Besides, there are other reasons for low yield. Jeff Lewis thinks they may be trying to leapfrog simple heavy weapons like Fat Man and go straight to something they can put on a missile. These are a) harder to get right the first time (hence the 2006 fizzle), and b) lower yield when they do work (hence the moderate yields of the subsequent tests).

      Even if they’re not trying to go straight to deliverable weapons, they may be trying to conserve fissile material. Weapons tests are at least as much about verifying the basic physics as they are about evaluating the performance of a certain design.

  • montag2

    The entire history of NK nuclear operations is one of agonizingly slow progress and Keystone Kops-like program management, as one might imagine proceeding from an impoverished country socially and economically isolated from the rest of the world. Let’s not forget that this latest very ambiguous test is the result of a program spanning almost fifty years.

    As always, North Korea represents a greater threat to itself than to any other nation.

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