Home / Robert Farley / Nukes!



Early, but looks as if the Norks may have just “expended some fissile material.” Jeffrey Lewis thinks maybe 10kt (probably bigger than either of the previous two tests), but obviously it’s too soon to say what or how big.  And of course it could just be an earthquake…

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  • max

    USGS says 1 KM down. Not deep, but not completely shallow either. Huh.


    The United States Geological Survey reported a magnitude 4.7 earthquake at a depth of zero and put the center of the tremor about 70 kilometres (43 mi) northwest of Kimchaek and 375 kilometres (233 mi) northeast of Pyongyang, within a few kilometres of the country’s 2006 nuclear test site.

    Yes, the scale is logarithmic, but still. 10 kt seems likely only if you go with the Russian estimates from the earlier test. And the depth implies a deep underground test. (Do they have the drilling capability?)

    None of this gets us to an aboveground test with a clear detonation and no missile to get the thing to a target, assuming it’s mountable.

    [‘Cue hyperventilating by the usual suspects.’]

    • Murc

      I personally (and not just because I know some people who spend the part of the year there) have never so much been worried about the North Koreans putting together a shoddy missile that MIGHT deliver a shitty nuke to the U.S as I have worried about them cobbling something together that can be delivered via a conventional artillery piece to Seoul.

      • Curmudgeon

        Shrinking a nuclear warhead down to fit in an artillery shell is almost certainly far beyond North Korea’s current capabilities. Very small nuclear warheads are very hard to make.

        ICBM-deliverable warheads are easier to make, although making an ICBM is another matter entirely.

        • Scott P.

          Shrinking a nuclear warhead down to fit in an artillery shell is almost certainly far beyond North Korea’s current capabilities.

          Perhaps they could deliver it via trebuchet?

          • DocAmazing


            • wjts


              • JSC_ltd

                Land shark?

            • Ian

              Actually, yes, a truck with a crudely painted Fed-Ex logo would probably be the best chance North Korea would have of delivering a nuke to Seoul. The North Koreans have no shortage of suicidal special forces types and they have a history of infiltrating South Korea with varying degrees of success. Crazy, but more plausible than missile-mounting their vaporware miniaturized nuke.

      • Alan Tomlinson

        I on the other hand, am only “worried” that if the North Koreans have a “viable” nuclear device, that the US and its proxies will perhaps start treating the North Koreans like a member of the international community instead of like an angry child deserving constant punishment.


        Alan Tomlinson

        • Murc

          Lord knows that as an American, I don’t have a lot of right to throw stones, but as near as I can tell, while the North Korean people are no different from people anywhere, their government is, in fact, an angry child deserving of constant punishment.

          • Alan Tomlinson

            And I, as an American citizen, would say much the same about the US government with respect to its reprehensible behavior overseas.


            Alan Tomlinson

            • The Dark Avenger

              Which nation-state makes it necessary for NK to develop their own nuclear arsenal at the expense of giving their citizens a decent standard of living?

              • Alan Tomlinson

                I would ask the same question about the US.

                Obviously the scale of the obscenity is different from that of North Korea but the problem is similar.

                I’m not expecting to convince you that your worldview is myopic; but this is how I see it.


                Alan Tomlinson

                • How dare we discourage North Korea from conquering the South?

                  HOW DARE WE?!?

                  When you think about it, this is all our fault, just like everything.

                • Malaclypse

                  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that when you find yourself comparing the safety nets in the US and NK and saying that “the problem is similar,” you should perhaps rethink your assumptions.

                • Cody

                  I understand where you are coming from, but North Korea is a bit more extreme.

                  For one, it helps that we have a republic. Also, we don’t intentionally starve our entire nation. Sure, some people are more than happy to not help others. But at least our public policy isn’t “take their money and food, use it to develop nukes!”.

                • Njorl

                  Myopia and tunnel vision are both bad visual defects.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  Obama seems to be taking the country in the other direction, Alan.

                  In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama is set to announce a renewed push for large cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal—the next step in an ambitious effort to lay the groundwork for a nuclear-free world.


                  Again, NK needs nukes because why?

                • expatchad

                  As a 3 year American expatriate, my view from ASE Asia is that you are a overdoing it. I am no fan of US policies on many things, but really…..

          • LeeEsq

            This. If you wrote a science fiction dystopia and based the dystopian government on the North Korean government publishers would reject it as unbelievable. The North Korean government is a hereditary absolute monarchy engaged in some really weird and evil social engineering experiments combining. Its a perpetual Cultural Revolution on crack.

            I don’t think its an angry child in need of constant punishment. My brother has a better analogy, its the drunk man on the bus that nobody expects to do anything violent but they keep away just in case.

            • expatchad

              Agree. Any nuclear attack on anybody would be national suicide. Literally. Nobody would retaliate in any kind of limited fashion. The US considerations would be to limit damage to adjacent nations vis-a-vis fallout, etc.

      • SeanH

        They don’t need to nuke Seoul. It’s a densely-packed city of hurriedly-built high-rises. Conventional artillery would suffice for mass death and destruction.

        • SeanH

          Conventional artillery which, I believe, our brothers to the North already have in great quantity just across the border. They already have a gun to the South’s head.

          • mpowell

            One of the odd things about it is that North Korea is one of the countries benefited the least by developing nukes. Anything they could do with a nuke, they could probably already do conventionally, as you point out.

            • Stan Gable

              That’s an interesting point. I was reading yesterday about Iran’s latest balsa-wood fighter which is comically small. Thing is though, one can imagine a purpose for very small, cheap short-range stealthy plane in the context of their defense priorities but with NK, it’s hard to see how they have any practical value.

            • Nukes are terror weapons. They convey a level of horror above and beyond their actual destructive potential.

              Think about the Jose Padilla dirty bomb plot. The actual damage done by such a weapon would be basically the same as that done by the same bomb packed with nails, but the psychological effect would be greater.

              Or that’s the theory anyway, and it seems to make sense.

              • Stan Gable

                Think about the Jose Padilla dirty bomb plot

                So Padilla just wants to incite terror – he has no other objective. In that case, the dirty bomb makes sense because the terror is the end in itself.

                In NK’s case though, I don’t see where terror really fits in here. NK can’t out-nuke the US and even so, the US still is living with MAD in regards to Russia and probably China to some extent. NK’s handful of nukes isn’t really going to make anyone in the US that much more nervous.

                Add to that the fact that they don’t have delivery mechanism and that they already have a deterrent, then the only purposes that I can see are some kind of goofy national pride project or a means of deterring Chinese interference.

                • The North Koreans seem to genuinely believe that the South and the U.S. are just chomping at the bit to invade them.

                  I think they want to deter that, and the essence of deterrence is the threat of something scary.

                • …so, the scarier your threat, the greater the deterrent effect.

                • Stan Gable

                  The North Koreans seem to genuinely believe that the South and the U.S. are just chomping at the bit to invade them.

                  The only way that a nuke seems rational to me is if you assume that flattening Seoul is an insufficient deterrent, such that adding the ability to maybe flatten a small part of Seattle if everything goes just right would make all the difference. Doesn’t that seem weird?

                • Njorl

                  Stan, if there were to be an invasion of N. Korea, the first steps would be massing troops on the border, and assembling a naval task force (possibly one on each coast) to assist. Massed forces are vulnerable to nuclear attack.

                • Stan Gable

                  Massed forces are vulnerable to nuclear attack.

                  Sure – that’s true but the same troop buildup would also be vulnerable to the existing artillery along the border and the ability to level Seoul is a deterrent to a buildup in the first place.

                  I don’t think the nukes add a whole lot of incremental value in that regards.

                • Stan,

                  The ability to nuke Seattle would seem to be a better deterrent to American action than the ability to nuke Seoul.

                • mpowell

                  I would stand by my original point that although there is some strategic benefit to NoKo in having nukes, it is unusually small compared to other countries.

                  I think the real reason they have developed them is for the prestige of the regime. Would anyone actually disagree with that?

      • S Physicist

        I heard a suggestion (from Danger Room?) that they might put a device on a submarine–literally carrying it, not as a missile warhead–and send it into Seoul Harbor on a suicide mission. But then while I’ve been surprised at the risks North Korea runs (torpedoing boats, shelling islands), I still think they’re unlikely to perform an act that would be so likely to call down a regime-ending response.

        • Cody

          I also find it unlikely North Korea is doing anything other than posturing. If they actually attacked South Korea, let alone used a nuclear device, there would be an overwhelming response from the U.S.

          The last thing China wants is a good reason for a huge US military presence hanging around their territorial waters. And I doubt North Korea can afford to do anything without China’s tacit blessing.

          • LeeEsq

            Would there be an overwhelming response from the U.S.? Any attack on South Korea is going to result in massive death and destruction. However, any counter-response is going to result in even more death and destruction. It would be like World War I on the Korean Peninsula. Everybody even remotely involved would have to get into the war. NK, SK, the United States, and China at the very least. Maybe even in Japan. Any reasonably intelligent US administration has to be aware of this fact.

            • Cody

              Any reasonably intelligent US administration has to be aware of this fact.

              So we’re in agreement this is exactly what would happen, yes?

              Or in recent LGM fashion, LBJ was a great President…

            • Anonymous

              I believe US troops are in S. Korea implicitly for this reason. They are there not so much to fight, as to die. If N. Korea attacks S. Korea, they will be killing Americans before we even make any decision about a response. This makes it more likely that we will live up to our treaty obligations toward S. Korea.

  • rea

    Nuke? Or has the N. Korean leadership simply been eating Bananas Benedict and we now face the gastrointestinal consequences?

  • Given the Australian (and now British) use of the term “norks”, I’m actually relieved to learn that Kim Jong-un is testing nukes, rather than the female bosom being used as the filthiest kind of dirty bomb.

  • c u n d gulag

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that the Chinese might be placing a call sometime in the near future to Lil’ Kim Jong Un.

    It’s ok when one of the worlds fastest=growing economies has a neighboring kid who likes to light matches – it’s a whole ‘nother ball game entirely when that kid starts playing with Zippo lighters and sticks of dynomite.

    I think the Chinese will let this play out awhile longer, letting the little guy ‘strut and fret his hour upon the stage.’

    But if Lil’ Kim really starts negatively affecting the (improving and rapidly increasing) trade relations with South Korea, and especially America, then China will tell that ‘idiot’, that all of that ‘sound and fury,’ will ‘signify nothing’ if he’s suddenly the victim a coup.
    And tell him to sit down, take a V*lium, and STFU!
    “Enjoy whatcha got while ya gottit, Son.”

    China doesn’t much care that North Koreans are starving – and have been for well over a half-a-century.
    They’re worried about their own people.
    And any disruption in China’s international trade by Lil’ Kim will not be looked upon kindly.
    I think President Obama will be making some calls to China – if he hasn’t already.

    Like I said, I could be wrong.
    After all, this nuclear nonsense by N. Korea had been going on for awhile now.

    Maybe some people more knowledgeable than I am (which is a lot of folks) will explain what they thing about North Korea.

    • Stan Gable

      Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that the Chinese might be placing a call sometime in the near future to Lil’ Kim Jong Un.

      I don’t think that the NK – China relationship has been warm and fuzzy for a real long time. The major problem for China is that if the regime collapses, then they’d have a refugee crisis along with a destabilized region along their border.

    • John F

      I think in some ways China’s relationship is like the US’s with Israel- I strongly suspect that all of our last few Presidents (both Bushes included) spend a great deal of time being annoyed at what the Israeli Government was doing and saying- and yet the Israeli Government not only keeps saying and doing things but we enable them in doing it.

      China’s problem is that NK may be their “client,” but they are a client that simply is not going to do what China tells them to do- they are going to do what they want. Obviously China has “leverage” just as the US has leverage WRT Israel, but leverage has to be USED, and with regard to Israel the US has never been willing to do anything more than put a finger on the counterweight (ie., every now and then we don’t veto some non-binding/symbolic UN resolution)- but we’ve never actually applied pressure.

      China has never shown any willingness to actually push NK.

      • John F

        WRT to Israel/US, the reluctance to “push” Israel owes much to domestic political pressure, I think China’s reluctance to push NK stems from uncertainty over how NK would respond- worries that NK’s leadership really is irrational

        • Stan Gable

          Or that NK leadership is unstable. The US doesn’t push Israel because there’s little political incentive, China doesn’t push NK because they (NK) might fall over.

          • Alan Tomlinson

            China doesn’t “push” North Korea, whatever the fuck “push” means, because they are afraid of a mass-migration of North Koreans.


            Alan Tomlinson

            • John F

              No, China doesn’t “push” NK due to that fear, to the contrary China is eventually going to “push”* NK when they see that as the only means of avoiding amass migration of North Koreans.

              *in this context “push” means actually using their leverage- telling NK, “OK, do X (or stop doing X) or we will stop sending you ####, or we are going sign some agreement with SK etc. etc

  • wengler

    Tell me when they start exporting them. Tests don’t really mean much.

  • jon

    The only thing the DPRK excels at is getting international attention. Well, that and immiserating their own people. I’m not impressed that they are improving their fizzles modestly. Doesn’t mean they will never develop some credible nuclear capability, but it looks like they are still very far away (Which might also be instructive in considering any putative Iranian nuclear weapons program related activities). I’ll get worried when China gets worried; they have far more reason to be concerned.

  • Carbon Man

    I know–maybe Obama should go on another Apology Tour. Maybe we weren’t just being nice enough. America is at fault, after all. Always. That’s the liberal motto.

    • Malaclypse

      Could you please to be naming instances of this famous Apology Tour? It was a tour, so there must be many easily-citeable examples.

      • expatchad

        This guy is a prerecorded troll, no? And there are limited discs available?

        • expatchad

          And they are available only from Rush/beck/RNC and the Paul-Inofe General Store?

      • Could you please to be naming instances of this famous Apology Tour? It was a tour, so there must be many easily-citeable examples.

        Obama had totally sold out by the time of the Apology Tour. I didn’t even bother going to see it.

        I remember when he was cutting himself with broken glass and pleading for forgiveness in small clubs in western Massachusetts.

        You’ve probably never even heard of the EP he released, you poseur.

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