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North Korea's nuclear crisis (selection of articles from the Japanese press)

September 4, 2017





Pyongyang ratchets up its provocations


While North Korea’s claim that it successfully tested a “two-stage thermonuclear weapon” capable of being carried by an intercontinental ballistic missile on Sunday cannot be verified, its latest nuclear test shows once again that the threat posed by its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs is increasing as time passes and the international community remains unable to take effective steps to halt the Kim regime’s dangerous provocations. This must change.


Pressure on North Korea must be increased and efforts made to close the loopholes that have enabled Pyongyang to mitigate the impact of such efforts and continue its weapons development programs. At the same time, diplomatic efforts directly involving North Korea should be explored to ensure that the worst-case scenario of a military conflict — which would be too costly for countries in the region including Japan — can be averted.


North Korea’s claim that it has succeeded in building a miniaturized hydrogen bomb that can be attached to an ICBM has been met with skepticism. But the power of the blast on Sunday, as estimated by the size of temblors caused by the explosion and observed by authorities outside the country, was reportedly several times larger than the last nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang nearly a year ago — and the largest since the regime carried out its first nuclear test in 2006. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the possibility that it was indeed a hydrogen bomb could not be ruled out.


North Korea, meanwhile, has steadily continued to upgrade and diversified its ballistic missile technology, which would be used to deliver its nuclear bombs. In July, Pyongyang twice test-fired what was deemed its first ICBM, the Hwasong-14, which can likely reach the United States mainland. After threatening to fire intermediate-range missiles into the sea off the U.S. territory of Guam, North Korea last week fired such a missile over Hokkaido — a reminder that Japan is well within the range of its ballistic missiles.


North Korea has defied international pressure, including United Nations Security Council resolutions and economic sanctions, in the pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs. New resolutions and additional — and likely tougher — sanctions will be mulled in the wake of the latest nuclear weapons test. But past experience suggests that a UNSC resolution and sanctions will have a limited effect on Pyongyang’s actions.


It is believed that Kim’s regime, by racheting up the threat of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, is aiming to force the United States to engage in dialogue and ultimately recognize Pyongyang’s status as a nuclear power, thereby ensuring its survival. On the other hand, the U.S. and the rest of the international community see dialogue with North Korea as a means to denuclearize the regime. Such a gap — and the grave security threat that North Korea as a nuclear weapons power poses to East Asia — are said to stand in the way of possible talks to resolve the crisis.

The impasse over what the aim of dialogue should be will not be easily resolved — especially between North Korea and the U.S. But in the meantime, North Korea will continue to hone its ballistic missiles and nuclear arms capabilities, raising the threat they pose and the stakes in a possible military clash. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump says it has “many military options” to counter the threat posed by North Korea. There is no guarantee, however, that a military solution to the crisis would not be accompanied by immense damage to neighboring countries such as South Korea and Japan.

Diplomatic efforts will ultimately be the only way to avert such a worst-case scenario. The question of whether North Korea should or should not be recognized as a nuclear weapons power — if that is a major obstacle to even entering any talk with Pyongyang — may be irrelevant given that it already possesses nuclear arms and that countries effectively deal with the North as a nuclear power. The denuclearization of North Korea must be pursued, but what is urgently needed is a diplomatic framework that aims to stop Pyongyang from moving even further with its nuclear and missile development.

China and Russia, which have often been accused of providing the loopholes that allow North Korea to escape the brunt of international sanctions, should be called upon to play meaningful roles in building such a framework. Trump has tweeted that the U.S. will consider “stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.” Whether or not such a step is feasible, the Trump administration will likely push Moscow and Beijing to agree to tougher sanctions on Pyongyang at the U.N. Security Council. Both China and Russia should accept their responsibility to help rein in North Korea and contribute to a diplomatic solution to the crisis.


South Korea’s Moon faces calls to alter policy on North after nuclear test





SEOUL – North Korea has been condemned internationally for conducting its most powerful nuclear test yet, but, across the border, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is also attracting flak for his policy of pursuing engagement with Pyongyang.


Rebuked by U.S. President Donald Trump, Moon is facing growing calls at home to change course and take a tougher line against North Korea, even from his core support base of young liberals, according to hundreds of comments posted online.


Moon, who swept to power after winning a May 9 election, remains hugely popular but his policy of pursuing both pressure and dialogue with the North is now under scrutiny.

Trump was blunt about the situation facing South Korea, one of Washington’s biggest allies in Asia.


“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they (North Korea) only understand one thing,” he said in a tweet on Sunday, after the nuclear test.


Within South Korea, doubts about the “Moonshine” policy of engaging the North have been growing in recent weeks because there has been no change in the pace of the North’s ballistic missile testing since Moon took office.


The North twice test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles in July. Now, despite international warnings, it conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test Sunday.


“You said you will not have dialogue with the North if the North conducts a nuclear test. Keep your word,” said a post on the Facebook page of the presidential Blue House from a user named Kim Bojoong.


Moon said during his campaign for the presidency that dialogue would be “impossible for quite some time” if the North were to go ahead with another nuclear test.


However, Moon indicated on Sunday at a National Security Council meeting that he had not given up on talks with the North, a sentiment he repeated on Monday in a telephone call with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.


“Pressure must be strengthened until the North comes to the table for dialogue,” the presidential Blue House quoted Moon as telling Abe.


In another post on the palace’s Facebook page, user Shin Sanggyun said: “We know things are tough for you, mister president, but our response to the North’s nuclear pursuit has been rather feeble.”


It is time South Korea start considering using its shipbuilding expertise to build nuclear submarines and junior aircraft carriers, Shin said.


The Facebook posts were among hundreds of similar messages left on official social media maintained and monitored by the Blue House including its Twitter account and on the country’s largest Naver.com web portal.


Sentiment expressed on South Korea’s social media, where users are predominantly people in their 20s and 30s, has been a barometer of political support for Moon, a former human rights lawyer swept to power by an anti-graft movement that brought down his predecessor, President Park Geun-hye.


Moon’s support rating has slipped slightly in recent days but he remains hugely popular.

A public opinion survey by the Realmeter polling agency conducted two days before Sunday’s nuclear test and released Monday showed support for Moon fell by 0.8 percentage points from a week ago to 73.1 percent.


But support among youngsters was strong with Moon getting an 85 percent approval rating among people in their 20s.


South Korea’s conservative opposition parties said the Moon government’s expectations about North Korea were unrealistic and isolating the country from its allies.


“While the Moon Jae-in government made appeasement gestures and haggled for dialogue despite the North’s continued provocations, we have become a nuclear hostage,” a senior Liberal Korea Party member, Kim Tae-heum, said on Monday.


Moon’s push for dialogue was bound to hit a dead end because Pyongyang never really considered the South as a dialogue partner, said Kim Jun-seok, political diplomacy professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.


“They have to acknowledge us as a partner for talks, but all North Korea wants is to talk with the United States,” Kim said.


News Navigator: Why is N. Korea developing a hydrogen bomb?



The Mainichi answers some questions readers may have about North Korea's nuclear program and its use as a possible negotiation tool.

Question: Did North Korea conduct another nuclear test?

Answer: Yes, the North Korean government announced on Sept. 3 that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted on its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Japan Meteorological Agency estimates that the blast was roughly 10 times that of North Korea's previous nuclear test in September 2016 -- the largest yet.

While atomic bombs (A-bombs) use the energy produced by the fission of uranium or plutonium for a blast, hydrogen bombs (H-bombs) use hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium to create a nuclear fusion reaction with an energy output much greater than an atomic bomb. The H-bomb test the United States conducted on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in March 1954 was approximately 1,000 times the strength of the A-bomb detonated in Hiroshima.


Q: That's scary, isn't it?

A: The blast power isn't the only scary thing. The newly developed warheads are also reportedly capable of attack by electromagnetic pulse. By generating electromagnetic waves from the bomb blast, North Korea could mount an additional attack by disrupting the functions of information communications devices. A large-scale blackout could occur in the target city, paralyzing infrastructure and possibly causing a great deal of damage.


Q: Why is North Korea developing an H-bomb?

A: There is speculation that North Korea is developing powerful nuclear weapons in order to be recognized as a nuclear power by the United States and other nations. The Kim Jong Un regime is believed to also be creating leverage for future negotiations in hopes of guaranteeing the safety of the country. However, at the moment, it is unlikely that the United States and other countries will allow North Korea to possess such weapons, and will likely strengthen sanctions. (Answers by Aya Takeuchi, Foreign News Department)



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