North Korea went ahead with its sixth nuclear test at Punggye-ri in Kilju County in the northeastern province of North Hamgyeong at 12:29 p.m. on Sunday, September 3. The test came five days after the North fired a ballistic missile over Japan and about four months after the Moon Jae-in government took office in South Korea. North Korea has conducted a series of nuclear tests in an apparent bid to gain international recognition as a de facto nuclear weapons state. Here is Professor Kim Dong-yeop from the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University.
Through the nuclear test, North Korea wants to show that its nuclear force is reaching a peak and its nuclear technologies are close to completion. With its status as a nuclear state being acknowledged temporarily, Pyongyang’s ultimate goal is to negotiate with the U.S. over various issues, including the lifting of sanctions.
Experts assume that North Korea is benchmarking the Pakistani model. Pakistan carried out six nuclear tests in 1998. At the time, the nation was under strong sanctions imposed by the U.S., including an embargo on arms sales, but was not subject to U.N-level sanctions. After the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001, the U.S. lifted the sanctions in order to wage war with Afghanistan. Like Pakistan, North Korea seems to be attempting to make the U.S. accept Pyongyang’s possession of nuclear weapons as fact and to lead the negotiations with Washington in a strategic move to have a security guarantee for its regime. But there are major differences between North Korea and Pakistan.
North Korea believes that the U.S. will recognize it as a nuclear power in due time as long as it develops atomic weapons. So the North thinks that all it has to do is complete the nuclear programs and wait. But the situations in Pakistan and India are different from that of North Korea. While Pakistan and India never joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, North Korea was once a signatory to this treaty and later abandoned it. In other words, the North posed a challenge to the international community. In addition, the overall situation surrounding North Korea, including the dictatorship in the country and a divided Korean Peninsula, is starkly different from Pakistan. Given that, it will be difficult for the U.S. to apply the Pakistani model to North Korea.
Three hours after the nuclear test, at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, North Korea unveiled leader Kim Jong-un’s signed order for the test of what it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb that can be mounted onto an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The latest test, which the North claims was a success, is believed to be the most powerful nuclear experiment by the rogue state yet. The first test in 2006 produced an explosive yield of less than one kiloton. But the blast power has grown significantly as the North has conducted more tests. It increased to six kilotons in the fourth test in January 2016 and 10 kilotons in the fifth one in September the same year. The Defense Ministry in Seoul estimated that Sunday’s test had a yield of about 50 kilotons, citing an artificial earthquake of magnitude 5.7. The explosive power is five times larger than that of the fifth nuclear test and more than 50 times greater than that of the first one.
The explosive force of the sixth test is nearly three times more powerful than that of the two nuclear bombs that were dropped on Japan during World War II. But the question is whether it was indeed a hydrogen bomb. It is hard to conclusively say that it was a hydrogen bomb only judging from the 5.7 magnitude artificial tremor. I think it is meaningless to determine whether it was a hydrogen bomb or not based on the magnitude, since some measured it at 6.3. Rather, the estimated yield of 50 kilotons itself is formidable enough to pose a threat or stoke fear. We have to note that North Korea has succeeded in developing a bomb with such a strong blast force.
N: North Korea’s obsession with the development of a hydrogen bomb has to do with the miniaturization of a nuclear warhead that can be mounted onto an ICBM. Prior to the sixth nuclear experiment, North Korea disclosed a model of a bomb that looked like a janggu, an hourglass-shaped traditional Korean drum. Through the latest test, which is the largest ever in scale, North Korea seems to have demonstrated its ability to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an ICBM.
Only when a nuclear bomb is carried by a missile can it function as a nuclear weapon. Therefore, it is important to build a nuclear warhead small enough to be placed on a missile. On the morning of the nuclear test, North Korea unveiled a nuclear explosion device shaped like a peanut. If this device is confirmed to be identical to the one North Korea actually used in the nuclear test, we can assume that the North has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to be fitted atop an ICBM that could reach the U.S. mainland, as the North claims.
The international community is noting that the interval between North Korea’s provocations is getting shorter. North Korea usually conducted a package of a ballistic missile launch and a nuclear test in three-year intervals. In July 2006, North Korea launched the Taepodong-2 missile. In October the same year, it pressed ahead with its first nuclear test. About three years later, in April 2009, the North fired the Unha rocket and carried out its second nuclear detonation test in May. Again, three years later, in December 2012, the launch of the Unha-3 rocket was followed by the third nuclear test in February 2013. While the fourth nuclear test occurred in January last year, the fifth one came in September the same year. That is, North Korea pushed ahead with two nuclear tests in a year.
We had constantly raised the possibility of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, thinking that the North would press the button upon Kim Jong-un’s order. It seems the preparations had already been completed, and the entire process proceeded promptly. Obviously, North Korea took various issues into consideration—relations with the U.S., the complicated situation on the Korean Peninsula, and the urgent need for lifting sanctions on the North. North Korea said that the standing committee of the party’s politburo analyzed the current situation of international diplomacy. I think the North was trying to justify its nuclear experiment.
North Korea claims that it has succeeded in developing a hydrogen bomb for an ICBM. If the claim proves to be true, the nation is nearing the completion of its nuclear program.
The latest nuclear test might be the last technical experiment for North Korea. That means no additional tests are necessary, in terms of technology. For political purposes, however, another nuclear test is still possible. The sixth test clearly shows that North Korea has made a small, light, and powerful nuclear warhead that can be mounted on an ICBM. But considering that nuclear capabilities are complete when a nuclear bomb is combined with a missile, North Korea has yet to complete some aspects of its nuclear program. It is unclear whether its missiles can actually fly the whole distance as intended, although the North tested it by launching the missiles at high angles. Also, it has not yet proved the capabilities of its atmospheric re-entry technology for an ICBM, either. So, we cannot say that North Korea has fully mastered the ICBM technology. To advance its missile capabilities further, I think North Korea might carry out an additional test to fire a Hwasong-14 ICBM with a nuclear bomb into the Pacific and let it fly 6,000 to 8,000 kilometers.
Meanwhile on September 4, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump agreed on the elimination of restrictions on the payload of South Korea’s missiles under the Korea-U.S. missile guideline, in response to North Korea’s latest nuclear test. Accordingly, the limit on the payload of South Korean missiles will be removed for the first time in 38 years since the guideline was signed in 1979. The agreement means that the South Korean military will be able to respond to North Korea’s provocations on its own in case of an emergency.
The agreement will send an important message to North Korea. Of course, an increase in the payload weight cannot prevent North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests in a fundamental way. But it means that South Korea will be able to exercise its right to defend its people from North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons without having to rely on the U.S. military. The revision of the missile guideline can be understood in the context of South Korea’s strong determination and right to protect the safety of its nationals and secure deterrence against North Korea.
The U.S. and the international community are expected to slap additional sanctions on North Korea, following its latest nuclear provocation. The entire world is concerned about Pyongyang’s future moves.
[Interview] Group Supports N. Korean Moms Separated from their Children
On August 27, a special event called “Meeting Plaza for Unification Moms and Home-lost People” took place in southern Seoul. The Association of Unification Moms, which is a private group consisting of North Korean defectors, organized this event to share North Korean food and songs with senior citizens who had left their North Korean homes during the Korean War and to reminisce about their hometowns together. Let’s hear from the group president Kim Jeong-ah.
We defectors always feel guilty about not being able to fulfill our duty to our parents we left behind in North Korea. By serving the senior citizens here instead, we can take a load off our minds. Defectors and the elderly people have something in common. They have suffered the pain of leaving their loved ones in North Korea. At this event, they can share the pain and comfort each other.
The event was joined by some 300 people, including the old, home-lost people and North Korean defectors. The defectors shed tears when they saw the elderly people, who reminded them of their own parents. They were also consoled by the senior citizens.
My parents passed away when I was little. I feel like the elderly people are my own parents or grandparents. I’m happy to take part in this event. I really appreciate it.
I was very excited and emotional today. I was so glad that I felt as though I finally met my mom and dad. Actually, my parents are in North Korea. When I miss them, I used to go to the Unification Observatory to ease my sadness. It’s so nice to communicate with the senior citizens here.
I heard my parents died about a year after I came to South Korea. The home-lost people remind me of my parents. I hope they will live a long and healthy life so we can enjoy unification together.
The senior citizens, for their part, can identify with the defectors who left their North Korean hometowns and struggle to resettle in an unfamiliar environment. They share the same home country, namely, North Korea. But when they see the North Korean newcomers, the elderly are reminded of what they experienced 70 years ago. At this event, they found themselves missing their lost hometowns and wishing for unification once again.
When seeing the young defectors, I think about my nephews and nieces in North Korea. I hope the defectors will adjust to South Korea quickly and fully enjoy their lives in this free, democratic society. For that purpose, South Korean citizens and the government should help them.
Thinking about their hardships, I feel sorry for them. I feel like they are my own children, and I was impressed by their courage and diligence. I hope they will overcome difficulties successfully and live decent lives here.
It’s hard for me to express the way I felt when I saw them. I wondered if I will return to North Korea. I got pretty emotional. I cried when I saw a person who came from Pyongan Province.
It breaks my heart to see so many people who had left their parents and siblings in North Korea. We home-lost people have been separated from our loved ones for 60 to 70 years, enduring so much pain and sorrow for all those years. My hometown is Hoeryong, North Hamgyeong Province. I still remember the 1,300-meter-high Obong Mountain, the airfield, and anti-aircraft battery and my school. A satellite picture shows that the school still remains. I wish I could go there again. But how? It makes me cry just thinking about that. It’s sad.
This is the fifth such gathering of North Korean defectors and the elderly home-lost people. It isn’t easy to prepare for this large-scale event attended by hundreds of people, but Ms. Kim says she won’t stop holding the event because she is well aware that those people miss their hometowns very much.
I can’t give up this event. Every time I hold the meeting, I feel as if I am fighting a war. I never saw people who didn’t cry, whether they are defectors or home-lost people. During the first event that was held after our group was created, the participants cried a lot, holding each other’s hands and singing the folksong, Arirang, together. Clearly, they were sharing each other’s pain. After the event, I asked our group members why they cried. They said the senior citizens were just like their own mothers and fathers. When I asked the elderly people the same question, they said they felt like their family members came back to life and were thankful for that. I thought it shouldn’t end up being a one-time event.
The Association of Unification Moms, which hosted the event, was launched in 2015 to help out female North Korean defectors who had to leave their children in North Korea or other countries in the course of escaping from the North. Here again is Ms. Kim.
South Korea and the international community described North Korean defectors as “unification that comes in advance.” When female defectors from North Korea are free to hug their lost children again, unification will come about. The phrase “Unification Moms” contains this wish. It also delivers a message to South Korean citizens. They are encouraged to embrace North Korean people on both sides of the border, just like holding their child in their arms. That would be the true sense of unification in mind, not just the unification of land.
Kim herself is a mom who is unfortunately separated from her children. The group members are mostly those who are separated from their kids or mothers who deeply sympathize with them.
I have a 13-year-old daughter in China. I also have a 25-year-old son and a 24-year-old daughter in North Korea. I cannot think about them without crying. I left them behind, although it was against my will. My heart breaks when thinking of their difficulties. All I can say is “Sorry.” Whenever I work with young girls about the same age as my daughter or see college students doing part-time jobs, I feel lonely and want to cry because they remind me of my kids.
Ms. Kim has engaged in various activities to inform the public of the reality of the North Korean mothers who try to find their missing children. During this event, she read out a letter or plea to let the participants know the sad stories of the mothers who are separated from their children.
Some female defectors were separated from their children in China when defecting to South Korea. We wish that these women will be given the right to see their lost children or even hear their voices at least once a year under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, if it is impossible to be reunited with them forever. We demand that the displaced children be allowed to freely make a phone call to their mothers when they want, under international law.
We do hope the separated mothers and children can keep in touch in the future.