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  • Holy Crap!

    Posted by James R. Rummel on September 12th, 2004 (All posts by )

    It might just be that North Korea has finally gotten around to building a nuke!

    Don’t trust the AP? Fair enough. Howsabout the BBC and the (shudder) NYT?

    Okay, now what? What are our options?

    Dunno. But I do know that this guy has some good analysis. Don’t agree? Then read this post.

    Put this guy on your blogrolls and check him out daily.

    What do I think we’ll do? Dunno. If NK just tested a nuke then they probably don’t have many. That might have been their only one. But if they’re testing then they probably have material to make more, so bombing the plants that enriches the fissionables would be a waste of time.

    Invade? Those guys have taken paranoia to a high art, and they’ve had more than 50 years to fortify and prepare. They’d lose, but it would’t be cheap or easy for us.

    Of course, this could all be moot. The blast took place on Thursday and we haven’t heard anything since then. Could be that someone made a mistake and a reporter just ran with it without getting confirmation. Not like we haven’t seen it before.

    But let’s assume that it is a nuke. Does this change anything, and what do we do about it?

    (Hat tip to Allah.)

     

    6 Responses to “Holy Crap!”

    1. BigFire Says:

      Lets see how much of their fuel are left from this little demostration. When Pakistan decided to match India and join the club, they managed to use about 1/4 of their stock, whereas India only used less than 1/11.

      Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter managed to bought them at least 8 years of uninterrupted time to refine fuel, but there are only so much they can do.

    2. Steven Den Beste Says:

      If we assume it was an NK nuclear test, then the US doesn’t have any really good way to place pressure on NK short of threatening to nuke them.

      But we are in a pretty good position to place pressure on the Chinese. And the Chinese can put a hell of a lot of pressure on NK, because China is NK’s primary source of energy via a petroleum pipeline.

      The reports are that this blast took place last week, probably Thursday. Almost immediately, there were news reports out of SK about experiments there in refining fissionables. Remember them? I don’t think that was coincidence.

      I think that was a message to China: if NK actually goes nuclear, SK can and will do the same. The unspoken message would be “…and so will Taiwan.”

      A nuclear-armed Taiwan is intolerable to China. (And they would be damned unhappy if SK went nuclear.) The only way China could prevent that would be to stop being subtle, and start to bully NK and force it to stop.

      But as I was thinking about this, a different possibility occurred to me: what if this was an American warning shot? It would be easy for us to put a peanut nuke inside a Tomahawk and to launch it from an LA-class SSN just off the coast. There’s essentially zero chance that NK’s air defenses would detect it and be able to shoot it down.

      One reason that appeals to me is the location of the blast. It reportedly was very near a major NK military base where they store ballistic missiles. That doesn’t seem like the kind of place where NK would want to perform its own test, but it would be an excellent location for a warning shot.

      I don’t consider this to be as likely. I’m more inclined to think that it was an NK test.

      But no matter whose nuke it was (if nuke it be), I expect the following:

      1. There will be an active effort by everyone involved to deny that it was a nuke at all.

      2. I anticipate a major change in negotiating positions in the near future.

      3. If NK suddenly gets extremely strident and begins to demand much more, then it means it was an NK test, and China didn’t decide to crack down.

      4. If NK suddenly gets a lot more accomodating, then either it was an American warning shot, or else it was an NK test and the Chinese have decided that they can’t let things go any further.

      Last week there was a report that a senior Chinese leader was going to visit NK from 9/10 to 9/13. If true, he’s there now. It will be very interesting to see what kind of announcements get made afterwards.

    3. MatyaNoBaka Says:

      The NHK news segment reported the blast this morning, but like the Garfieldridge post claimed the seismic data did not indicate a nuclear blast. Their website does not include the reference to seismic data. They also linked it to the April train explosion, saying it was “probably bigger”.

      Does this support Steven Den Beste’s point on denial?

      The world’s largest artillery park is pointed at Seoul, which certainly intimidates South Korea and limits our options even with a non-nuclear Hermit Kingdom. For example, we cannot test what they meant that UN sanctions or a blockade would be treated as an act of war. Seoul would be destroyed without a nuclear option available.

      Cynically, one wonders if this has anything to do with South Korea moving their capital. To promote development in another area of the country and reduce congestion in Seoul, right?

      Matya no baka

    4. Richard A. Heddleson Says:

      The Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Americans and possibly South Koreans all have sensors capable of detecting atmospheric radioactivity as well as seismic data. If this was a nuclear event, I doubt all these powers would falsely deny it. Too many people would know for it to stay secret.

      Likewise, there are too many radars in the area for GWB to take a chance on a SLCM attack. It is too easy for somethning to go awry eight weeks before his re-election. If he were to do this, he would have built up to the attack rhetorically to prepare domestic opinion and to avoid being charged with an unprovoked surprise attack.

      Given that the blast occurred near a base where the North Koreans store their missles, it is as easy to believe an accident of Biblical proportions occurred. That is why SDB’s point number 3 will be dispositive.

      This may well be a fortunate wake-up call that focuses the atention of all the five parties negotiating with the North Koreans.

    5. Steven Den Beste Says:

      Actually, there’s an entirely different possibility: this could have been an accident at a facility working with solid rocket fuel.

      The proximity to the military base where ballistic missiles are stored lends credence to this idea.

      Solid rockets are conceptually simple, but fiendishly difficult in practice and quite dangerous to work with. operational accidents can quite easily become extremely large very rapidly.

      The primary ingredient in solid rocket fuel used by the US is ammonium perchlorate. In 1988, a storage facility in Henderson NV blew up; it contained 4500 tons of ammonium perchlorate.

      That is literally a multi-kiloton blast, but it’s entirely chemical.

    6. Lex Says:

      If you think about it, the NKs (1) have been stockpiling enormous amounts of conventional ammunition, rocket fuel, shells, God knows what, for decades in preparation for Korean War Round II, and (2) it is a dirt-poor commie country which probably has broken-down equipment and negligent or half-starved people operating it.

      It is probably weird that enormous, inexplicable explosions don’t happen more often.