The North Korean government has successfully tested a nuclear weapon today, exploding the device underground. The yield of the device was between 5-15 kilotons, which is under the yield of the first American nuclear weapons. Already there have been strong reactions from other regional powers such as Japan, South Korea, and China.
China’s reaction will be the most interesting. The Chinese have been keeping North Korea afloat, but they have no interest in seeing the DPRK becoming a nuclear power. They know that now Japan and South Korea are also likely to go nuclear in response, which diminishes their power relative to their neighbors. The Chinese also know that trade, the lifeblood of the New China, would be disrupted by a regional conflict. If the Chinese feel sufficiently threatened, it’s anyone’s guess as to how they might react.
We’ve known that North Korea was nuclear-capable for some time, so this test isn’t necessarily a shock. But by being so brazen, the North Koreans may have made a grave tactical error. If their Chinese patrons decide that the DPRK constitutes a threat to Chinese interests, it is quite possible that the North Koreans may face sanctions or even worse.
UPDATE: The yield of the North Korean test was 5-15 kilotons. The yield of the nuclear weapons used to end the Second World War were 15-17 kilotons. The North Korean weapon produced a very small yield for a nuke. It looks like North Korea’s bombs don’t work much better than their missiles.
Good thing President Bush decided to get us out of the 1972 ABM treaty, just in case.