North Korea Confirms ‘Successful’ Nuclear Test

North Korea conducted its third test of a nuclear device Tuesday, raising fears of conflict in Northeast Asia and new questions about whether the regime can be stopped in its decades-long effort to develop nukes

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Lee Jin-man / AP

South Korean protesters burn the pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korea rally following a nuclear test conducted by North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 12, 2013.

North Korea conducted its third test of a nuclear device Tuesday, raising fears of instability in Northeast Asia and new questions about whether the isolated authoritarian regime can be stopped in its decades-long effort to develop nuclear weapons. The explosion was first suspected after a magnitude 5.1 earthquake was detected shortly before noon local time about 235 miles (380 km) northeast of the capital, Pyongyang, near the site of the country’s previous nuclear tests. The Japanese Prime Minister’s office held an emergency session, saying, “There is a possibility that a nuclear test was conducted by North Korea based on the previous cases.” About two hours later, North Korea’s state-run news service confirmed the test, which it said was conducted with a smaller and lighter device than previous detonations, “yet with great explosive power.”

The test follows North Korea’s successful December satellite launch, which demonstrated improved long-range missile technology. Last month North Korea’s National Defense Commission warned it would carry out a “higher level” nuclear test, which was targeted at the U.S. It comes two weeks ahead of the swearing-in of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, a sign of the sharp security tests that her new administration will face. It also coincides with heightened regional animosity in East Asia, with China and Japan at odds over East China Sea islets claimed by both nations. But North Korea’s test is a reminder that it remains the greatest regional security threat, with its leadership unbowed by international condemnation and its weapons capability apparently growing. The White House condemned the test as a “highly provocative act that, following its Dec. 12 ballistic-missile launch, undermines regional stability.”

(MORE: Inside North Korea: Google Snapshots)

North Korea previously tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, which resulted in widespread international condemnation and heightened sanctions. But efforts to slow North Korea’s pursuit of deadly nuclear capability have had limited effect. A South Korean Defense Ministry official said North Korea is believed to have detonated a nuclear device with a strength of six to seven kilotons, Yonhap News Agency reported. That would be near the high end of the 2009 test, though more precise analyses will take time. Likewise, experts are waiting to see whether there is any indication that this device used plutonium fuel, as North Korea has said was used in its previous tests, or highly enriched uranium, which would indicate new capabilities that give it a huge supply of fissile material and make controlling its nuclear program even harder.

Like the missile launch in December, Tuesday’s test will invariably result in a new round of U.N. Security Council sanctions. But there is no guarantee they will have any more impact than past efforts at thwarting the country’s nuclear ambitions. “Any test, whether plutonium or uranium, will probably lead to additional international sanctions,” says Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “However, I’m very skeptical about the efficacy of sanctions. I don’t think they’re going to work. They’ve been under sanctions since 2006, and during this time the North Korea government has twice and now three times tested nuclear devices, missile launches and finally a successful satellite launch.”

(MORE: North Korea’s Latest Video Destroys New York City, Angers Call of Duty Makers)

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting early Tuesday. The response of China, a permanent member of the council and North Korea’s only significant ally, will be a key indication of whether new condemnation of the regime will have any significant consequences. China has traditionally been unwilling to endorse any moves that might destabilize its neighbor, particularly in the year since longtime leader Kim Jong Il died in December 2011 and power was transferred to his young and untested son Kim Jong Un. But last month China joined the rest of the Security Council in voting to tighten a number of existing U.N. sanctions, including barring some North Korean space-program and banking officials from foreign travel.

The Global Times, a nationalist Beijing-based newspaper, wrote last week that China should cut aid to North Korea if it goes ahead with a third nuclear test. “China has many misgivings when handling relations with Pyongyang, but there is a general principle: China is never afraid of Pyongyang,” the newspaper said in an editorial. “Pyongyang’s diplomacy is characterized with toughness. But if Pyongyang gets tough with China, China should strike back hard, even at the cost of deteriorating bilateral relations.” While the Global Times is run by China’s ruling Communist Party, its editorials aren’t considered official policy thinking and can often reflect a more strident line.

The test coincided with the Chinese New Year holiday, when most of China is on vacation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a brief statement saying it “resolutely” condemned North Korea’s act and urged it to “no longer carry out actions that could worsen the situation.” The test will put pressure on the new administration of incoming leader Xi Jinping to rein in the Kim regime. And there were signals that the Chinese public’s patience with North Korea was wearing thin. “If someone who claims to be an ‘intimate neighbor’ and good friend sets off a nuclear device at your doorstep, would you still treat him as a friend?” Zhang Xingsheng, northeast Asia director of the Nature Conservancy, wrote on his Sina Weibo microblog. “What should China do with such a neighbor? Permit it to continue being reckless?” While many Chinese writing online agreed with the sentiment, China might only go so far to constrain its neighbor. “My view is that Beijing recognizes the growing threat from the North Korean issue to comprehensive regional security,” Zhu Feng, an international-studies professor at Peking University, told TIME. “It will force Beijing to move forward, but the problem is, to what extent? At least I see Beijing growing in willingness to build coordination with the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Russia.”

— With reporting by Yue Wang / Hong Kong

MORE: North Korea Nuke Test Could Test China’s Patience

84 comments
graywolf181961
graywolf181961

Millions starving to death, children eating tree bark daily as a food substitute and this maniac poisoning their ground and drinking water for thousands of years. With horrible terrain and brutal winters they can never grow enough to sustain their country, him poisoning the ground and water resources with radioactive material will only make matters worse. At some point, the world including China will have to take actions to rid the world of him. The sooner the better.

isaacbaadu1
isaacbaadu1

@TIME @TIMEWorld they need try their weapons as well in ghana

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

And if all the BS ranting by North Korea in the article is just that - the slapstick ranting of a (nuclear armed) psycho grudge-keeping war monger from the 50's - good for us all...........BUT if it isn't?

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Just wait until Iran gets theirs.........Then no one will touch them, and Iran knows it.........

......Joel 2:30

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.

RobertKokayHerd
RobertKokayHerd

Nuclear tests in peace time? not good, doesn't matter where or whom it comes from... Peace!!!

GunnersJuventus
GunnersJuventus

@TIME @timeworld But whcih country do you think should be blamed more? -N Korea or Iran.There's not a little bit of difference,I think

mendokuse714
mendokuse714

@TIME "Comfort women" is the histories which South Koreans fabricated. Please be not deceived to South Koreans, you.

NY199827
NY199827

@ParamjitGarewal @TIMEWorld @shellieblum @RoyalTXGirl @leannbe @CFGP @Sora_0025 THEY RATHER TEST NUKES THEN FEED THEIR PEOPLE

moka765
moka765

@masaki_kito TimeだとかNewsweekだとか私も信じてた時があったけど、メインストリームのメディアは全部規制されてるんですよ。

garichi0405
garichi0405

もう北朝鮮には軍事行動を起こして政権崩壊させるしかないですよね。明らかにイラクよりも大量破壊兵器を保有してるんだから。弾道ミサイルに搭載する核まで開発する前に。この体制が続く限り北部朝鮮半島の住民の地獄は続く@masaki_kito

SushantFren
SushantFren

@TIME @TIMEWorld what if all country goes on nuclear test and our home earth will be a nuclear test lab..must be aware of it

etabori
etabori

@TIME @TIMEWorld “it’s very possible that the North Koreans are testing for two countries.” (IRAN)

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

Is that the Korean neighbor's shushi can in the back of their garage or is something stinky going on in the East?

TrueBeliever
TrueBeliever

The leaders of North Korea are War Criminals.

Try them in absentia.

Nuke'm

rejoicedan
rejoicedan

@TIME I Stil dnt get what this nuclear plants are for?

PastorDean
PastorDean

@TIME @TIMEWorld Christians! Pray against the evil people in North Korea! This is a spiritual battle, and we can win!

talitamaiaag
talitamaiaag

@TIME @TIMEWorld Such a weird world that we live in where people spend so much time, money and energy trying to pullulate fear and death

maokafor
maokafor

@TIME @TIMEWorld North Korea must put an end to Nuclear Test, or Nuclear Test will put an end to North Korea. #FACT. @CNNI @BBC @UN

Trevor_Woods
Trevor_Woods

@BT0M @TIME @TIMEWorld they were just setting off fireworks

Rana72070
Rana72070

@TIME @timeworld Nuclear North Korea another faulty product MADE IN CHINA subsidised with our money each time we buy something made in China

PabloFlores
PabloFlores

Awesome ...your just a big ol' ball of crazy. Nice...

RussellJensen
RussellJensen

@PlumbLine Are you kidding? If Iran ever announced that they had a nuke, Israel would simply launch a first strike and turn Iran into ash and to heck with what the world thought of it. (IMHO)

Sora_0025
Sora_0025

@NY199827 @paramjitgarewal @timeworld @shellieblum @royaltxgirl @leannbe @cfgp this really sucks fir south korea ww3

ira_mambo
ira_mambo

@adiaddicted no.. IT war is began

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@rejoicedan 

You use nuclear reactors to make either electricity or B use it to turn uranium into plutonium for bomb making.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@PastorDean 

oh believe in your flying men with wings and leave the others to reality.

raidx259
raidx259

@joleenzanuzoski  Obama is not going to handle anything. He just sold dozens of F-18s to Egypt, but turned down a request for upgrades and new jet fighters to Taiwan.

S_h_a_w_N_1
S_h_a_w_N_1

@JadalynStarr lmfaooooooooo that was the funniest reply, but on some real shit. @TIME wtf u mean korea confirms nuclear test.....

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@maokafor 

What a stupid statement!

North Korea has the bomb... thus if we hit Pyongyang they nuke Seoul... The nukes they have GUARANTEE their security ya lemming.

NY199827
NY199827

@Sora_0025 @ParamjitGarewal @TIMEWorld @shellieblum @RoyalTXGirl @leannbe @CFGP YES IT DOES!!

adiaddicted
adiaddicted

@ira_mambo : aha spies begin in the beginning of cold war

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

as well as enriching the rare U235 isotope from the U238 background isotope,

ira_mambo
ira_mambo

,,,corrrrrecttt,,, @adiaddicted @ira_mambo : aha spies begin in the beginning of cold war

S_h_a_w_N_1
S_h_a_w_N_1

@JadalynStarr I was cryin wen I first read it. No lie lool