Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Sabre rattling 7-6-5-4-3.....
October 8, 2006 8:46 PM   Subscribe

North Korea pops a cap
posted by hortense (222 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
.
posted by hortense at 8:47 PM on October 8, 2006


Beat me to it; here's the FPP I was working on...

Despite the elephant parade, North Korea has managed to test a nuke.
posted by moonbird at 8:48 PM on October 8, 2006


hortense hears a boom
posted by caddis at 8:51 PM on October 8, 2006


Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinkin'.
posted by keswick at 8:52 PM on October 8, 2006


Yeah that Clinton administration sure did screw up the whole North Korea/nuke issue. So glad we elected some responsible adults to show those guys who's boss.
posted by any major dude at 8:52 PM on October 8, 2006



posted by moonbird at 8:53 PM on October 8, 2006


If this isn't about an elephant, I don't see how it could possibly be important at all.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:53 PM on October 8, 2006


So... do we believe them?
posted by Artw at 8:54 PM on October 8, 2006


That's what I get for taking extra time and effort at what would've been my first post. Here's what it would've been:

Newsfilter: the AP is reporting North Korea has tested a nuclear bomb, something the Economist describes as "a serious escalation of tension", Condoleeza Rice calls "provocative", and Japan, China, and South Korea all call "unacceptable". The test was underground at approximately 10:30 AM. More at the BBC, the Daily NK. No word yet on how large a bomb was tested.
posted by ztdavis at 8:55 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Lets play the percentages.

Percentage chance the US Threat Level goes to Red tomorrow (Monday)? I say 50%.

Percentage chance Foley gets knocked off the first, second, and third page? 100%

Percentage chance we get a 10-point swing in the polls for the GOP? 75%.
posted by andreaazure at 8:55 PM on October 8, 2006


hmmmmm.....


ummmmm.....


well, fuck me I guess
posted by slapshot57 at 8:56 PM on October 8, 2006


Great, and I just moved to the Pacific Northwest.

I can only hope that whatever slipshod engineers that they have working are slave-driving on their ICBM project keep on sucking. For Pete's sake Kim, don't start feeding them now!
posted by loquacious at 8:58 PM on October 8, 2006


Yeah, this probably will boost Republican numbers a little, but it's not going to make everyone instantly forget the seething discontent.

I wonder how the democrats are going to react?

Also, this is going to be a bit of a derail from our "down with Iran" saga.
posted by ®@ at 9:01 PM on October 8, 2006


Since they now have nuclear tech, perhaps they could invest in some power to their populace. It's interesting to see the dark space above South Korea on this map. That is, if the rest of the world doesn't go in and bomb the whole of the country even further back.

Has China released any statements?

...

I watched a documentary on NK a little while ago, with video taken inside the country and secretly shipped out. Some of the saddest, most degrading, most horrible footage I've seen. Makes Iraq under Saddam look like Wisconsin.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:01 PM on October 8, 2006


I find myself hoping that China invades North Korea. That is depressing.
posted by oddman at 9:02 PM on October 8, 2006


We're all gonna die!
posted by obvious at 9:03 PM on October 8, 2006


oddman: yeah, me too. However it's the only sane option. Putting American troops that close to China is too unsettling for China and detrimental to peace. Same with Japan.

However, this is something I could see Germany and France and other larger powers get behind.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:06 PM on October 8, 2006


No, no, no! TURN IT ALL TO GLASS!!!
posted by washburn at 9:06 PM on October 8, 2006


Two observations:

1) If must not have been very powerful if S. Korea and the U.S. are "unable to immediately confirm" it. Seismic sensors pick this kind of thing up...

2) It must not have worked yesterday. Everyone speculated that it would have detonated on Kim Jung-Il's anniversary. It happened the next day instead. This is good news if you feel at all threatened by his weapons... if you can't get one to go off when you have cables hooked up to a big "ACME"-style controller, it sure as hell won't work when you put it on top of an unstable missile and try to make it detonate 10,000 feet over [your feared target] after crossing an ocean.

In fact, I wonder if it even "worked" today. I seem to remember a spectacularly successful satellite launch that wound up in the Pacific a few years back. It's ancient technology, but it takes a lot to get a full chain reaction going.
posted by trinarian at 9:10 PM on October 8, 2006


I wonder if it really will be a derail from Iran. North Korea has been on the same path towards a nuke since before there was even an "axis of evil". While the UN searched Iraq for WMD before the war, North Korea was talking about its nuclear intentions. While Russia was offering to enrich uranium for Iran to allow nuclear power without the capabilties for bomb making, North Korea was announcing that it had nukes. The Bush adminstration has never had more than seemingly fleeting interest, relative to Iran and Iraq, in North Korea.

All this in spite of it having nukes a five years to a decade for Iraq could have had them or Iran may be able to.
posted by ztdavis at 9:11 PM on October 8, 2006


Just discovered The Korea Liberator earlier this evening. Lots of links to Korea-related blogs, but while I appreciate their mission to "help North Koreans build a clandestine opposition movement inside their country" (exactly what the U.S. should have tried first in Iraq), the heavily conservative take on U.S. politics makes me suspicious - or at least interested in finding other sources. Anyone have any links to knowledgable and/or good non-"expert" sites on this issue?
posted by mediareport at 9:12 PM on October 8, 2006


Seattle was such a wonderful city. Or, at least it will have been once the DPRK figures out how to get that missile to reach here and successfully deliver a nuke.
posted by dw at 9:13 PM on October 8, 2006


The reuters article in the FPP mentions that S. Korea detected a tremor

"South Korea's Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources had detected a tremor of a magnitude 3.58 to 3.7 at 0135 GMT."
posted by dhruva at 9:13 PM on October 8, 2006


Kickstart70: I don't know about post-test, but before the test China wasn't sounding too pleased.
posted by ztdavis at 9:14 PM on October 8, 2006


...while I appreciate their mission to "help North Koreans build a clandestine opposition movement inside their country" (exactly what the U.S. should have tried first in Iraq)...

You might want to look up the name Ahmed Chalabi.
posted by Artw at 9:14 PM on October 8, 2006


1) If must not have been very powerful if S. Korea and the U.S. are "unable to immediately confirm" it. Seismic sensors pick this kind of thing up...

Seoul is now saying it detected a 3.6 tremor, according to MSNBC.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:14 PM on October 8, 2006


October surprise, anyone?
posted by gcbv at 9:16 PM on October 8, 2006


TBH Even with the tremor I wouldn't rule out N. Korea just detonating a shitload of dynamite.

Wouldn't be the first huge conventional explosion there.

Why would they fake a nuke? Pretty much for the same reason they'd explode a real one: They're fucking crazy.
posted by Artw at 9:17 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


gcbv, I had the same thought.
posted by gubo at 9:18 PM on October 8, 2006


(exactly what the U.S. should have tried first in Iraq)

Dude, where do you think both Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein came from in the first place? Thank you, CIA, may I have another?

At this point I'm pretty sure I'd rather that the US just sent in crack suicide assasin squads to take out whoever the (US created) Problem Despot of the Week was, instead of all this pointless mucking about with land wars in Asia.

But then I guess Halliburton wouldn't win those no-bid "rebuilding" contracts after we carpetbombed the joint.
posted by loquacious at 9:18 PM on October 8, 2006


oddman: China won't invade N. Korea unless the system collapses and refugees and their accompanying instability starting pouring into Liaoning and Jilin provinces. Sovereignty is to modern Chinese foreign policy what counter-terrorism is to current American foreign policy. They don't want anyone telling them what to do about Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, human rights, et al... so they practice as much on the international scene [hence their incorrigible stance towards Darfur]

kickstart: I don't think it's really that unsettling to China. They know we'd never try an invasion. It's just not in the cards. Further south, towards Taiwan, is Okinawa... which might be a different story.
posted by trinarian at 9:19 PM on October 8, 2006


Artw: Yeah, I was kind of thinking the same thing.

Like trinarian says above, maybe the real gadget didn't go off yesterday, and today it was just the backup pilemountain of TNT.

It's a hell of a lot easier to make a mountain of high explosives than it is to make a working nuclear device.

Regardless, I hope they're bluffing. I would rather see Iran holding a sizable stockpile than NK with anything nuclear at all.
posted by loquacious at 9:23 PM on October 8, 2006


dw: im pulling for los angeles, myself.

wait, microsoft is basically in seattle, right?

oh god, decisions, decisions.
posted by keswick at 9:23 PM on October 8, 2006


good work on your post ztdavis.
posted by moonbird at 9:27 PM on October 8, 2006


I say we take off and... what? They've obtained nukes? How!? Goddamnit!
posted by loquacious at 9:31 PM on October 8, 2006


Side note: if you want an easy-to-absorb glimpse inside Kim Jong Il's lunatic world, try France-based animator Guy Delisle's non-fiction graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. It's a pointed, poignant look at Delisle's two-month job assignment in North Korea. Fans of comics, esp. Joe Sacco, will love it.

You might want to look up the name Ahmed Chalabi

Uh, if I understand your vague comment properly, I know Chalabi just fine, thanks. A shyster like him should have been kept far awar from the kind of intelligent internal opposition the US should have tried first in Iraq.
posted by mediareport at 9:32 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Would you like to play a game?
posted by lalochezia at 9:36 PM on October 8, 2006


I just realized a link doesn't work, but thanks moonbird.
posted by ztdavis at 9:37 PM on October 8, 2006


Looks like this may be the real thing. In 1949 the United States confirmed the first Soviet test from seismic data.

Could it be fake? Yes.

Otherwise, a theoretical design for a weapon is often tested... prior to use.

It's the only way to be sure.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 9:39 PM on October 8, 2006


Somebody set up us the bomb.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:39 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Another bullshit controversy over basically nothing. Bah.

Why has nobody produced IM logs of Kim Jong Il trying to seduce helplessly impressionable, hopelessly naive 16 year old boys? That will get some action!
posted by davy at 9:39 PM on October 8, 2006


Do they have oil? No? Fuck them. Foggetaboutit
posted by growabrain at 9:40 PM on October 8, 2006


don't mean to be a comment hog, but...

When the news of an impending test was first announced I was worried about America launching a strike if the test went off, what with the "N. Korea can test a weapon or have a future" comments and all. It's a bit too existentialist for my taste. As an American working in China, it could change my living situation very quickly if the bombs started raining next door.

What the IHT was reporting yesterday though was that the White House is going to make a bid to start searching - or stopping - every ship coming in and out of N. Korea and perhaps getting the Security Council pass a resolution stopping commercial air traffic. Intense stuff, but not war.

China won't do anything to destabilize the regime to the point of collapse for reasons I mentioned above. It will play along and find some superficial punishments.

The real fear is a domino effect, wherein Japan and S. Korea start their own programs, which isn't all that outlandish. Japanese statesmen have already said "Japan has the ability and only needs the will..." And then China beefs up it's program. Then Russia....

Personally, I don't see the big deal. We've tested 1050 nukes so far, many above ground. Little pricks like this are doing it for the attention. Ignore the troll.
posted by trinarian at 9:43 PM on October 8, 2006


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea looks quite amazing, thanks mediareport.

I'm suddenly glad again to be moving away from a large population centre.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:50 PM on October 8, 2006


There you go Hans Blix, you like that you fucking cock sucker...congratulations Team America, you have done nothing.
posted by furtive at 9:52 PM on October 8, 2006


mediareport: Thanks for those links. The reviews were very well done and the book itself sounds even better.
posted by loquacious at 9:53 PM on October 8, 2006


Why has nobody produced IM logs of Kim Jong Il [...]
posted by b1tr0t at 9:57 PM on October 8, 2006


KAHN!
posted by hortense at 9:57 PM on October 8, 2006




posted by pwb503 at 9:57 PM on October 8, 2006


link about Japan's (lack of) nuclear capability, for interest's sake.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:58 PM on October 8, 2006


this is a neo-con ploy to scare people to vote republican.
Kim Jong Il is on Bush's white house payroll.
posted by obeygiant at 9:58 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Dan O'Neill
posted by taosbat at 10:00 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


i rike to eat at led robster
posted by obeygiant at 10:01 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Correct me if this is wrong, but this is my understanding from previous reading.

The reason S. Korea, U.S. can't do much about North Korea is that NK has a lot of conventional arms right on the border, menacing Seoul. There's no way any military strike could knock out enough of the artillery, etc. fast enough to save Seoul with its large civilian population from huge casualties.

Thus the lack of blustering on the part of SK/USA/ others, and the other options being always considered instead - diplomacy, now inspection of ships, etc.
posted by jam_pony at 10:06 PM on October 8, 2006


So, does this mean the six party talks are over?
posted by furtive at 10:06 PM on October 8, 2006


Great, and I just moved to the Pacific Northwest.

Quit yer bitchin' I just moved to the Pacific Northeast!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:08 PM on October 8, 2006


Isn't Alaska a better target? I mean it has our strategic ice reserve.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:12 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Pacific? Isn't that, like, on the other side of the planet or something?

How clever that Bush guy is, directing all attention towards the middle east, bankrupting the US, while the far east prepares a big kaboom. I wonder who he's really working for?
posted by Goofyy at 10:25 PM on October 8, 2006


All this does is prove how farsighted and wise our invasion of Iraq was! And how farsighted and wise our invasion of Iran will be! And it's Clinton's fault, too.
posted by Justinian at 10:32 PM on October 8, 2006


Very scary “While Islamabad and Washington squabbled about the evidence, the Khan network provided sophisticated technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran, three countries the United States considered among the most dangerous. A decade earlier, the Reagan administration had looked the other way on Pakistan’s nuclear program, said Stephen Cohen, a State Department expert on the region from 1985 to 1987. Back then, Washington used Pakistan as a conduit for sending weapons and money to guerillas fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. ‘They were covering up our involvement in Afghanistan, pretending we played no role in Afghanistan, so they expected us to cover up their role in procuring a weapons system they saw as vital to their survival,’ said Cohen, now with the Brookings Institution.”
listen wfmu real audio
posted by hortense at 10:34 PM on October 8, 2006


Dave Emory? Seriously?
posted by keswick at 10:38 PM on October 8, 2006


The two most popular and easiest things to make atomic bombs out of are Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239.

The Manhattan Project had parallel development efforts to create both kinds. The Uranium bomb was considered to be simpler, and ultimately the design was considered to be reliable enough that they didn't think they needed to test it. The first one, code named "Little Boy", was dropped on Hiroshima.

But the design for the plutonium bomb was much trickier, and it was decided that before attempting to use it on an enemy target that they should set one off as a test. So the world's first nuclear explosion at Alamogordo, code named "Trinity", was the first plutonium bomb. The second one, code named "Fat Man", was dropped on Nagasaki.

The reason they were different has to do with a fundamental difference between Uranium and Plutonium: Plutonium absorbs neutrons much more easily than Uranium does. After a critical mass of U-235 is formed, it takes milliseconds for a chain reaction to build to the point of full-scale energy release. So the design for "Little Boy" consisted of a ring of U-235 at one end of the bomb, and a plug of U-235 at the other that would fit into the hole. Explosives drove them together to form a critical mass.

That design wouldn't have worked for Plutonium. The problem is that during the process of forming the critical mass, it can go off early, with much less energy than it is supposed to.

"Little Boy" was long and narrow; "Fat Man" was round. The reason is that it consisted of a series of wedges of plutonium around the outside of that big sphere. Explosives would then force all the wedges into the center at the same time, and if it all went correctly the critical mass would form fast enough to be completed before the plutonium really started responding.

Iran's bomb program is concentrating on U-235. Concentrating the isotope sufficiently is painful, but the bomb design once you have an adequate quantity of sufficiently-concentrated U-235 is quite straightforward.

NK's bomb program is based on Pu-239. Producing the plutonium is easier, but the bomb design is much harder to pull off.

If you screw up the design, what you get when you set it off is a misfire, with far less yield than you should have gotten. There's still a "bang", but not an "earth shattering kaboom", as it were.

The thing to watch for in the next few days is evaluations of whether Richter 3.8 represents a fully successful detonation or a misfire. (I honestly don't know.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:52 PM on October 8, 2006 [9 favorites]


That's better than anything the newspapers will print about this event, SCDB. Thanks!
posted by gsteff at 11:06 PM on October 8, 2006


USGS is reporting it as Richter 4.2.

Magnitude 4.2 (Light)
Date-Time Monday, October 9, 2006 at 01:35:27 (UTC)
= Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, October 9, 2006 at 10:35:27 AM
= local time at epicenter Time of Earthquake in other Time Zones

Location 41.311°N, 129.114°E
Depth 0 km (~0 mile) set by location program
Region NORTH KOREA
Distances 70 km (45 miles) N of Kimchaek, North Korea
90 km (55 miles) SW of Chongjin, North Korea
180 km (110 miles) S of Yanji, Jilin, China
385 km (240 miles) NE of PYONGYANG, North Korea

Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 14.9 km (9.3 miles); depth fixed by location program
Parameters Nst= 9, Nph= 9, Dmin=369.4 km, Rmss=1.13 sec, Gp= 97°,
M-type=body magnitude (Mb), Version=6
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:10 PM on October 8, 2006


Google Maps
posted by gsteff at 11:16 PM on October 8, 2006


Wikipedia has everything. In their article about the Richter scale, they say that Richter 4.0 is what would be expected from a 1 kiloton atomic bomb. Richter 4.5 would be 5.6 kilotons.

5.0 is about 32 kilotons, and they use the Nagasaki bomb as an example of that. The Nagasaki bomb was "Fat Man", the second American plutonium bomb.

It sounds like the NK bomb did not detonate properly.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:19 PM on October 8, 2006


I don't bring this up to tie the two incidencts together in any way - but out of curiosity what was the Richter value for the WTC collapse? 3.2, 3.4 or something like that?

Thanks for the data and reminders, SCDB. If I'd read somewhere about NK using Plutonium before I'd forgotten. That's even more disturbing.
posted by loquacious at 11:19 PM on October 8, 2006


It sounds like the NK bomb did not detonate properly.

That's what I was pondering with the energy scales comparing it to the WTC collapse. As I understand it, it's harder to design smaller yield devices on purpose.
posted by loquacious at 11:23 PM on October 8, 2006


Distinguishing explosions from earthquakes is pretty much an exact science. The two have subtle but well understood differences and geophysicists have spent much time studying them. For example, a nuke would produce initial compressive wave in all directions while a quake would produce inital compressive waves one way and expansive waves in the other.

The size of the explosion (all we have right now) falls exactly into the "small nuke" range ( see here).

It could be the real thing. Making a bang that big (if it was man-made) is not easy without a nuke.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 11:30 PM on October 8, 2006


Looks like I picked a bad week to quite sniffin' glue.
posted by Football Bat at 11:38 PM on October 8, 2006


I think it was a nuclear explosion. But I think it was a misfire of a plutonium bomb. That would produce a small bang instead of a big one. I don't think it's deliberate.

If I did my math correctly, Richter 4.2 implies a 2 kiloton yield. American nukes that small were difficult to design and involved more than one radioactive isotope at once.

In the 1950's the US did develop some peanut nukes, but the reason was that the Army wanted them and wanted to fire them out of artillery pieces. They had to be low yield so that they didn't kill the men who used them.

But peanut nukes are complicated to design. They involve more than one isotope of more than one element.

I can't think of any reason why NK would go to the effort to develop a low-yield nuke when a medium-yield atomic bomb would be easier and cheaper.

So if they got a low-yield blast, it strongly suggests a malfunctioning medium-yield bomb, not a deliberately-designed low-yield bomb.

The Pakistan nuke test was 12 kilotons.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:39 PM on October 8, 2006


I've got to spend more time proof reading before I post. Sorry about the repetition. (I really did proof-read it; I did!)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:40 PM on October 8, 2006


Here in Japan they seem to be working on the assumption that it was real, and successful. Abe (new PM) hasn't issued a statement yet, but the Asahi Shinbun is reporting that the government is sending a "flurry" of communications to the DPRK.

As for the implication on American politics, I just don't see this helping the Republicans at all. Yes, they've been claiming to be the "security Party", but this sort of thing would seem to indicate that they are failing miserably at providing security. I'm guessing that if Bush is consistant he'll give the Medal of Freedom to the asshole who has been screwing up our DPRK policy for the past 5 years. That seems to be his default reaction to miserable failure: debase the Medal of Freedom and turn it into a booby prize for losers.

There may be a slight surge immediately, but I think that as the "crowd together and show solidarity before the common foe" reaction wears off over the next few weeks we'll see this really hurt both Bush's government in specific, and the Republicans in general.
posted by sotonohito at 11:43 PM on October 8, 2006


This is yet another abject failure of the Bush foreign policy of the first order. Clinton had negotiated a series of carrot and stick policies to keep North Korea from isolating the plutonium from the fuel rods of their nuclear plant. The fuel rods were safely under lock and key and regularly inspected by international inspectors.

Then Bush came into office and instituted his juvenile "opposite of Clinton" strategy. First he threatened the North Koreans with his puerile Axis of Evil speech and then he cut off all talks. The Koreans called Bush's pathetic empty bluff, so in 2002 the Koreans kicked out the inspectors, took out the fuel rods and in short order had their bomb material.

This is because it is much easier to isolate plutonium than U235. It is a simple chemical process. On the other hand, isolating U235 takes thousands of ultra-high speed centrifuges in a cascade working for years to isolate highly enriched U235. It requires enough electricity full time to light a small city -- electricity that North Korea doesn't have.

This is where Bush made his fatal mistake. He was all worked up because the Koreans were performing small pilot centrifuge experiments for U235. It would have taken them many years, if ever, to scale up to make bomb material. So instead Bush pushed them into taking the easy route which was getting the plutonium from the fuel rods. So in just a couple of years, they now have a plutonium bomb. Way to go, George. Is there any foreign policy that he is unable to screw up? The man truly has the anti-Midas touch.
posted by JackFlash at 11:43 PM on October 8, 2006 [3 favorites]


It sounds like the NK bomb did not detonate properly.

Apparently both the US and SK governments are saying the same thing, at least according to news reports on my TV. SK (presumably using their smaller seismic measurement of 3.8) estimates the explosion was around 0.5 kilotons.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:43 PM on October 8, 2006


Dave Emory? Seriously?
posted by hortense at 11:46 PM on October 8, 2006


dw writes "Seattle was such a wonderful city. Or, at least it will have been once the DPRK figures out how to get that missile to reach here and successfully deliver a nuke."

I'd bet it fits in a container.
posted by Mitheral at 11:47 PM on October 8, 2006


India claims to have developed peanut nukes and to have tested them three times. But their first test of an atomic bomb (about 12 kilotons) was in 1974. It wasn't until 1998 that they tested peanut nukes.

I have been assuming that NK's test was underground. If it was atmospheric, then very little of the bomb blast energy would have gone into the ground to be detected by USGS.

If it was an atmospheric test, we'll be hearing about that pretty soon because there's going to be fallout.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:47 PM on October 8, 2006


I can't think of any reason why NK would go to the effort to develop a low-yield nuke when a medium-yield atomic bomb would be easier and cheaper.

I don't understand that, Steven. Couldn't they be using a small amount of plutonium to create a smaller explosion? Their supply is limited, is it not? Apologies if this is ignorant - I'm no physicist and it's very late - but I'm not getting your argument here at all.
posted by mediareport at 11:48 PM on October 8, 2006


Fox News says that NK sought a 4-kiloton yield.
posted by gsteff at 11:50 PM on October 8, 2006


Just to play devil's advocate here, wouldn't the North Koreans want to develop a smaller bomb because their missiles are not capable of transporting the massive weight of a larger one?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:53 PM on October 8, 2006


"If it was an atmospheric test, we'll be hearing about that pretty soon because there's going to be fallout."

That's a horrible thought. It would be entirely characteristic of NK though.

"Couldn't they be using a small amount of plutonium to create a smaller explosion?"

There's a minimum amount required for an easy-to-build bomb. Going up just requires more Pu, going down is hard and involves weird isotopes as SCDB pointed out.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 11:54 PM on October 8, 2006


I have been assuming that NK's test was underground. If it was atmospheric, then very little of the bomb blast energy would have gone into the ground to be detected by USGS.

All the reports have been saying it was underground. In fact, NK's original announcement apparently said that all radioactivity was contained.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:58 PM on October 8, 2006


If it was an atmospheric test, we'll be hearing about that pretty soon because there's going to be fallout.

The DPRK is saying "no radiation escaped," so I think we can assume it was underground.
posted by dw at 11:59 PM on October 8, 2006


I'd bet it fits in a container.

Please don't say that. But then, it would vindicate Maria Cantwell railing against the GOP Congress about port safety, even if it means her voting base is irradiated.
posted by dw at 12:00 AM on October 9, 2006


"While critics of capitalism, conservativism, libertarianism and globalism often see a linear progression from those positions to fascism, Emory and his adherents regard many of the protagonists as literally Nazis, with the anti-Semitic, racial, and religious overtones that go with Nazism. Emory has discussed strong evidence that Nazi (and perhaps CIA) elements conspired with Palestinians to orchestrate the Munich Massacre. Emory decries the theory of peak oil, expressing scepticism about the analysis behind the theory, noting some of its proponents' advocacy of genocide, and the movement's historical and economic links with the Thyssen industrial empire and European royalists."

Seems like a rational guy. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
posted by keswick at 12:05 AM on October 9, 2006


Couldn't they be using a small amount of plutonium to create a smaller explosion? Their supply is limited, is it not? Apologies if this is ignorant - I'm no physicist and it's very late - but I'm not getting your argument here at all.

It doesn't work that way. This isn't like TNT where any quantity, no matter how large or small, can be detonated.

The relevant term here is critical mass. Less than a critical mass can't explode. For Pu-239 it's on the order of 10 kilograms. (It varies depending on the purity, shape, presence of nearby neutron sources, and several other factors, but that's a good approximation.)

If you use a much smaller amount, as you put it, nothing interesting happens. You don't get a smaller blast, you get no blast at all.

The Fox news report may or may not mean anything. Everything NK does is a success if you listen to their official announcements, even if it was really an abject failure. They claimed that those missile tests were all successes too, even though outside observers think most of them failed.

If they were trying for 12-15 kilotons and only got 2, it's in character for them to announce, "That was what I was trying to do."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:06 AM on October 9, 2006


Looks like Kim's behavior may leave him even more "ronery" in the near future.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:25 AM on October 9, 2006


According to this report, the SK measurement was Richter 3.6. If so, the yield was only a quarter of a kiloton, and it was definitely a misfire.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:31 AM on October 9, 2006


I notice that everyone here keeps talking about missiles. Why? Missiles are not the only way to put nukes (or anything else) where you want it, they're expensive, hard to make work, etc. Drop the nuke into a shipping container and sail it into the harbor of your choice, that's the simplist way to do it.

That, I think, is what really has the Japanese worried, well that and medium range missiles. ICBM's are a relic of the Cold War, they're big, expensive, and when you launch them you might as well hold up a big neon sign that says "HEY, WE JUST LAUNCHED A MISSILE!" The result of that is a quick phone call from every other atomic power and a statement that if the missile doesn't self destruct right now then the country that launched it will be turned into glowing green glass. Launch from a small "independent" ship using medium range missiles (SCUD, Cruise, etc) and the launch might not even be detected, even if it is there is at least some shread of deniability (probably not enough to avoid a conventional war, but you never know).

Just two reasons why the whole "Missile Defense Shield" idea is bunk. Also two reasons why Japan is very, very, nervous about the DPRK having nukes. China doesn't much like it, but they aren't really on the DPRK's shit list.
posted by sotonohito at 12:34 AM on October 9, 2006


USGS report of a 4.2 Richer scale seismic "event" in North Korea. You get the actual coordinates, Which you can plug into google maps if you want.
posted by delmoi at 12:43 AM on October 9, 2006


To put this into perspective, a 2kt nuke is equivalent to 13 shipping containers full of TNT. That's not that much.

But obviously it would be a lot easier to sneak in a nuke then 13 shipping containers.
posted by delmoi at 1:01 AM on October 9, 2006


That looks like a relatively fresh and detailed satellite images on both maps.google and google earth, especially when compared to the surrounding areas.

About 2, 2.5 miles NNW of the seismically estimated test site there's a rather sprawling industrial looking facility, which also includes what appear to be some plowed fields. There's also a port and an airstrip to the east. The whole place is riddled with rough looking roads and trails.
posted by loquacious at 1:12 AM on October 9, 2006


There is a lot of coal mining up in that area and has been for many years.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:30 AM on October 9, 2006


One of the main reasons for a nuclear test is to collect data to see if your design is correct. It might have misfired, but they still got a detonation. If it misfired, they know that their design needs to be modified, and we can reasonably assume they will be working on the problem so that it doesn't happen in the future. The next test will be interesting.

As for us, we now know for sure that they have the materials and the know how to actually construct a device. The range of options anyone has for dealing with the country just got a whole lot narrower.
posted by moonbiter at 1:46 AM on October 9, 2006


NK simply reflecting the global mood as promoted by the US - get some protection or be invaded. They are lucky enough to be next to China, who do not want any nuclear weapons detonating on them.
Should have a stabilising effect on the region if they get a working nuclear weapon. Seeing as no-one else is making a go of disarming this seems like a judicious course of action for anyone not in the US/China gang of dollar supporting co-dependents.
posted by asok at 1:59 AM on October 9, 2006


The Fox news report may or may not mean anything. Everything NK does is a success if you listen to their official announcements, even if it was really an abject failure. They claimed that those missile tests were all successes too, even though outside observers think most of them failed.

When I saw all the reports describing NK's missile tests as failures, I was reminded of this:
Iran has conducted tests with its Shahab-3 missile that have been
described as failures by the Western media because the missiles did not
complete their ballistic trajectories, but were deliberately exploded
at high altitude. This, of course, would be exactly what you would want
to do if you were going to use an EMP weapon.
http://cryptome.org/bartlett-060905.txt
posted by vira at 2:16 AM on October 9, 2006


Selig S. Harrison writes in Newsweek:

Oct. 16, 2006 issue - On Sept. 19, 2005, North Korea signed a widely heralded denuclearization agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang pledged to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." In return, Washington agreed that the United States and North Korea would "respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations."

Four days later, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country's access to the international banking system, branding it a "criminal state" guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration says that this sequence of events was a coincidence. Whatever the truth, I found on a recent trip to Pyongyang that North Korean leaders view the financial sanctions as the cutting edge of a calculated effort by dominant elements in the administration to undercut the Sept. 19 accord, squeeze the Kim Jong Il regime and eventually force its collapse. My conversations made clear that North Korea's missile tests in July and its threat last week to conduct a nuclear test explosion at an unspecified date "in the future" were directly provoked by the U.S. sanctions. In North Korean eyes, pressure must be met with pressure to maintain national honor and, hopefully, to jump-start new bilateral negotiations with Washington that could ease the financial squeeze. When I warned against a nuclear test, saying that it would only strengthen opponents of negotiations in Washington, several top officials replied that "soft" tactics had not worked and they had nothing to lose.


via
posted by washburn at 3:04 AM on October 9, 2006


Previous evidence here shows that the great US masses are going to react to this by turning to the people least able to deal with it, right?
posted by bonaldi at 4:16 AM on October 9, 2006


Missing from that Newsweek article is the perhaps important fact that on Sept 20th North Korea said it wouldn't halt its nuclear programme until it had a civilian nuclear reactor.

source
posted by edd at 4:45 AM on October 9, 2006


It could be argued that one cause of the saber-rattling can be attributed to the Treasury's freezing of Banco Delta Asia's assets, which seems to have really displeased the North Korean government. Assets were frozen under the PATRIOT Act in an attempt to reduce circulation of the Superdollar. North Korea has made 'unfreezing' of these assets a condition of returning to the negotiating table.

Here is a excellent account of the story of the Superdollar - reg. worthwhile, imo.
posted by the painkiller at 4:48 AM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Honest question: if you had to permit one of either North Korea or Iran to possess nuclear weapons, which would be preferrable?
posted by gsteff at 4:52 AM on October 9, 2006


by turning to the people least able to deal with it, right?

You mean the Bushites? My college bud, trained with the 25th ID for surge into a ROK crisis, is stuck in Camp Anaconda for the next year.

Way to go, Rummie. You're doing a heckuva job.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:53 AM on October 9, 2006


Great link, painkiller...except for the part where they demand ~$5 to read the damn article.
posted by Goofyy at 5:04 AM on October 9, 2006


Goofyy - can you clarify? I don't see anywhere asking for $5.
posted by edd at 5:12 AM on October 9, 2006


Honest question: if you had to permit one of either North Korea or Iran to possess nuclear weapons, which would be preferrable?

Iran, no contest. At least the folks in charge there aren't insane.
posted by equalpants at 5:15 AM on October 9, 2006


edd: I get that story behind a pay-for barrier. You don't? Weird.
posted by Goofyy at 5:25 AM on October 9, 2006


Well, I used bugmenot instead of registering. Registration itself still looks free to me, but I'm not sure how nytimes is doing things these days.
posted by edd at 5:31 AM on October 9, 2006


Goofyy: I got no demand for $$$ for the NYT link, either.
posted by the painkiller at 5:46 AM on October 9, 2006


If so, the yield was only a quarter of a kiloton, and it was definitely a misfire.

If NK managed to get a 250 ton criticality event, that's the scariest news I've heard all year. It took the US a *lot* of engineering mojo to get 10-250 ton nuclear weapons to work.

There are three kinds of nuclear weapons failures -- reaction failures, criticality failures, and fizzles.

The last, a fizzle, happens in a multistage device where the primary doesn't ignite the secondary, and you lose most of the yield. Total yeild is in the low kiloton range -- you did set off a bomb, but you should have gotten in low to mid 100 kilotons, possibly megaton range.

The first, a reaction failure, makes a small bang and spreads fissionables around. Here, there was basically no reaction at all.This is usually a mechainical or electronics failure -- either the pit wasn't made right, or the booster explosives didn't go off correctly. Total yeild? About 10-100 pounds of TNT, all in the booster explosives. No useful fission takes place.

The other one is what ScDB posits -- a criticality failure. is when you get a reaction in the primary, but it doesn't run to completion. Usually, this means you didn't force the peices together enough. You do get an explosion, but not a huge one, on the order of 200-500 pounds of TNT. In testing, this would mean almost all the sensors would read off scale low (since they were expecting a much larger explosion), the traditional way the US would rate the power of this sort of failure is "<1 kt.) if, and if, this was a failure, it was a fizzle. it's hard to see a criticality failure s,iesmographs the test range, never mind in another country. getting a reliable 10-1kt detonation is hard. we did it, meet the a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W54">W54/Mk54/SADM. But it took a bunch of brain sweat and testing to make it work. Nobody makes a mininuke as their first nuke. Almost everyone (the big exception, IIRC, was the UK) detonates a simple gun or basic plutonium pit bomb in the 10-25Kt range, though France's first bomb was 60kt.

I can easily see how SK would report R3.5, and later have that number raised to 4.2. First read earthquake data is dicey, it is when multiple stations correlate data, and you see the full extent of both the P and S waves that you can get a true measure of the strength of a quake. A single station can get a sample, but you don't know how the sesimic waves are propogating. If you happen to be in a trough, you'll measure a substantially weaker wave.

Thus:

While NK may not have achieved the expected output -- I can't tell because I don't know what that number was, it is clear that they did, in fact, detonate a kilton class nuclear weapon, probably in the 10-15kt range. It may not have been efficient, but it is, for all intents, a bomb.

Questions: How weaponizable is this? The first US multistage device, wasn't a weapon, unless you think you'll be able to sit in the enemy's city for a year while you build it. A large test frame that isn't solid enough to move isn't a weapon. One of the reasons we have the B-52, and it was rugged enough to still be flying, is that it was designed to carry weapons that weighed upwards of 10 tons. Getting the small packages we have today took a great deal of time and effort.

That doesn't mean that it can't become a weapon, but it does mean that the chance of a bomb falling on Seoul or Tokyo tommorow are even lower than you think they are. About the only nation I know that could go from no nuclear weapons to deliverable multistage device on an ICBM in a very short time (basically, oh, two months + time to enhance fissionables.) is Japan.
posted by eriko at 5:48 AM on October 9, 2006 [3 favorites]


This is bizzare over the NYT link. It's an archived article. I'm registered with NYT as it is, and don't normally get trouble with such links.
posted by Goofyy at 6:24 AM on October 9, 2006


1. delivery to South Korea not too difficult. Why worry unless you need parts for your Hundai?
2. Wayh back when, our flks noted that once one nation got it, the rest would follow soon enough.
3. If you were the president of the US what would you have done or do now? Easy enough to scoff, bitch, mock. How would you handle this situation, or not?
posted by Postroad at 6:34 AM on October 9, 2006


I don't think you even need an ICBM to deliver it. Here's a google map of the area. Stick it on a freighter and paddle it to Japan, or if you're intent on getting it to the United States look around North Korea. If you can get it out of North Korea there's a lot of poorly defended borders as well as the potential to get it on a freighter bound for America. If I were intent on provoking somebody to turn my country into a glass parking lot I'd send it overland and try to get it to Pakistan or maybe Saudi Arabia and from there onto a boat.

I'm sure that the land borders of North Korea proper are defended very well, and that particular points in China etc. are, but I can't imagine the entire jigsaw puzzle defended.
posted by substrate at 6:36 AM on October 9, 2006


I think a lot of people are missing the point.IT doesn't really matter if the test was succesful or resulted in a malfunction. We can assume they intended the test to go successfully, and that therefore they intended to set off a nuke. We can also assume that they have probably built more than one.

At some point, someone has to do something to stop this. My bet is they get invaded by China before they get invaded by us.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:38 AM on October 9, 2006


How to handle? Firstly, talk to them with a little respect. Accept the fact that they are extremely messed up for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is sanctions.

Accept that desperate situations demand desperate measures. NK is desperate. Can we stop pretending that isn't the case now?
posted by Goofyy at 6:43 AM on October 9, 2006


The reason S. Korea, U.S. can't do much about North Korea is that NK has a lot of conventional arms right on the border, menacing Seoul. There's no way any military strike could knock out enough of the artillery, etc. fast enough to save Seoul with its large civilian population from huge casualties.

What if we lit up the DPRK side of the DMZ with bunker-busting tactical nukes in one enormous simultaneous strike, say from a wave of cruise missles timed to hit within seconds of each other? Perhaps we could knock out 95% of the artillery, rocket tubes, etc. aimed at Seoul before they were able to fire.
posted by metaplectic at 6:46 AM on October 9, 2006


This is such horseshit.

If N. Korea had a fissable device, they would have detonated it outside for all to see the Might and Intelligence of Their Great Leader.

it sounds like the NK bomb did not detonate properly.

They're obviously working on a device, and my theory is that someone fucked up by telling Kim Jong-il they were further along in the development than they actually were, and when it didn't look like it was going to work on Dear Leader's birthday, they just detonated a shitload of dynamite instead to cover their asses.

But I'm sure Kim Jong-il thinks he's got nuclear capacity.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:56 AM on October 9, 2006


Reading postroad's comment, I'll take a stab at it.

Here's the situation:

The US has a credibility issue in foreign affairs, the Iraq war at the very least in retrospect, seems pointless an unnecessary. Meanwhile Iran is acting in open defiance of the UN and continuing its nuclear enrichment programs.

At the same time, the US has a financial problem of epic proportions. We need cheap oil to keep the economy operating, and we need the Saudi and iddle eastern petrodollars to help buy down large part of the debt. At the same time, the US is faced with a true economic competitor of equal or greater size - China. The fact that we don't have price inflation in consumer goods is because the pegged Chinese currency, and the sheer magnitude of the quantity and diversity of products they make for export to the US, has kept the prices stable. We rely on China to take our dollars and buy up our federal debt with them also.

So we are entangled both in the oil rich mideast and in a symbiotic relationship with China that has obliterated domestic manufacturing but has also given us heretofore unknown low prices.

This is the background. Now NK sets off a nuke.

The US must now act simultaneously on two fronts, we have to deal with NK and we have to deal with Iran because they both present the same question at different levels of severity "We are doing X. What are you going to do about it?"

The danger is that China may decide that NK is too unpredictable, and intercedes in their country in some visible fashion. From a geopolitical standpoint, China is at the stage where it has to act international to defend its vital economic interests, at that means hegemony. Do they invade? Probably not. Do they cause trouble, foment unrest etc.? Undoubtedly.

On the otherhand, the US has to consider the possibility that NK is acting as a Chinese client state. China stands to gain a lot internationally by being the one who solves this problem over the US's failure to. So maybe they needle NK to detonate it, and they step in and talk NK back from the brink?

Who knows, but it doesn't matter from the US's standpoint, because the result in both cases is the same - a diminished global role and a diminshed perception of US power. If we can deal with NK when everyone in the region is ostensibly on our side, how are we going to deal with Iran, in a region where the local populations are probably more on Iran's side?

So what do you do? I think in the short term you kill them with kindness. You can't go in strong into NK and not expect a bloodbath and China to come in against you even covertly. So I think you give them the aid, whatever, but at the same time you start sending people in with the intention of (a) figuring out where the nukes and facilities are, and (b) preparing to take out their government. What you want to do is set up a situation where China has two choices - stand by and do nothing while South Korea (backed by the US of course) intervenes to preserve the political and civil order, or enter China and risk being perceived as an invader. In otherwords, let China get dragged into a morass.

At the same time, you have to give Iran an ultimatum. Drop the weapons program or it gets destroyed.

What will defeinitely be lost is the notion that the US will ever again invade a country and stay to establish a government etc. If the approach in Iran and NK are military, that's all they should be. Make it clear that the destruction is a consequence of something very specific that they did with respect to nuclear weapons, but let the locals pick up the pieces.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:59 AM on October 9, 2006


If this isn't about an elephant, I don't see how it could possibly be important at all.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:53 PM EST on October 8 [+] [!]


You obviously haven't seen any recent pictures of Dear Leader.
posted by caddis at 7:01 AM on October 9, 2006


From CNN:

South Korea's state geology research center detected a 3.58-magnitude "artificial earthquake" in a remote area of North Korea's North Hamgyeong Province, according to the news agency. Judging from the seismic tremor, the center said the power of the explosion was equivalent to around a half kiloton of TNT explosives, Yonhap reported...

The U.S. Geological Survey Web site recorded a light 4.2-magnitude earthquake in North Korea at 10:35 a.m., about 385 kilometers (240 miles) northeast of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

posted by psmealey at 7:03 AM on October 9, 2006


Trinarian, re China: so they practice as much on the international scene Bah. See Aksai Chin and Arunchal Pradesh. They're perfectly happy to toe borders when they can get away with it; Darfur's just right there next to all the African natural resources they want access to.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:03 AM on October 9, 2006


"Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond"

Is that wordplay Mr Bush? Clearly the situation is escalating.
posted by cillit bang at 7:08 AM on October 9, 2006


If N. Korea had a fissable device, they would have detonated it outside for all to see the Might and Intelligence of Their Great Leader.

and ended up with fallout all over korea ... they are arrogant and stupid, but i don't think they're that arrogant and stupid

At the same time, you have to give Iran an ultimatum. Drop the weapons program or it gets destroyed.

at which point iran pulls the oil industry and much of the middle east, including iraq, down with it, causing chaos in that part of the world and a possible depression in the rest of the world

is it worth it?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:09 AM on October 9, 2006


bush still can't say 'penisula' correctly.
posted by brandz at 7:11 AM on October 9, 2006


Superdollar story via New York Times Link Generator
posted by metaplectic at 7:13 AM on October 9, 2006


"This is yet another abject failure of the Bush foreign policy of the first order. Clinton had negotiated a series of carrot and stick policies to keep North Korea from isolating the plutonium from the fuel rods of their nuclear plant."

What exactly is the point of turning this still ill-known event into bickering between the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties? Should we rename this place PartisanFilter? If you want to score points for your favorite U.S. corporate whore you should go to a partisan blog like Daily Koz or LGF.
posted by davy at 7:13 AM on October 9, 2006


North Korea's inclusion in the "axis of evil" was done for purely political and rhetorical reasons, not due to any coherent foreign policy rationale:

"After much cogitation, [speechwriter David Frum] hit upon the idea of likening what the United States has been up against since September 11, 2001, to the villains of the Second World War. The phrase he came up with was "axis of hatred." Higher-ups changed this to "axis of evil," to make it sound more "theological." Although Frum initially intended his "strong language" to apply only to Iraq, Iran was quickly added. (You can't have a single-pointed axis.)

North Korea was an afterthought. It got stuck in at the last minute, but Frum doesn't quite explain how or why. Perhaps it was meant to echo the global span of the original (Baghdad-Tehran-Pyongyang equals Berlin-Rome-Tokyo). Perhaps it was an application of the rhetorical Rule of Three (our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor; of the people, by the people, for the people; blood, sweat, and tears). Perhaps it was the product of intoxication brought on by an excess of moral clarity. Most likely, it was simply oratorical affirmative action, bused in to lend diversity to what would otherwise have been an all-Muslim list. One thing it was not was the product of careful policy deliberation."
posted by jonp72 at 7:13 AM on October 9, 2006


Okay, apparently I can't write anymore:


At the same time, you have to give Iran an ultimatum. Drop the weapons program or it (the weapons program) gets destroyed.


IRan can't credibly pull the plug on the oil industry. They need to sell it probably more than anyone needs to buy it. Oils is a commodity and we can get it from others. Oil is a $60 a barrel now. IF it goes to 90, we'll survive. It might be a recession, maybe, but the result for iran would be catastrophic.

Also, higher oil prices hurt China too, so to the extent that it is US policy to prevent China from emerging as a superpower competitor, this helps.

I'm realizing that the issue that china presents is quite unique. It's the first time that US national strategic interests diverge greatly from US commercial interests. I wonder how that tension plays out in US politics in the next ten years.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:19 AM on October 9, 2006


They need to sell it probably more than anyone needs to buy it.

The US isn't the only country that buys oil.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:25 AM on October 9, 2006


On BBC radio this morning (here in the US) they reported that the Russians detected activity that suggested an explosion in the 5 to 15 kiloton range. That's pretty contra to everything else that's being reported here, though.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:38 AM on October 9, 2006


The relevant term here is critical mass. Less than a critical mass can't explode.

Well, that part I knew. I guess what I wasn't getting was your certainty, Steven, that a ~4-kiloton blast absolutely couldn't have resulted from a small plutonium blast that had exceeded critical mass. Again, maybe I've missed it, and please point me to it if I have, but where is there anything in this thread that justifies that kind of certain conclusion?
posted by mediareport at 7:45 AM on October 9, 2006


The US must now act simultaneously on two fronts, we have to deal with NK and we have to deal with Iran because they both present the same question at different levels of severity

This is BS. What distinguishes the 'nuclear threat' of these countries from the nuclear threat from our allies India and Israel?

There's nothing we 'must' do and this is demonstrated by Bush's recent nuclear deal with non-NPT-signatory India.

Non-proliferation is not a goal of the United States. Whether it should be has nothing to do with the fact that we promote nuclear weapons everywhere it fits our short-term interest.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:02 AM on October 9, 2006


Sheena Chestnut's "The Sopranos State" (link to a 2.7mb pdf) has some interesting thoughts on North Korea's nuclear ambitions around page 126.

I suspect this test is designed to attract potential customers for such a device. Menacing the region is just a happy accident.
posted by kickback at 8:03 AM on October 9, 2006


IRan can't credibly pull the plug on the oil industry.

sure they can ... with special attention paid to other countries' oil and not their own ... remember that we're dealing with religious fanatics here who would rather be poor than wrong

and there's another age-old motive at work ... "you may destroy my stuff, but i'm taking as much of your stuff with me as i go down"

Also, higher oil prices hurt China too, so to the extent that it is US policy to prevent China from emerging as a superpower competitor, this helps.

china is not likely to stand by idly and allow that to happen ... in fact, the most likely alternative to china as a superpower is china as a basket case ... which is not going to make the world a safer place

and it certainly won't help us maintain our economy ... like it or not, china is something we have to deal with ... and in the long run, that's more critical than anything we need to do with iran
posted by pyramid termite at 8:05 AM on October 9, 2006


north korea wants congratulations

they certainly have a lot of nerve, don't they?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:09 AM on October 9, 2006


A brief Korea primer from the Agonist, originally written in 2002 but still "spot-on" today, he says.
posted by mediareport at 8:20 AM on October 9, 2006


remember that we're dealing with religious fanatics here who would rather be poor than wrong

I think that's a total misread of the situation in Iran. The people in charge of the government there may be religious fanatics at some level, but they are not ignorant. They know that if the country is cast into economic turmoil, they will be overthrown faster than you can say Reza Pahlevi.

They know that instability in the region gives them extra oil revenue. This in turn, helps them buy more time to enable them to move their nuclear program forward. Once they are succesful with this, they believe this will give them indefinite protection from invasion.

I'm less worried about North Korea and Iran than I am if Musharraf should fall in Pakistan, and giving some truly dangerous people there control over some functioning nukes.
posted by psmealey at 8:25 AM on October 9, 2006


Blazecock Pileon writes "The US isn't the only country that buys oil."

Iran only selling to say China has practically no effect. All the countries are buying from basically the same pool. Embargo is the path of hurt.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 AM on October 9, 2006


I don't understand why people seem so concerned with NK actually nuking part of the continental US. I'm sure they are totally aware that the result of that would be a fullscale nuke strike on NK. Mututally Assured Destruction still works in the 21st century, and despite what the US media might say, NK isn't totally nuts, just unbelievably repressive. They want this as a barganing chip and a weapon of last resort, they'll never use it offensively in a million years.
posted by freedryk at 8:32 AM on October 9, 2006


They know that instability in the region gives them extra oil revenue. This in turn, helps them buy more time to enable them to move their nuclear program forward.

that's their optimum strategy ... but if the u s should get violent with them, that strategy would no longer work and they would be likely to decide to upset the oil cart

it's called deterrence ... and the reaction of the people of iran to being attacked would probably override their reaction to economic turmoil, because the leaders would blame us for that
posted by pyramid termite at 8:34 AM on October 9, 2006


Well I feel fine.
posted by PenDevil at 8:36 AM on October 9, 2006


metaplectic: thanks much. Great article.
posted by Goofyy at 8:38 AM on October 9, 2006


It's not that Iran and NK both present a nuclear threat, it is that they are both openly defying the international community without a security council sponsor. That's the problem to deal with, not the threat (as you correctly point out, there are threats elsewhere too).

You can't deal with only one of them and not the other, because you need to send a very clear message on the point of nuke proliferation.

Arguably India and Israel (and Pakistan) went off the reservation, but they did so with at least the after the fact approval of a SC member (and before everyone starts accusing teh j3ws, Israel got it's nuke equipment and know-how from France, not us).

I agree that Pakistan is an x-factor, but I have a sneaky suspicion (based on nothing) that we know where Pakistan keeps everything, and should there be trouble, we'll know where to look.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:40 AM on October 9, 2006


And I'm taking it back. The equation is Mb = 4.262 + .973LogW, this works out to somewhere around .5 to 1kt.

It's a criticality failure, but just barely -- they missed maybe four (if you accept the USGS R4.2) or five (if you accept the SK R3.5) doublings, but it does appear to be a misfire. It's not a conventional explosion, we would have seen that quickly -- because of volume issues, exploding 500-1000 tons of TNT looks very different than exploding a nuclear weapon in the .5-1kt range.

However, the real question is what were they testing. If it was the basic U238 gun or P239 pit, it was a miss -- and I just don't see them having the data to build a mini nuke.

However, .5 to 1kt is still a big explosion, and if the package was a weapon, as opposed to a test article, they now have an effective nuclear weapon, if a weak one. Making a nuclear test bomb is one thing, making that into a weapon is another.

However, they may have tried to jump directly to deployable weapon, and it didn't quite work. One can sneer at 1000 tons of TNT, but it will still do a good deal of damage, and given the misfire, it would be a very dirty warhead indeed.
posted by eriko at 9:06 AM on October 9, 2006 [2 favorites]


Mitheral: Embargo is the path of hurt ... ing the poor and still not getting what you want. Hello Cuba, Hi Iraq.
posted by bonaldi at 9:18 AM on October 9, 2006


North Korea's inclusion in the 'axis of evil' was done for purely political and rhetorical reasons, not due to any coherent foreign policy rationale

The whole "axis of evil" thing was very irresponsible and misleading for any US president, and especially for a Yale History major like George W. Bush. The World War II Axis was named by Mussolini in 1936, and there was a formal treaty between Germany, Italy, and Japan. It wasn't a buzz phrase.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:20 AM on October 9, 2006


freedryk, that sort of rational thought does not serve the U.S. government's interests. Best to play the fear card.
posted by NationalKato at 9:25 AM on October 9, 2006


despite what the US media might say, NK isn't totally nuts, just unbelievably repressive.

OK. I think the burden of proof is on you to show that Kim Jong Il isn't "totally nuts". And to show it to the satisfaction of the people of Alaska.

I am not a warlike person. However, I believe there is a small window in time, after weapons of mass destruction have been tested but before they can be reliably used against US soil, when it is appropriate for the US to retaliate with massive force. I think that time may be fast approaching, and will possibly coincide with the DPRK making a successful Taepodong-2 test.

This is not Iraq.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 9:33 AM on October 9, 2006


And if you really think the US's political strategy in recent years has been to play up the threat of North Korea, I don't know what to say.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 9:36 AM on October 9, 2006


lol i said dong
posted by riotgrrl69 at 9:36 AM on October 9, 2006


I think that time may be fast approaching, and will possibly coincide with the DPRK making a successful Taepodong-2 test.

You're not warlike, but you'd yet advocate a pre-emptive "retaliation" with massive force? It's hard to imagine anything more warlike than that.
posted by psmealey at 9:37 AM on October 9, 2006


Well, if you're going to use force, I think Seoul would prefer it to be massive. What with them getting annihilated by artilliery and all. And I think Alaska would prefer it to be "pre-emptive". What with them being... yes, anyway.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 9:41 AM on October 9, 2006


This was an interesting little physics experiment and all the discussion about Richter scale, yields, criticality, etc is intriguing in a pornographic sort of way. But more importantly, this wasn't just a science experiment, it was a political event.

Bush tried to act as a tough guy, making threats about regime change even though he knew it was an empty threat. With all the weapons within a few miles of 10 million people in Seoul, there is nothing he could do militarily.

Now Korea has made a political statement that there will be no regime change, sticking its thumb in Bush's eye.

But the worse thing is that Korea has now put up the "for sale" sign for plutonium. About the only thing Korea has of value to sell these days are arms. They have had a thriving business shipping missiles to the rest of the world, but that is getting more and more difficult because smuggling something of that size is difficult.

Plutonium, on the other hand is trivially easy to smuggle. U235 emits gamma rays which will penetrate anything except thick layers of lead shielding weighing hundreds of pounds. Gamma rays can be easily detected a long distance away, making smuggling difficult. Plutonium emits primarily alpha particles that can be stopped by a sheet of paper. You could easily transport plutonium in a briefcase or diplomatic pouch without detection.

Plutonium is also relatively easy to produce. While U235 requires a huge centrifuge facility, you make plutonium by putting easily available but useless U238 into an electrical generating nuclear reactor and it magically transforms into all the plutonium you could want.

So while this test is an something that gets everyone's attention, the significant event occurred in 2002 when Bush's lack of diplomacy skills pushed the Koreans into removing the restraints on plutonium reprocessing.

When you have a situation in which you have no good options, as in Korea, the only thing left is containment. And containment works. It worked with the Soviet Union, it worked in Iraq and it worked in Iran. But to the Bush administration, containment is much too effete and was replaced with bravado. In just five years the Bush administration has made the world a much more dangerous place.
posted by JackFlash at 9:45 AM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


What exactly is the point of turning this still ill-known event into bickering between the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties?

The point is that the GOP already let the partisan genie out of the bottle, when it comes to national security issues, in order to win the 2002 midterm elections. Just ask Max Cleland if you don't believe me. Bush's addition of North Korea to the Axis of Evil was a purely rhetorical and political move that made no sense as foreign policy either from a moral point of view (isn't Uzbekistan just as evil?) or a realpolitik point of view. The "Axis of Evil" bluster, in addition to the administration's abandonment of South Korea's "sunshine policy" (a policy which Colin Powell supported), are both policies that led us into the current mess, and they are both policies where the blame squarely rests with the GOP. Your critique might hold water if we were talking about a primarily bipartisan foreign policy debacle (e.g., the Vietnam War), but not in the current situation.
posted by jonp72 at 9:45 AM on October 9, 2006


Anyone who thinks China is going to take over North Korea is an armchair general of the lowest order. China has to keep its eye on the prize, namely Taiwain. But how to leverage the situation? Simple, make everyone else get a prize too.

Here is a list of the Asian-Pacific geopolitical prizes available to be won, those who covet them and what can be done to win them:

a) An end to the situation in North Korea; wanted by South Korea, The USA and Japan. To a much lesser extent China. This can be done through a balance of time, military force and massive humanitarian aid. Wait until Ban Ki-moon is head of the UN, giving time preparations of the South Korea/US military campaign and the UN spearheaded humanitarian aid.

b) A chance for South Korea to step up as a bigger player in the Pacific, if not the world; wanted by South Korea and the USA, and of course Ban Ki-moon. China is willing to accept this because:

c) The reunification of Korea will cost so much money that it will set back South Korea's economy the same way the reunification of Germany set back the German (and some say European) economy for 20 years. South Korea wants reunification (the politacal elite do at least), North Korea wants this (minus the political elite), the USA wants this (one less thing to worry about, chance for Bush to take credit for something), Japan wants this (it makes their touchy history with Korea seem just a little bit further in the past). Russia is the hardest one to guage on this point but I think they want it just to show that they can work with the US in certain circumstances and are still a global power.

d) The Humanitarian relief of North Korea; this is wanted by the whole world, but as a corollary this is especially wanted by Ki-moon as head of the UN to show that the United Nations is still useful and can be effective, to differentiate himself from Kofi Annan, and to show he's not just a shy guy. He'll be lucky in that he'll have the backing of China (remember Taiwan), Japan (free security council seat), South Korea and the United States because in exchange for US aid money Bush and Bolton will get:

e) United Nations Reforms; yup. A little money and the already very America friendly Ban Ki-moon will become a puppet to US reform in the United Nations. Lots of people want reform in the UN, but through the regime change and unification of Korea the US will get dictate exactly what reforms it wants in exchange. Ban Ki-moon will have no choice but to comply. Japan also benefits because it will get on the security council, while Russia will get some token gifts in exchange for being a diplomatic pal during the Six Party Talks and for not getting any other real prizes. Maybe it will get the US to convince Japan to let Russia keep those Japanese islands.

f) A legacy for Bush; Bush gets a shiny star for his last two years as president, gets to say he made the world a safer place by fighting the very definition of terror, gets to give at least one example where pre-emptive strikes works, although that's more of a prize for Cheney and doesn't really have to get his hands too dirty because he'll use the US backed Korean army for all the dirty work, with assistance in the form of stealth bombings, military intelligence, etc. The US also gets close the book on Taiwan (was always a part of China, 'nuff said).

g) regional stability; you can't make an omlet without breaking a few eggs, and to settle Korea and Taiwan would be a real coup. I just worry that China will get really heavy handed with Taiwan, but I bet they could do it as well as Hong Kong if they play their cards right.

You may say that all this talk is nice but doesn't amount to squat because of the sticky military situation between South and North Korea. It's true, this is not an easy puzzle to solve, but I bet you that: if you wait until winter it'll be easier to win the hearts and minds of North Koreans with food, fuel and freedom. I think that if you pump billions of dollars of goodwill at the border you'll have no problem getting the touchiest region to lay down their weapons. Of course, you only get one chance at a thing like this, and plans to evacuate Seoul, and to esure the least amount of retaliation would have to be executed effectively. Hmm... turkey is ready, that's all for now.
posted by furtive at 9:47 AM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


One can sneer at 1000 tons of TNT, but it will still do a good deal of damage, and given the misfire, it would be a very dirty warhead indeed.

That's a good point, but without any real deployment capabilities, it's not like they can wheel it in a big wooden horse into downtown New York with a big sign on it that says, "Not From North Korea." Of course, I'd be nervous if I was living in South Korea. But I also know that, given the chance, the South Koreans would like nothing more than to have an excuse to put the smack-down on the mind-controlled starving farmers on the other side of the DMZ. You ever see those S. Korean parliamentary debates? I sure wouldn't want to mess with those fuckers.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:01 AM on October 9, 2006


And if you really think the US's political strategy in recent years has been to play up the threat of North Korea, I don't know what to say.
posted by riotgrrl69


The US has been playing up threats for five years with less threatening countries. What makes you think they don't want this? I look at Bush and the rhetoric he tosses out in press conferences and see only a diplomatic failure.
posted by NationalKato at 10:03 AM on October 9, 2006


Anyone who thinks China is going to take over North Korea is an armchair general of the lowest order. China has to keep its eye on the prize, namely Taiwain. But how to leverage the situation? Simple, make everyone else get a prize too.


but if north korea were to force china's hand ... then china is in a very good position to bargain ... "we'll trade north korea for taiwan"

i do think the chinese would prefer something more subtle than that ... but if things break in north korea, someone's going to have to pick up the pieces ... and that's either going to be china, or someone who has an understanding with china that involves other issues

i love how the news reports are describing north korea as an "ally" of china ... it's really more like china's "psychotic kid next door" that she doesn't know what to do with ... they don't want to invade, but they don't want this situation to continue, either ... and they don't want the other countries to do something that might cause a war

we'd probably do best to let china work something out for awhile
posted by pyramid termite at 10:15 AM on October 9, 2006


The US has been playing up threats for five years with less threatening countries.

The non-existant threat from Iraq was exaggerated because Bush wanted to attack a non-threatening country. That's the kind of war Bush likes. While they have discovered that holding on to that country is rather harder than anticipated, the war itself was easy, and low on US casualties.

They have not exaggerated the threat regarding North Korea, and have been fairly quiet about it until recently, because North Korea represents a genuine threat, currently to our allies and in the future almost certainly to US soil. It is an organised and difficult enemy to defeat, and Bush wants to avoid dealing with them. It's no fun.

If Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, we would not have gone to war.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 10:22 AM on October 9, 2006


If Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, we would not have gone to war.

Eh, if they had nukes, we wouldn't have.
posted by gsteff at 10:28 AM on October 9, 2006


While U235 requires a huge centrifuge facility, you make plutonium by putting easily available but useless U238 into an electrical generating nuclear reactor and it magically transforms into all the plutonium you could want.

Well, yeah, you can get huge amounts of plutonium that way, but it's a mishmash of isotopes and it's useless for bomb-making purposes.

Actually, normal power reactors are not very useful for this. There are designs for research reactors which produce a lot more neutrons, which is what NK has been using.

But it's not just a matter of popping a lot of U-238 into the reactor, leaving it there for a long time, and then having a high percentage of it convert to plutonium. The problem is that once a given U-238 has been converted to Pu-239, it is much more eager to absorb neutrons and upshift to Pu-240, or Pu-241, or Pu-242.

So what you have to do is to put your U-238 in the research reactor for a relatively short time, and only convert a small amount of U-238 into Plutonium. Do that and you don't get much plutonium but nearly all of it will be Pu-239. If you leave it in longer, you get a lot more plutonium but a greater percentage of it will be heavier isotopes.

One possibility explanation for a misfire is that the NK's tried to breed too much plutonium and ended up with too much Pu-240 in their Pu-239. It's impossible avoid having any but you want as little of it as possible. If there was a substantial percentage of Pu-240 in their fissile material, it wouldn't react the way they expected it to, and their design would be more likely to fail.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:29 AM on October 9, 2006


DenOfSizer: You pointed to two border disputes, not at all the same thing as a foreign policy direction/philosophy. You're example is more analogous to the Taiwan, which is considered an internal issue. An appropriate example would be to show me China supplying arms to undermine a neighbor or funding coup attempts. You know, like we do.

Pastabagel: I think you're projecting America's foreign policy thinking on China. Living in country, and relatively freely talking politics with locals and old-hands, our perception of the "waking dragon" is off... at least by a few decades anyway.

Hegemony just isn't an issue. Stability is. China wants money and sovereignty. Not world influence, not a blue navy to take on America, not puppet government neighbors... it wants cold hard cash. It wants development, it wants to turn all of it's cities into Shanghai's and Shenzhen's, it wants running water in every village. It's not as altruistic as it sounds, but it is what it is. It also wants to do it on it's own terms, hence the sovereignty issue. China wants Kim Jung-Il in power because his collapse will bring a biblical flood of refugees over into northeastern China. China wants him to chill the f**k out, but won't do anything to destabilize the situation by doing something like cutting off fuel like some countries have pressured. It's pretty much out of the question that they'd "invade" unless, as I said above, his regime collapsed internally and things went crazy.

Furtive: Nice work, but I disagree that anything militarily will happen. There's just too much incentive to keep the status quo and hope that better winds blow in the future. They'll keep on testing, we'll get more creative with new isolation techniques, and we wait... this has Cuba written all over it. It won't be resolved anytime soon.
posted by trinarian at 10:30 AM on October 9, 2006


If you don't believe the US military can possibly have a part in pre-emptive action against North Korea, but you do believe the US should have a military, do this exercise for me. Make a short list of scenarios in which you believe the US military could justifiably take action. At the bottom, put a scenario in which it is barely acceptable for the military to take action, and at the top, one in which it is imperative they take action. Then, try to place "prevent an unstable dictator from imminently building nuclear missiles capable of reaching his avowed nemesis, the United States" in the list.

In this scenario, Kim Jong Il has successfully tested both a warhead and a long-range missile. This scenario is likely to be reality in the near future. Where does this scenario fit in? Is your list cohesive, or are you kidding yourself?
posted by riotgrrl69 at 10:33 AM on October 9, 2006


Where does this scenario fit in?

the problem with your argument is that you assume it's just about the u s ... it's not ... it's about south korea, japan and china ... whatever we might do, they're the ones who will end up paying the cost for it

in the case of south korea and japan, we're morally obligated to consider that ... seoul and tokyo are more likely to go up in smoke than seattle is

in the case of china, it's not just a moral obligation, it's a military and diplomatic one, too

there will be no solution to the north korean problem that isn't approved by china
posted by pyramid termite at 10:49 AM on October 9, 2006


there will be no solution to the north korean problem that isn't approved by china

Agreed. And that's why someone eventually throws Taiwan into the deal.
posted by furtive at 10:53 AM on October 9, 2006


In this scenario, Kim Jong Il has successfully tested both a warhead and a long-range missile. This scenario is likely to be reality in the near future.

You need to really learn to distinguish between "possible scenario" and "likely to be reality". They're different.

If there's one thing that bugs me about US politicians and the small number of citizens who share their arrogance is their steadfast belief that they know what the future is going to hold and thus can justify their pre-emptive measures. You're all guessing as much as anyone else is.

IF North Korea attacks, innocent civilians die. If US pre-emptively attacks, innocent civilians die. The only difference is whose life you value more.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 10:55 AM on October 9, 2006


Stay calm people.

North Korea is not a direct threat to the US. Yet.

Yes. It is a potential threat in that it has the earmarks of a fairly dangerous regime with a large well trained military (unlike Iraq) placed geo-strategically to do optimal damage to our Asian allies.

But these people are not suicidal. They are not crazy. Despite what you may think.

Even with a few nukes NK is not going to be able to be any serious strategic threat to the US mainland. It does not have the GDP to develop and sustain a large enough nuke force or an advanced/reliable enough delivery system.

Which leaves surreptitious Trojan-horse delivery systems like ships etc. How many can they deliver like that? It limits significantly the number of targets. And in NO WAY would such an attack limit our ability to mount an overwhelming response. And we would. Even if we were not sure who did it. Pyongyang would be obliterated. They know that.

The NK regime, if it stays closed, will remain stable until Dear Leader dies. The NK regime wants only to MAINTAIN POWER. But they understand thier system is flawed. This is why they devise criminal capers and little extortion schemes by rattling the sabers and then later demanding international aid.
posted by tkchrist at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2006


riotgrrl69, you need to read some of the more rational and tempered analyses posted by many in this thread. If you want to draw up a 'cohesive' list of likely scenarios, you'll want to include some of them on yours.
posted by NationalKato at 11:13 AM on October 9, 2006


> that's why someone eventually throws Taiwan into the deal.

...at which point, Taiwan looks under the bed and discovers that it has a couple of nukes of its own. Say, I thought we didn't have any of those thingies, whaddya know!
posted by jfuller at 11:22 AM on October 9, 2006


North Korea is not a direct threat to the US. Yet.

I agree. As this straight-forward and pertinent Slate article mentions,

Kim's diplomats have clearly said for years that they learned a lesson from the wars in Iraq (those of 1991 and 2003): If you want to keep America from attacking, get some nuclear weapons. They also learned much from Pakistan's nuclear test in 1998, after which the country was transformed in American eyes from "outlaw state" to "strategic partner."

The bomb is insurance, I think; a deadman's switch, an extra deterrent to keep the United States from pulling a regime change on them. America invades—North Korea turns Seoul to glass. Or Taipei, or Tokyo. (I don't think N. Korea's at all close to an effective intercontinental missile).

If Kim Jong-Il were to make any sign that he'd actually do something proactive with his nukes, China (which, for the moment, suffers his regime to exist as a counter against American objectives) would probably write him off as too dangerous and withdraw its support. Yeah, the situation's pretty terrible, but we're not on the road to Doomsday yet.
posted by Iridic at 11:25 AM on October 9, 2006


Also, where are the batshitinsane tags?
posted by Artw at 11:34 AM on October 9, 2006


Iridic is right.

Many people have the "OMFG NUKES!" reaction with out really understanding the important underpinnings of a state acquiring nukes and historically what has happened when states go nuke. especially NOW with guys like Bush freaking the world out.

You now what happens? They sober the fuck up. It was all scramble, angry rhetoric, and bluster before they get nukes. After? Just look at Pakistan. They KNOW the razors edge they ride. countries with nukes suddenly have to be way more sober and careful about how they throw their weight around.

Yes. There is a critical mass (no pun intended) to the number of countries that get nukes before the chances somebody pops one off becomes a certainty, but we are not there yet.

I think the trend will be a period of proliferation and then for nascent nuke powers the cost to GDP and the advantage to use their nukes as "non-proliferation" bartering chips becomes too high. So then non-proliferation becomes the trend.
posted by tkchrist at 11:46 AM on October 9, 2006


jfuller, those are both interesting links and worth mentioning, but they aren't very conclusive of Taiwan having nukes.
posted by furtive at 11:47 AM on October 9, 2006


Yes. There is a critical mass (no pun intended) to the number of countries that get nukes before the chances somebody pops one off becomes a certainty, but we are not there yet.

On what can you possibly base this assessment?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:08 PM on October 9, 2006


America invades—North Korea turns Seoul to glass. Or Taipei, or Tokyo

Those are all sprawling, gargantuan megacities. Even if we assume that NK has a 1 kiloton device, it would barely take out downtown washington DC if detonated in the air, and that's larger than the blast radius if detonated from the groung in a truck.even at 10 ktons northern VA is safe.

See this or this (ground level detonation only).

By contrast, the US nuclear arsenal, and the stuff we were worried about as kids in the cold war, are the 10+ megaton nukes. Punch up 10,000KT into the second tool, and you'll see that's enough to erase even cities like LA.

So, NK isn't going to vaporize Seoul with this thing. There is no mutually assured destruction here. At most they take out Seoul's art district, but we disappear pyongyang.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:13 PM on October 9, 2006


Actually, the majority of the nuclear weapons the US has now are in the range of 400-600 kilotons.

It looks like NK tried it again, and this one was a dud too.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:30 PM on October 9, 2006


So, NK isn't going to vaporize Seoul with this thing.

That's not how a nuke makes you invasion proof anyway. The nuke makes you invasion proof, because you get to play cards like "Poof. Fleet goes away."

You can say that we'd then nuke the country out of existence. This is possibly true, but this isn't regime change, this is nation destruction, esp. deal with a small nation like NK, who might just say "the first nuke is for your carrier battle group, the second for the LPD group carrying the MAF you plan to invade with, and if we sense any counters, we'll fling the last three at Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo. See, if we're going to die, we're going to gouge large holes in the economies that are keeping America's financial head above water."

This is a convincing argument -- just losing a CVN and LPD group is a pretty costly thing to have happen -- easily 20,000 servicemen gone, along with a few billion dollars worth of assets.

Even if we assume that NK has a 1 kiloton device

Which they will improve. Remember -- if this was a criticality failure, and they had the brains to instrument the test. (Hint, people with no brains do not get this far in a nuclear weapons program.) they learned a bunch from this test, and the next one will be better.

Quit assuming that North Korea is filled with nothing but no-tech stupid. We built the first weapons with 1940s tech, and the first multistage weapons with early fifties tech, and the Soviet Union was right on our heels the whole way. Even if this one didn't perform correctly, the data they got from the shot was invaluable.
posted by eriko at 1:59 PM on October 9, 2006


Eriko, if it was due to unacceptable amounts of Pu-240 mixed in with their Pu-239, which is what I'm betting right now, it won't be possible for them to correct it without running another breeding cycle through their reactor.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:21 PM on October 9, 2006


The nuke makes you invasion proof, because you get to play cards like "Poof. Fleet goes away."

With a 15KT bomb? The really dangerous range of a 15KT bomb is going to be, what, 2--4 miles?

Getting a big, unwieldy Nagasaki-style bomb within a couple miles -- or ten to twenty ship-lengths or so -- of a modern CVN is probably difficult. For large values of difficult if by aircraft or ship. For different kinds of difficult if you want to lob it on a missile (ie, building a missile with enough throw weight for Fat Man, targeting a moving ship accurately, etc).

That makes it a serious threat, but not a magic card that disappears a fleet.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:59 PM on October 9, 2006


I believe a 15kT bomb would have to be closer than 2 miles to destroy a modern American nuke-hardened carrier fleet, Xenophobe. So it would be even more difficult.
posted by Justinian at 3:19 PM on October 9, 2006


George W. pulled Bandar aside.

"Bandar, I guess you're the best asshole who knows about the world. Explain to me one thing."

"Governor, what is it?"

"Why should I care about North Korea?"

Bandar said he didn't really know. It was one of the few countries that he did not work on for King Fahd.

"I get these briefings on all parts of the world," Bush said, "and everybody is talking to me about North Korea."

I'll tell you what, Governor," Bandar said. "One reason should make you care about North Korea."

"All right, smart alek," Bush said, "tell me."

"The 38,000 American troops right on the border." ..."If nothing else counts, this counts. One shot across the border and you lose half these people immediately. You lose 15,000 Americans in a chemical or biological or even regular attack. The United State of America is at war instantly."

"Hmmm," Bush said. "I wish those assholes would put things just point-blank to me. I get half a book telling me about the history of North Korea."
From Bob Woodward's State of Denial [cite]
posted by kirkaracha at 3:23 PM on October 9, 2006


In 1946 there was a dual test done at Bikini Atoll called "Operation Crossroads". Leftover warships from WWII were anchored in the lagoon. They were fully provisioned for war, with ammunition and fuel, but no crew.

In the first test, a 21 kiloton A-bomb was dropped on this fleet for an air-burst. They went in after a day and looked the ships over. The conclusion was that if it had been an actual war fleet, it could have continued to fight afterwards, though of course casualties would have been heavy.

Because of an operational problem, the first bomb missed its ideal targeting point by about 500 yards, but the conclusion was that even if it had been targeted properly it still wouldn't have "poofed" the fleet.

The second test had another 21 kiloton A-bomb hanging underwater below a landing craft in the middle of the bay. That was a lot worse: many of the ships capsized and sank, and most of the others were seriously damaged.

That's why nuclear-tipped torpedoes are such a threat. If you ask, the Navy will "neither confirm nor deny" that it has such things. But a standard torpedo is about the same size and shape as a Tomahawk cruise missile, which was designed to carry a small nuke, so it's likely that the Navy has torpedoes like that (though it's very doubtful that LA-class attack subs carry them routinely).

It's really hard to do an underwater detonation with a missile; the warhead has to survive a several-hundred-mile-per-hour impact with the water, then sink fifty or a hundred meters before detonating.

And an air burst even with a 20 kt weapon isn't as much of a threat as you might think. It's no walk in the park, but it's not an earth-shattering-kaboom either.

Besides which, it's a big ocean out there, and any fleet is going to be moving constantly. A Nimitz-class CVN is an immense ship, but it's tiny compared to the Pacific Ocean.

The target-of-choice for any NK nuke is going to be Seoul, not American ships. American warships designed and built during the Cold War don't go "poof" that easily.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:35 PM on October 9, 2006


Operational fleets at sea are very spread out, too. The footprint may be 10 miles across, partly because you want the Burkes and Ticonderogas to be well away from the CVN so that they have the best chance of detecting and stopping any incoming anti-ship missiles, and to give the CVN plenty of warning if they fail to intercept.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:43 PM on October 9, 2006


“The NK regime wants only to MAINTAIN POWER. But they understand thier system is flawed. This is why they devise criminal capers and little extortion schemes by rattling the sabers and then later demanding international aid.” posted by tkchrist

Astute observation.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:58 PM on October 9, 2006


They may not confirm or deny nowadays, but the Navy used to deploy a nuclear torpedo.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:01 PM on October 9, 2006


At most they take out Seoul's art district, but we disappear pyongyang.

Exactly. The worst they could do would be to enrage someone enough to ensure their own destruction.

the first nuke is for your carrier battle group, the second for the LPD group carrying the MAF you plan to invade with, and if we sense any counters, we'll fling the last three at Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo

They wouldn't get within a mile of a carrier. Just not going to happen. As for the ground forces for invasion—you really think we're going to need American troops for that? Ha. Their ground forces would be decimated before the first foot hit the ground, and the South Koreans would be in the shit the second the shelling stopped.

And I really, honestly doubt they would "throw a nuke" at Beijing. First, because there's no way they could deploy one that far, and second, because you really don't want to piss of the one country in the world that doesn't treat you like a leper.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:08 PM on October 9, 2006


The NK strategy is, and always has been, to say, "If you put us in a position where we have nothing left to lose, we're going to make you regret it."

Their military power, development of missiles, and work on nuclear warheads have all been part of this. It's not really deterrence, and it definitely is not a military force that actually has any chance of engaging in successful conquest.

Actually it is deterrence, in a sense. But it's actually the foundation of a long-term attempt to engage in blackmail: "Pay us off, or we'll ruin Seoul and damage the economy of South Korea so badly that it'll take 30 years to recover. Yes, if we do that we know that you'll kill us all, but that doesn't matter to us and won't matter to you either."

To understand their threat, the critical point to keep in mind at all times is that in any serious shooting war on the Korean peninsula now, NK will unquestionably get the worst of it -- and that does not matter. The question is not how badly NK gets hurt, or how much worse it gets hurt relative to how much SK gets hurt. The only thing that's important is how much damage in absolute terms NK can do to SK before the shooting stops, and how much negative indirect economic effect that would have on Japan, China, and the US.

And the answer is "lots and lots". NK's grand strategy is to make sure that it is capable of causing an intolerable amount of damage to SK in absolute terms, and then to use that threat to shake down SK, Japan, China, and the US for what amounts to protection money.

The Carter deal during the Clinton administration amounted to agreeing to pay off NK. But now only China is paying off NK, and not enough to keep NK afloat.

The NK government doesn't want a full-scale shooting war to erupt on the Korean peninsula because that does guarantee the end of that regime. But their problem is that the shake-down isn't working any more, so this nuclear test is their best shot at trying to terrify the other relevant nations enough so that they'll capitulate and start paying protection money again.

I don't think it's going to work. But the situation in Korea has been perilous for a long time and now it's worse.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:23 PM on October 9, 2006


Operation Nukorea
posted by ZippityBuddha at 4:36 PM on October 9, 2006


That has got to be the worst SFW file I've ever seen. Nothing but text? Just scrolling by? Why not just make it an HTML file and let the reader do the scrolling?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:51 PM on October 9, 2006


Steven C. Den Beste writes "The NK strategy is, and always has been, to say, 'If you put us in a position where we have nothing left to lose, we're going to make you regret it.'

"Their military power, development of missiles, and work on nuclear warheads have all been part of this....

NK's grand strategy is to make sure that it is capable of causing an intolerable amount of damage to SK in absolute terms, and then to use that threat to shake down SK, Japan, China, and the US for what amounts to protection money."


But even without nuclear weapons, NK has the capacity to wreak havok and kill millions of people. A couple of low-yield nukes doesn't have any real effect on the balance of power; they already have the conventional military means necessary to maintain their protection racket.

Pursuing a nuclear strategy does give them two new potential options, though. First, if they're serious about developing ICBMs, they might actually be trying to develop a deterrent against US invasion. I don't know if they're seriously worried about such an invasion, but by all accounts the military leadership is absolutely paranoid, and in the context of such a paranoia, developing the ability to lob nukes into North America might seem to be a rational response. Second, developing nuclear weapons gives them a new high-ticket item to sell on the international arms market. This test might have been an advertisement of new wares for sale. Which really just sucks.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:59 PM on October 9, 2006


Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries vs. MetaFilter
posted by homunculus at 5:00 PM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Because their previous shake-down threat (devastating SK) no longer is getting them the quaking fear and pay-off they want, NK is trying to develop an intercontinental missile and a nuclear warhead for it so that it can directly threaten the US, in hopes of convincing us to once again pay protection money.

It isn't a deterrent. The US has had the ability to restart the war on the Korean peninsula for 50 years and hasn't done so, and no one here wants to now. NK doesn't need a deterrent; it needs a blackmail threat, or at least its leaders think it does. That's what this is all about.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:11 PM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


>What exactly is the point of turning this still ill-known event into bickering between the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties?

>>The point is that the GOP already let the partisan genie out of the bottle

And you're making sure it'll never find its way back in. Y'all're as bad as they are: to & fro, back & forth, Bush this, Clinton that, yadda yadda yadda. Don't you realize there are more important issues involved than U.S. "major-party" domestic politics, which is what you're using this still ill-understood alleged event to grandstand about?

I know, I know, I'm wasting my time raising the subject. Never mind: both "sides" may now go back to their black-&-white good-&-evil bickering. With a pox on both your parties.
posted by davy at 5:38 PM on October 9, 2006


I have information now (from a highly knowledgable source I cannot identify MWAAhaahaa) that the Wikipedia chart converting Richter values to nuclear yields is way high. Apparently the consensus is that the NK test had a yield of less than half a kiloton, which if so almost certainly indicates it was a misfire.

(And no one has confirmed that report of a second test. I think it was bogus.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:41 PM on October 9, 2006


China wants stability and above all the status-quo. China is on the road; make that the high speed maglev, to becoming the preeminent world economic superpower. You really think they want to fuck that up by "getting heavy handed with Taiwan" or "invading North Korea?"

Certainly China would much prefer that North Korea and the giant humanitarian mess it would become if it destabilized (far more than it is now even) would fall into the lap of South Korea, the US, and/or Japan, but right now there is little saying that it would. China taking tough steps on the DPRK would trigger just that, as would anyone in the world taking tough steps. Kim, not the ranting madman that people claim, knows full well that China is not going to let him fall even if he does some really bold moves, say like testing a nuke.

The world also can't move without China. China may begin to take some steps, but not drastic, Bushian, short sighted steps. They will slowly try and bring North Korea into the 21st century. Integrate their economy with the rest of the world. Move the people away from pure oppression and into the sunlight. All the while China is going to end up looking like the good guy while the saber rattlers more and more lose their complete dominance of the world stage.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:29 PM on October 9, 2006


A Nimitz-class CVN is an immense ship, but it's tiny compared to the Pacific Ocean.

And a kamikaze (Korean transliteration thereof) SSC armed with a bomb could ruin that CVN's day relatively easily.

One hella wargame. Used to play "SSN" back in the day; brings back memories.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:43 PM on October 9, 2006


My only contribution to this debate would be to wish that we USians learn to work internationally rather than trying to solve all the world's problems on our own.

The NK accumulation of nukes is 60% South Korea's problem, 10% Japan, Russia, and China's problem, and maybe 10% ours, if that.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:46 PM on October 9, 2006


And a kamikaze (Korean transliteration thereof) SSC armed with a bomb could ruin that CVN's day relatively easily.

It could do it, but it would not be "relatively easy". It's not like submarines are a new threat, either, and it would actually have to get into the middle of the fleet formation in order to make its attack.

Which is a real problem, because it's slower underwater than a US carrier task force is. It has a maximum speed of 9 knots. American carrier task forces routinely move at about 22 knots, and can do 30 knots if need be. (The problem with that speed is the escorts burn fuel really rapidly. A CVN can do 30 knots pretty much indefinitely.)

And it's not as if submarines are an entirely new and unexpected threat. There are defenses -- lots of defenses.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:59 PM on October 9, 2006


Gotta go with Steven C. Den Beste (and his remarkable naval knowlege) hitting anything inside a carrier group would be an amazing acheivement.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:39 PM on October 9, 2006


What did the Oklahoma City Murrah building explosion register on the Richter scale? I've seen one number I really doubt, but even if that figure is way high, it still dramatically exceeds any stated seismic reading for this blast.
posted by NortonDC at 8:08 PM on October 9, 2006


Gotta go with Steven C. Den Beste (and his remarkable naval knowlege) hitting anything inside a carrier group would be an amazing acheivement.

Yeah, something like that could never... oh, yeah, um...
posted by Pollomacho at 8:11 PM on October 9, 2006


Which is a real problem, because it's slower underwater than a US carrier task force is.

yeah, well, if the Việt Nam Dân Chủ Cộng Hòa's navy had these suckers (and a suicidal leadership), life would have been very interesting on Yankee Station.

With helos with MAD gear & sonar dippers, we might find these guys, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to be underway in the Sea of Japan . . . you know what they say about horseshoes & hand-grenades...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:51 PM on October 9, 2006


I don't know much about this crazy, crazy world, but I do know this: If you don't let us fuck this asshole, we're going to have our dicks and pussies all covered in shit!
posted by mazola at 8:53 PM on October 9, 2006


Only 13 shipping containers of dynamite yeah say? Sounds more likely from that buncha podunks.
posted by Muirwylde at 11:46 PM on October 9, 2006


Oh yeah and by the way you folks in Seattle can relax...y'all forget about Honolulu? Only half as far to lob the sucker....
posted by Muirwylde at 11:48 PM on October 9, 2006


Y'all ready fergot about Pearl Harbor didnt'cha?
posted by Muirwylde at 11:50 PM on October 9, 2006


Davy, I really don't understand your problem. The North Koreans have executed a very political action that has a major influence on politics around the world and you seem to be offended by a discussion of the politics.

You have one U.S. administration that engaged the Koreans in negotiations and even offered some aid in the form of heating oil. As a result the plutonium was safely locked up and guarded by international inspectors for eight years. Then the next administration decided to stop negotiations, cut off all aid and made empty threats about regime change. This resulted in the plutonium being removed from safe keeping and there is no way to undo the damage. No one will ever be sure again the location of that plutonium. Keep in mind that the plutonium pit for a 10 kt bomb is about the size of a softball. It could go to the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Qaeda in Indonesia, the shiites in Iran or even terrorists in the U.S. We will never know.

Now why might considering that past political history be important? Because the Bush administration is replaying the exact same mistakes in Iran. The Bush administration has refused to talk to Iran, is making idle threats and calling for an embargo. Gee, we have two examples of how to handle politically a problematic regime that presents no reasonable military solutions, one method which worked and one which did not. We're in the process of trying one of those methods again in Iran. It just might be worth trying to learn something from past politics, even if it offends you.
posted by JackFlash at 11:54 PM on October 9, 2006


What did the Oklahoma City Murrah building explosion register on the Richter scale? I've seen one number I really doubt, but even if that figure is way high, it still dramatically exceeds any stated seismic reading for this blast.

Well, these guys say 6.0, but I doubt that. I've heard 3.0 was the max.

What I can say is that a number of people, including my brother, heard a second "whump" after the explosion; apparently, it was the Presbyterian Hospital tower rising and falling on its foundation.
posted by dw at 12:04 AM on October 10, 2006


In the first test, a 21 kiloton A-bomb was dropped on this fleet for an air-burst.

And, for the record, missed the target.

They went in after a day and looked the ships over. The conclusion was that if it had been an actual war fleet, it could have continued to fight afterwards, though of course casualties would have been heavy.

After major refit, and after refloating the five ships that sank -- and, of course, the little detail that this war fleet didn't have much fuel or any ammunition aboard.

The Baker shot did do more damage - it sank eight, instead of five ships, including three capital ships. It also didn't miss. The main reason the Baker shot was so more effective wasn't the blast, it was the radiation from the fallout from the water and material from the bottom of the lagoon. The blast effects of the explosion were also focused by the lagoon.

However, these were very different ships than modern day combat vessels. The Baker shot did lead to modern NBC handling procedures -- sealed areas, washdown, rad badges, and so forth. They didn't particularly lead to stronger ships. Indeed, between aircraft, missles, and nuclear weapons, what they led to was the basic abandonment of armor on naval craft.

Modern warships are incredibly fragile, compared to thier WWII cousins, because modern weapons became so vastly effective that carry armor was a waste. So, we don't have 15,000 ton armor crusiers anymore, much less 30,000 ton battleships.

The only ships that are larger anymore are the CVNs, which displace three to four times what WWII CVs did. But, if anything, they are the most fragile. They're very large, they carry large amount of fuel (not for them, for the A/C and escorts) and ordinance, and they have very little in the way of armor. Compared to WWII carriers, they're even less able to take damage.

The US Navy uses the same defense against a nuclear weapon that I do -- don't be there when it goes off.

As to getting the weapon on target? We know that NK has workable IRBMs. They haven't had much luck with ICBMs, but they' have plenty of missles that can reach 400 or so miles, and if you're going to die anyway, bag the CVN.

Making the assumption that this bomb couldn't fit on a missle is dangerous. A submarine attack is silly -- too slow, too loud, and the US Navy has been paranoid about subs for way too long.

I'm leery of the too much Pu-240 theory, because the usual result of that is that you get criticality accidents even trying to assemble the pit, much less detonation. If NK did leave the rods in for two-plus years, what they got out wasn't weapons grade material at all, and they would know it. You don't reprocess that, you burn it in a rector for power. If you even tried to machine a Pu-239 sized pit, you'd get a criticality accident with that much Pu-240.

A friend of mine has flung me a couple of papers on decoupling tricks that the USSR and US used in testing. If you dig the right hole and put your bomb into that, you can prevent a large fraction of the energy from coupling with the earth, thus, the seismic signature is dramatically reduced. It is a simple trick of mismatched impedance.

In particular, the Russians are assuming this was done, which is why they are currently calling it in the 12-15kt range.
posted by eriko at 4:19 AM on October 10, 2006



SPEAKING FREELY

Kim's message: War is coming to US soil
By Kim Myong Chol ("Unofficial" spokesman of Kim Jong-il and North Korea.)
posted by hortense at 6:15 AM on October 10, 2006


From hortense's link:
The DPRK has all types of nuclear bombs and warheads, atomic, hydrogen and neutron, and the means of delivery, short-range, medium-range and long-range, putting the whole of the continental US within effective range. The Korean People's Army also is capable of knocking hostile satellites out of action.

The author rather reminds me of Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf.
posted by edd at 6:58 AM on October 10, 2006


My only contribution to this debate would be to wish that we USians learn to work internationally rather than trying to solve all the world's problems on our own.

John Bolton is on the motherfucking case!
posted by Artw at 8:33 AM on October 10, 2006


KAHN! RUMMY ! !
posted by hortense at 8:53 AM on October 10, 2006


Given that the Oklahoma City bomb was the equivalent of about 2 tons of TNT, even a 500 ton "dud" in a shipping container in downtown Long Beach might cause some notice.
posted by JackFlash at 9:56 AM on October 10, 2006


Little more than four years ago, the North Korean nuclear weapons program was largely under lock and key, the threat seen as a fleeting crisis of a previous decade.

North Korea's main nuclear center at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang, was monitored 24 hours a day by U.N. surveillance cameras. International inspectors lived near the site. Seals were in place over key nuclear installations and a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon was gathering dust.
...
All that changed when George W. Bush became president.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:36 AM on October 10, 2006


What I can say is that a number of people, including my brother, heard a second "whump" after the explosion; apparently, it was the Presbyterian Hospital tower rising and falling on its foundation.< .i>

I call bullshit on that one :-) It was probably the sound of the blast reverbrating off of the nearby buildings.

posted by furtive at 4:07 PM on October 10, 2006


McCain blames Clinton policies for N. Korea woes
posted by taosbat at 5:04 PM on October 10, 2006


1. The article above linked by Hortense (thank you) by Kim Myong Chol is very insightful. Does anyone know what exactly is meant by his being an 'unofficial' spokesman for Kim Jong Il and North Korea? Ought his article to be read as a communique from Dear Leader and Pyongyang? If so, it is correspondingly crucial.

2. My theory on this is that the Chinese were in on the timing of this blast, and possibly the Iranians. A stroke of genius, as it shifts attention away from Iran's program, and hampers the neo-cons' increasing bloodthirst for war with Teheran (one hopes). China benefits because the more it neutralizes the actions of the U.S. (particularly in the oil-rich Middle East), the more access it gets to oil, and the more it confirms its position of ascendant superpower.

3. I hope now that the discriminatory focus on Iran's nuclear energy interests abates: North Korea was a bigger threat and all the U.S. wanted to do was talk about Iran ... and all because U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is orchestrated in Tel Aviv. If focus shifts back to Teheran with even more intensity, the latter statement shall be reinforced further.
posted by Azaadistani at 10:11 AM on October 11, 2006


Rolling Blunder
posted by homunculus at 11:39 AM on October 11, 2006


McCain is dead wrong about Bill Clinton and North Korea.
posted by homunculus at 5:33 PM on October 11, 2006


Donald Rumsfeld presented this photograph recently. It apparently shows the technological level of the North Koreans. I can't help but wonder if it had some help from Photoshop.
posted by crunchland at 6:59 AM on October 13, 2006


oops. more info
posted by crunchland at 7:03 AM on October 13, 2006


« Older Looking for a new religion? Something to save your...   |   Bombing Iran- Rove's Plan to W... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments