October 06, 2006

North Korean Nuclear Test

Tawdry 'sex' scandals, the Dow testing frothier and frothier new highs--a couple days back, I wondered, what next: Chandra, Monica and Nasdaq 5000? One couldn't help suspecting another shoe was about to drop. Perhaps, say, a North Korean nuclear test? My schedule precludes any detailed analysis, but I'll try to provide commentary in the coming days. In the meantime, note the DPRK's statement below:

The field of scientific research in the DPRK successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9, 2006, at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great, prosperous, powerful socialist nation. It has been confirmed that there was no such danger as radioactive emission in the course of the nuclear test as it was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation. The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent. It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability. It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it.

Discuss below, including each of the Japanese, U.S., Chinese and South Korean reactions. One thing is for sure: a destabilized nuclear North Korea is even worse than a relatively stable nuclear North Korea--so let's make sure Cheney doesn't get all creative destructionist on us. Our North Korea policy has proved a woeful failure (not just during Bush 43, but also through Bush 41 and Clinton too...), let's not make it even worse by over-reacting--meantime, Ahmadi-Nejad will doubtless be monitoring the fall-out quite closely, one suspects...

P.S: NYT--

...President Bush declared in 2003 that the United States would never “tolerate” a nuclear-armed North Korea. He has never defined what he means by “tolerate,” and on Sunday night Tony Snow, Mr. Bush’s press secretary, said that the United States would now go to the United Nations to determine “what our next steps should be in response to this very serious step.”

Busy times at Turtle Bay....

P.P.S: One suspects one possible hoped for end-game here is to somehow 'manage' over the coming years a decline in Kim Jong's power, ultimately with the aim of having North Korea capsize and be unified with South Korea. Then, not least in return for major economic aid, the South Koreans would be urged to follow the Ukrainian, Kazakh etc route so as to voluntarily disarm the nukes they inherited--all before, one hopes, the Japanese decide they need a nuclear capability of their own, or indeed, the South Koreans. In this respect, the U.S. should provide enhanced security guarantees to these last two, while also giving very serious thought on how to prevent enhanced North Korean proliferation attempts to potential client states in the Middle East.


Chinese markets:

Meanwhile, stocks in China advanced on speculation its markets would see an inflow of funds. The Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks yuan-denominated A shares and foreign- currency B shares, rose 0.9 percent, set for its highest close since April 7, 2004.

North Korea's nuclear test ``will make investors pull money out of Japan and South Korea,'' said Paul Pong, managing director at Pegasus Fund Managers Ltd. in Hong Kong. ``That capital will flow into China and Hong Kong.''

Still More: Gotta love these guys:

Yet a number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.

Now U.S. officials will push for tough sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, and are considering a raft of largely unilateral measures, including stopping and inspecting every ship that goes in and out of North Korea.

"This fundamentally changes the landscape now," one U.S. official said last night. [emphasis added]

Well, hurrah, then! Another "clarifying" moment, one that "fundamentally changes" everything. Why, it's almost like Hez and Israel are at it again...perhaps we are seeing the "birth pangs" of a new Asia! A serious query: I'm all for stepped up counter-proliferation efforts (must use the muscular new Boltonian language, as non-proliferation is old sappy language for those who wouldn't allow for, you know, things like North Korea joining the nuclear club happening...), but is it really the time for severe sanctions on North Korea that will have the effect of further de-stabilizing the Peninsula? Oh wait, I've uttered the dreaded "S" word again ("stability"), and so risk offending the courageous legions busily creating a safer world for us tradition-shackled defeatists.

Posted by Gregory at October 6, 2006 11:44 PM

well, this certainly sucks -- mostly because US credibility has been shredded so completely by Bushco that there aren't a whole lot of smart option for us.

The US has no leverage any more, thanks to the consistent belligerent attitude of the US toward NK. (I mean, I really can't blame NK for this, given Bush's "Axis of Evil" attitude, and his willingness to act like an idiot as demonstrated by Iraq. )

And while a nuclear armed NK does not represent an imminent threat to the US, it does represent one to China, Japan, South Korea, etc -- and those nations are far more concerned with preventing a nuclear attack on their countries than they are in following any US lead in a response to the tests....

I foresee both Japan and South Korea now starting up their own nuclear programs -- although neither nation really wants nukes, the threat of a nuclear armed Japan and/or South Korea will be a valuable bargaining chip once the US has sane leadership again.

Finally, ya gotta love NK's timing. All indications were that Bush was going to spring some kind of "October Surprise" by creating a crisis in Iran. So NK takes advantage of Bush's obsession with Iran by springing this nuke test on the world --- smart move on their part, IMHO.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 9, 2006 06:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The US is -- rightly, I think -- unconcerned with the possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan. Our actions towards India prove this.

I was dismayed that China, which has clearly been North Korea's main benefactor and enabler, was rewarded by markets with an influx of capital when its de facto client acted out. This may impede China's action in controlling their weird little pet, though I still have reasonable hope that they will see more upside in showing leadership by acting against North Korea.

Finally, congratulations to Mr. Lukasiak for a pithy summary of the anti-Bush talking points.

Posted by: sammler at October 9, 2006 10:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was dismayed that China, which has clearly been North Korea's main benefactor and enabler, was rewarded by markets . . .

Markets don't 'reward' the policies of governments. Nor do they punish them, except in rare cases when opposition is widespread enough to inspire a significant boycott.

Posted by: David Tomlin at October 9, 2006 11:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


cynical as Mr. Lukasiak is, I bet right now Bush and Rove are wondering how they can frame this so as to blame Clinton's policy towards NK, and somehow erase the past six years Bush has sat on his butt while NK went nuclear. Bush and Rove are obsessed with the November election. This is why talk from people like Warner that we will need to reconsider our strategy in Iraq "in 90 days" is meant to be deflected until after the election. They really are more concerned with staying in power, than protecting America, and until proven otherwise, that's just how it is.

Mr. Bush said in 2003 that America will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea. So now we have a nuclear North Korea. What did Mr. Bush mean by we won't tolerate it? They've got the bomb. Are we now going to go get it? Are we going to use the military to get it from them? Stopping NK ships in the middle of the ocean won't do anything, and is the weakest response I've ever seen from an administration that calls itself a "war time" administration. Remember that in 2004, Mr. Bush took out several thousand troops from the DMZ line to send to Iraq. Now you've got Iraq nearly lost, Afghanistan nearly lost, Iran seeing our weak status and walking slowly towards their own nuke, because they know America won't do a thing about it, and North Korea, like a drug addict, taking advantage of Chinese goodwill and support to go nuclear.

If America needs more evidence that Bush has failed, well....I would hope this is enough.

What should be done? First of all, change the leadership in America. Put people in power who will actually do something about this.

From here on out I think, because of past failures by Bush, we're going to have to accept a nuclear North Korea, and a new arms race in East Asia. Japan will not sit idly by while a belligerent NK gets nukes.

As to what to do, well, bluffing should now be proven not to work. We can talk all we want about saying it is "not acceptable" but unless we actually back it with real force, it has no meaning.

America needs to be prepared for making a real sacrifice, if it truly believes it is unacceptable for North Korea to have nukes. Is America ready to make that sacrifice? No longer can we rely on putting our wars on credit cards. If we stand by our words, then the only option left for America is a military confrontation.

I doubt America wants that, so the only available option is to accept North Korea as a nuclear state, and criticize Bush for spending these past six years letting them go nuclear.

Posted by: Dan at October 9, 2006 12:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I doubt America wants that, so the only available option is to accept North Korea as a nuclear state, and criticize Bush for spending these past six years letting them go nuclear.

I think in the short term, you're right -- there isn't much the US can rationally do other than accept NK as a nuclear state.

But I do see a possible longer-term resolution of the issue of nuclear proliferation in the region --- the development of nuclear capability by Japan and/or South Korea. Once Bush is gone, efforts to reduce tensions in the region may have success -- and I can see NK agreeing to give up its nukes in exchange for security guarantees, economic aid, and (crucially) and end to Japanese/South Korean nuclear development (which NK will be able to frame as a "victory".)

Of course, this is little more than "giving in" to NK's nuclear blackmail scheme -- but I don't see any other rational course of action. The US lost all of its leverage in dealing with NK thanks to Bush, putting NK in the position of having little to lose by creating its own nuclear "deterrent".

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 9, 2006 01:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

inevitable, given that they had the wherewithal, that they'd put on a show. They want something, they're not getting it, so they take it up a notch. If Bush wasn't gonna talk with them cause they're 'evil' this was inevitable, no?

The main question is and always has been what does China want and what are they willing to do to get it? China has struggled mightily to stay clean, to keep up a faux international profile that is a big whitewash - but they're on a collision course with the unpleasant realities of PRNK and Taiwan and it's gonna get dirty.

US has no choice now but to look and act tough etc - but if China doesn't back it up [and they have good reason not to] what happens? Kim Jong knows this, he knows he's holding the only card that matters - China. Only China can solve this problem now- but have they backed themselves into a corner that they've desperately been trying to avoid?

US may have been able to take China out of the picture by taking a different diplomatic tack with Kim Jong but like a bunch of teenagers standing on a street corner they thought it better to go all axis of evil of their ass. Now everybody's backed into a corner here and the crazy troll in NK knows it.

Posted by: bom them back to something precambrian at October 9, 2006 02:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting state of affairs. Aside from a decision point for the US, it's a decision point for China, as well. The US isn't the only country NK is thumbing its nose at. China ended up with egg all over their face from this.

Posted by: tzs at October 9, 2006 02:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bushco has no policy on this issue, other than the standard press briefing talking points, because the issue doesn't resonate within the current climate of domestic politics, which is grounded in the "Islamofascism" hysteria.

Bushco is attracted to low conflict perpetual wars that fit within the current domestic hysteria, and which can be easily folded into the 9-11 narrative of domestic politics. Any action on North Korea would be a real war, with real costs, and real consequences. Therefore, nothing will be done.

If it doesn't fit into the Bushco narrative for domestic politics, it doesn't exist. There will be one pushy press briefing at the White House today, a "hastily called" meeting of the UN Security Council, and that will be the last of it.

Bushco will then return to the Iran narrative.

As for any "solutions," such will be left in the hands of China, Japan, and South Korea. One would have thought that, by now, they would have caught on that the US is distinctly uninterested in the issue. Or, at least in the case of China, that some satisfaction is felt in the US that China may feel pressed, that its "client" has misbehaved, and that China's immediate strategic environment has changed for the worse.

Posted by: MD at October 9, 2006 03:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think one of the consequences of Bush's inactions over the past six years on North Korea is that it gives China a chance to prove itself as a replacement to what the United States used to master: conflict resolution. As proven by Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Iran, the United States no longer knows how to solve conflicts.

China now has the chance to solve this conflict and be propelled to a much stronger position in the world than the United States. If China gets North Korea to stand down and Japan and South Korea to not precipitate a nuclear arms race, it would diminish America's role as mediator in conflicts.

Those are pretty big ifs, of course. North Korea's desire for nukes comes from America's respect of nations with nuclear weapons. Bin Laden and the Taliban may be in Pakistan, but the United States will not attack Pakistan because Musharraf is sitting on several nuclear weapons, and that's just simply going to go badly for everyone involved. North Korea sees a United States that has invaded a nation they didn't like (Iraq), threaten to invade a nation they didn't like (Iran), group their own country with those two (North Korea), and then supposedly they are to trust the United States not to invade them at some future point. Riiiiiight.

Iran is going for nukes for the exact same reason. The United States has never attacked a nuclear power. The consequences would be disastrous.

The more nations America threatens with its sabre rattling, the more will lean towards nukes as a deterrent, a deterrent against America!

Who would have thought America would become the aggressor in this world of ours!

Posted by: Dan at October 9, 2006 03:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We might have cause to be thankful NK tested a nuke.

No, seriously.

It makes a unilateral US invasion/bomb attack on Iran much less likely.

Because attacking Iran for "maybe, if you look at it sideways" having a nuclear development program while doing nothing but speaking harshly to NK for actually testing one... well, I grant you that Bush is a lunatic and so are his followers, but that one would be a little much for anyone but the Hindrockets and Limbaughs to swallow, don't you think?

Posted by: CaseyL at October 9, 2006 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

From a counterterrorism standpoint, and in regard to the Middle East, this development is frightening.

North Korea is impoverished, and they have demonstrated that they will do just about anything to obtain hard currency. Could Iran decide to fastrack its nuclear weapon capability by paying North Korea for a bomb or two? Would a few million dollars be enough to obtain a nuke rhat could be put in a shipping container? I hope we don't have to find out.

Posted by: Tom S at October 9, 2006 04:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

They've got the bomb. Are we now going to go get it? Are we going to use the military to get it from them?

First, we don't know that they have a functioning bomb. Creating a nuclear explosion is very different from having a deployable bomb.

This is from the Stratfor analysis:

There are two advantages the United States has. The first is time. There is a huge difference between a nuclear device and a deployable nuclear weapon. The latter has to be shaped into a small, rugged package able to be launched on a missile or dropped from a plane. Causing atomic fission is not the same as having a weapon.

The second advantage is distance. The United States is safe and far away from North Korea. Four other powers -- Russia, China, South Korea and Japan -- have much more to fear from North Korea than the United States does. The United States will always act unilaterally if it feels that it has no other way to protect its national interest. As it is, however, U.S. national interest is not at stake.

South Korea faces nothing less than national destruction in an all-out war. South Korea knows this and it will vigorously oppose any overt military action. Nor does China profit from a destabilized North Korea and a heavy-handed U.S. military move in its backyard. Nevertheless, if North Korea is a threat, it is first a threat to its immediate neighbors, one or more of whom can deal with North Korea.

In the end, North Korea wants regime survival. In the end, allowing the North Koran regime to survive is something that has been acceptable for over half a century. When you play out the options, the acquisition of a nuclear device -- especially one neither robust nor deployable -- does not, by itself, compel the United States to act, nor does it give the United States a militarily satisfactory option. The most important issue is the transfer of North Korean nuclear technology to other countries and groups. That is something the six-party talk participants have an equal interest in and might have the leverage to prevent.

Every situation does not have a satisfactory military solution. This seems to be one of them.

Posted by: worm eater at October 9, 2006 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The nork bomb is most likely a dud.


Posted by: No Nym at October 9, 2006 05:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gee, that thug Saddam, with his dilapidated old chemical shells left over from the Iranian war, is looking real scarey now, isn't he?

As Dan predicts, the right is already rolling out the usual response: it's all Clinton's fault. It's going on right now over at the Corner, where a search for "Clinton" on the very first page of comments gets 20 hits.

Oh, but the more "reasonable" folks over there, like Jonah, admit that "[Bush] can't blame the Clinton administration entirely for what has happened on his watch". Cause, see, conservatism is all about taking responsibility.

They're also selling the line over there that this is good news for Republicans, since it pushes Foley from the headlines, and brings front-and-center that winning Republican issue: national security.

A party whose strongest political card right now is the notion that the Bush administration has made us safer is a party in big trouble.

Posted by: lewp at October 9, 2006 05:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Casey L wrote:

"We might have cause to be thankful NK tested a nuke.

"No, seriously.

"It makes a unilateral US invasion/bomb attack on Iran much less likely.

"Because attacking Iran for "maybe, if you look at it sideways" having a nuclear development program while doing nothing but speaking harshly to NK for actually testing one... well, I grant you that Bush is a lunatic and so are his followers, but that one would be a little much for anyone but the Hindrockets and Limbaughs to swallow, don't you think?"

- No. No, I really don't think that.

I mean, no offense - but have you spent the last five years in a cave? When N Korea withdrew from the NPT in early 2003 and removed plutonium from what had been a monitored site, the Bush administration presented this as a further argument for invading Iraq. The reasoning being that there was nothing to be done any longer about NK, but that made it all the more imperative to nip other proliferaters in the bud.

We can expect to hear PRECISELY the same point made with respect to Iran. Oh, and we should also expect to hear some reassuring noises about Kim being a shrewd guy playing a weak hand whose ultimate interest is regime survival. And that Ahmedinejad, on the other hand, is a lunatic who will hand off nuclear weapons to Sunni terrorists for use against Israel and the US, even at the cost of Iran's being turned into a puddle of radioactive glass.

Posted by: Dave L at October 9, 2006 08:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Cheney over-react to the PRK? If anything it will be more of the same UNDERreaction we've seen the whole time. While the neocons were obsessed with the fantasy threat from Iraq we've seen threats grow from manageable to unmanageable in both Iran and North Korea. The time to have gotten tough with the PRK was when they threatened to pull out of IAEA monitoring in the first place. For all of the hubbub about Clinton's "failures" with the PRK, at least he threatened to bomb their nuclear plant when a similar situation arose. Sure, they kept trying to move forward with their nuclear program in the meantime, but they probably didn't have a working device despite this. Now? They may well have working devices and we're not doing a damn thing to stop it.

Further, under Clinton there was real rapprochement between North and South and the threat may have been nullified had the country reunified. After Iraq, everyone is laughing at us and our military impotency, and the North and South haven't been further from unified.

We're simply royally screwed, is what we are. The PRK is cooperating with Iran, and who knows what Iran might do if they eventually got the bomb. Sure, they probably wouldn't attack us, certainly not directly --- but it's a lot easier to imagine a terrorist somehow getting access to the bomb via Iran (even if the government of Iran didn't approve it). This Administration has totally f--ked us security-wise.

Posted by: Mitsu at October 9, 2006 09:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

From that Post article last night, I am coming to the terrifying realization -- these characters are actually following through on the claim we've been hearing from the GOP for two decades about how Reagan Won The Cold War: by spending so much militarily, and thus forcing the USSR to spend so much in response, that he finally forced them into economic collapse and peaceful "surrender". (Krauthammer was spouting this line about Reagan in Time magazine in 2004, and the magazine printed part of my letter -- though not enough of it -- responding to him.)

This is the commonest myth used by the GOP to proclaim Reagan a great president -- and it's absolute, deadly dangerous insanity -- AND REAGAN HIMSELF KNEW IT, and had attempted nothing of the sort. He knew damn well that backing the USSR into a corner was at least as likely to provoke them instead into a panicky military response, up to and perhaps including a nuclear first strike. If Andropov (who had a first-class paranoid streak about the US) hadn't suffered that blessed "cold" and been replaced by Gorbachev, exactly this might very easily have happened. Reagan, instead, really did believe that a Star Wars shield, if possessed by both countries, could prevent a nuclear war -- which is why he kept actually offering to help the Soviets develop their own SDI system: hardly the act of a man trying to use it to force the Soviets in to surrender. As he told Gorbachev at Reykjavik, "If I didn't think this system couldn't be shared, I would never have proposed it."

He was totally wrong about that technically, which is why Gorby kept turning his offer down -- if both nations had a similar SDI system, each nation would have known how to develop countermeasures to pierce the other side's shield, making both systems useless -- but at least he wasn't crazy enough to try to do what his idiotic admirers are now praising him for supposedly doing. BUT THEY ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT -- AND THEY'RE NOW GOING TO TRY THE SAME THING WITH NORTH KOREA!

NK can only have acquired its Bomb for three possible reasons:

(1) They want to use it purely for defense against an outside attack by the US-- in which case it's no threat to us, unless they lose control of it (which is by far most likely to happen if their regime collapses suddenly).

(2) They're nuts -- in which case the strategy of the Cheneyites is precisely what would provoke them into a lunatic attack.

(3) My own theory: they want to use it as a tool to extort economic aid from the rest of the world so that their regime can stay in power and its their officials can thus avoid being massacred by a vengeful North Korean public. (One Japanese political scientist says that North Korean officials, in private conversations with him, constantly talk about the fate of the Ceaucescus.) But what we're doing will force them to do exactly that, much quicker than they would have otherwise.

The only sane way to deal with NK's regime now -- as I should think would be obvious -- is to refuse to give them one penny to actually stay in power, but to publicly offer to provide them with absolutely any assistance they need so that they can give up power peacefully and escape being slaughtered by their own citizens. But to do this, we will need a very large supply of troops instantly available to occupy and peacekeep the entire country of North Korea -- and this, of course, will require a large increase in our total supply of trained soldiers in any case, and will be utterly impossible while our Army is tied down in Iraq. But this is exactly the moment our ruling cretins have chosen to try to threaten them!

I am coming to realize that the trouble with Cheney is the same as with Bush -- he's a complete idiot. He did flunk out of Yale, which is more than Bush, Kerry, Gore or Quayle ever did -- and he did it twice. He's just better at concealing the fact than Bush, because he doesn't suffer grammatical fumbles -- and because he says everything in a loud, calm voice that convinces people who don't know any better that he actually knows what he's doing, which he doesn't. (Back around 1971, the centrist hawk Stewart Alsop said the same thing in Newsweek about John Mitchell: he had acquired an entirely false reputation in Washington for being a Wise Man simply because he smoked a pipe and said everything in a firm, calm voice. Remove the pipe, and you have Cheney.) Like Hitler, he's a complete moron with one tragic talent: he's a good public speaker.

Now the US may be about to be destroyed in consequence -- because with half a dozen Bombs, and the ability to smuggle one into one city, detonate it, and threaten to do the same to other unnamed American cities at any time (thus setting off a permanent nationwide panic), North Korean agents could do exactly that (just as Moslem terrorists with the Bomb could).

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at October 9, 2006 10:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Once we've sorted out which party to blame for this, perhaps it would be a good idea to prepare for the eventuality of a nuclear attack on one or more of our cities. The speed and efficiency with which we react to a nuclear attack will make a huge difference in the number of lives lost. We must have plans in place to train our medical and emergency personnel, and mobilize them on a large scale in the event of an attack. We now know how to save the lives of victims of large doses of radiation who almost certainly would have died in the not too distant past. We must insure that our medical personnel are trained to respond accordingly. It is most likely that a nuclear attack on the US would be carried out by terrorists. As the number of states with stockpiles of the material necessary to make nuclear weapons increases, the likelihood of such an attack continues to increase. It seems to me all but inevitable that an attack will come. I hope I'm wrong. It certainly seems reasonable to be as well prepared for an attack as possible in any case.

Posted by: Helian at October 9, 2006 10:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is from the Stratfor analysis:

Thanks for that warning. It let me know that the following text wasn't worth paying attention to, and thus saved me some time.

Posted by: sglover at October 10, 2006 12:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What does it mean if the bomb tested was a dud? As I understand it, there are two possible bombs: highly enriched uranium (HEU-Hiroshima type, concentrated with centrifruges) and plutonium (Pu-Trinity test and Nagasaki type, Pu created in a nuclear reactor). The HEU bomb is the simpler type, two parts HEU put together with a cannon blast. The Pu bomb is more complex, requiring a spherical implosion to create a symmetrical shockwave to compress the plutonium and also requiring a tritium initiator to flux the initial chain reaction. The Pu bomb is also much smaller and/or more powerful, but once Pu production is started, much more can be made than HEU.

If the bomb was a dud, that might indicate that it was a Pu device.

My understanding of the Agreed Framework negotiated by Clinton is that we stopped North Korean production of Pu from reactors by promising to build two reactors of a type from which Pu could not be extracted. When the North Koreans broke the Agreed Framework it was to make HEU. And when the Bush administration weighed in, the North Koreans tossed out the inspectors, broke the seals, and restarted their Pu program.

Is any of this important? Will it be addressed by our government & press.

Posted by: milo at October 10, 2006 12:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've drawn three things from this comments thread:

1. George Bush held a gun to Mr. Ronery's head and forced, mind you, forced Kim Jong Il to build an atomic bomb instead of, say, feeding his people and opening up his society to the broader world. It's all Bushhitler's fault.

Or is that "BushCo"'s?

2. Thank God and Ronald Wilson Reagan that the Democrats weren't able to kill off missile defense completely.

3. Somewhere down along the line, Ahmadhi Dinner-Jacket or Mr. Ronery will use an atomic bomb against us or one of our allies. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people will die in an instant. On that day, Americans will thank God (and Ronald Reagan) that we still have a sizeable thermonuclear arsenal. Liberals won't be happy when they see what real nuclear weapons can do.

Somewhere in the world, perhaps in America itself, a city will become an atomic desert where the living envy the dead. But lukasiak will still blame BushCo.

Posted by: section9 at October 10, 2006 01:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


That's right, because the past six years did not happen. They don't exist. Bush has indeed taken care of the threat from North Korea....in Bizarro World!

Posted by: Dan at October 10, 2006 01:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"My understanding of the Agreed Framework negotiated by Clinton is that we stopped North Korean production of Pu from reactors by promising to build two reactors of a type from which Pu could not be extracted."

If it was a dud, they probably tried to make a plutonium weapon. Plutonium emits neutrons due to occasional spontaneous fissions, and these neutrons can cause the device to "fizzle" unless optimum criticality is reached very quickly. Implosions work much more quickly than a gun. The implosion must be very symmetrical, and neutrons must be injected at just the right time. If either condition is not met, you get a fizzle. The bad news is that, even though the N. Koreans apparently botched it, they still got a "fizzle" of 0.5 to 0.8 kT. If such a device went off in the middle of a large city, the result would not be trivial.

Plutonium can be extracted from any reactor, and plutonium is produced in all reactors that burn uranium. Reactors are neutron-rich environments, and when the neutrons are absorbed by U238, plutonium is produced. If the reactor is run for a longer than optimum period of time, as is the case with power reactors, heavier isotopes of plutonium are produced. A larger quantity of this "reactor grade" plutonium is necessary to make a bomb, but it will still work.

Posted by: Helian at October 10, 2006 01:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Section9: It's a bit difficult for me (or George Will) to see how an antimissile system will be able to stop either a land-smuggled nuke (perhaps "hidden in a bail of marijuana", as Will sardonically suggests), or one in a cruise missile fired from a ship a few hundred miles offshore.

One can indeed say that Clinton is to blame for a large part of this crisis, for not grasping the nettle and bombing NK's nuclear facilities (even at the risk of having them retaliate against South Korea with their artillery). But at least he made them stop their further production of nuclear material for the time being, leaving us with the option of a military attack later -- whereas Bush managed to get the worst of both worlds by removing the carrot that Clinton offered NK in return for keeping their production shut down, WITHOUT substituting the military stick. The assumption seems to have been that our flattening Saddam would, in itself, terrify both NK and Iran into giving up their nuclear programs. Not quite. This administration has a consistent habit of speaking loudly and carrying a twig, with the consequences that we now see all around us.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at October 10, 2006 06:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Helian, I completely agree. We need to prepare to recover after one or two US cities are bombed.

I'm not clear what that would involve. Don't the anti-radiation treatments need to start immediately? That would seem to imply either evacuating a whole lot of people quickly to some safe location where they can be treated, or having the necessary treatments already in their shelters.

All of which brings me to one word: Katrina.

Posted by: J Thomas at October 10, 2006 09:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I'm not clear what that would involve. Don't the anti-radiation treatments need to start immediately? That would seem to imply either evacuating a whole lot of people quickly to some safe location where they can be treated, or having the necessary treatments already in their shelters."

Yes, Katrina certainly comes to mind. In fact, it is not so urgent to begin treatment of radiation sickness early, but many victims would likely be suffering from other traumatic injuries, such as severe burns, and it would be necessary to begin treating them as soon as possible. Except for doses so severe that the blast would have been fatal anyway, the onset of severe symptoms from radiation sickness is not immediate, and early treatment is not as critical. Basically, radiation does not kill cells outright, it interferes with their ability to reproduce. This effects the cells that must reproduce quickly most severely, such as red blood cells and the lining of the gut. Victims die from anemia or infection. The cells die at about the normal rate, but are not replaced as usual. Symptoms begin gradually, and the victim dies in on the order of a month. It is, of course, necessary to remove victims from areas of high radiation from fallout as soon as possible.

The key to treating radiation sickness is to prevent death from secondary effects such as infection until the body has time to recover on its own. This means that treatment must not necessarily be immediate, but must be intensive, and last for many weeks.

Posted by: Helian at October 10, 2006 10:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK, so the traditional idea was that people would stay in their shelters for 2 weeks until the bulk of the radioactivity dies down, and then they can come out. You could start treating them then. Intensive treatment starting at 2 weeks and lasting, say, a month or more, for pretty much everybody in a city.

Or they might possibly do betterto leave quickly and get decontaminated. A higher but shorter dose. We can expect eveybody along the fallout plume to want to get away or hide in shelters, not trusting the government that the dose is insignificant.

Assuming the shelters won't be built or stocked, that means a big evacuation that needs to be very quick.

I would have thought it would be useful to take high doses of free radical scavengers. Reduce the effect of ionising radiation. That should be immediate. However much prevention is practical, that much is better than cure.

Posted by: J Thomas at October 10, 2006 01:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess I'm dense, because I don't understand all this "What can we do about North Korea?" talk. As far as I can see, we can do exactly squat. We can sanction all we want, but that's not gonna affect the nutjob in charge of everything over there. The North Koreans have a variety of money-making schemes that will ensure the well-being of their ruling elite, they clearly don't give a shit about anyone else, so our sanctions will hurt only those who aren't powerful enough to be able to get around them. Fortunately, I don't think we need to do anything about Korea. We've already got a check on NK power. It's called China. Have the Chinese been helping NK? Probably, but for their own reasons. Don't you think Dear Idiot Leader knows that China could turn NK into a smoking hole in the ground right now? China's not gonna let NK be much of threat. I'm sure they're somewhat happy to see us all atwitter over a possible nuclear NK, keeps us busy worrying about remote threats while they make all our stuff and then sell it back to us.

Will NK sell nuclear bombs to some terrorist organization? Hell, I don't know. They probably would. What exactly we're supposed to do about that, beats me.
But all this panicky, Oh my god, North Korea's gone nuclear, let's make decontamination plans, etc. seems premature. We're a powerful nation of 300 million people. Maybe we should start acting like it, instead of jumping at every sound and talking about military action against every nation that could possibly threaten us. Lots of nations could threaten us. That's the way it's always been. The "Third World" wasn't gonna stay third forever. With India and China leading, I think the 21st century is gonna be the Asian century, and we may as well get used to it and find a way to work with these people (who mostly seem all too happy to work with us, rather than look for ways to attack us), because they're not going away. And rather than pouring more money into worthless missile defense, maybe we should invest more time and money into educating people who can communicate with the Asian world instead of freaking out every time one of the scary non-white people say or do anything threatening. How easy it must seem for them to frighten us. All they have to do is say "nuclear" and we're in full panic mode. I would suggest not panicking.

Posted by: LL at October 10, 2006 04:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

LL, we should at least figure out how to do decontamination and such. If it costs too much then we can choose not to do it, and then if we need it we can be explicit about who chose not to.

That isn't about north korea. Just, we need to figure out how to recover from a small nuclear strike or accident. Since it's going to happen someday.

Posted by: J Thomas at October 10, 2006 05:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas: In theory, you're right. But our govt's preparation for/reaction to a less-than-nuclear disaster didn't inspire much confidence. I'm sure we/they already have a plan, what I'm not sure about is what good it does if it is implemented incompetently, which seems to be the only way our govt implements anything anymore. I'm pretty sure I know what our fearless leaders will be doing as an immediate result of a nuclear blast anywhere in the US: loading up the jets with all the bigwigs and flying to whatever hidey holes they've got prepared. The rest of us are on our own. Of that I have no doubt whatsoever. And I think I know what decontamination will mean: a mass exodus from wherever a bomb goes off, followed by looting, hoarding, traffic jams, etc. Permanent dislocation of whatever population remains from the blast area. And probably fewer rights for everyone else. Martial law, curfews, etc.

Posted by: LL at October 10, 2006 07:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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