Explainer-When will North Korea check a nuclear weapon? By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea, on this image taken close to the truce village of Panmunjom contained in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the 2 Koreas, South Korea, July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Ok

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s current flurry of missile launches has raised expectations that it might quickly check a nuclear system for the primary time since 2017.

North Korea has completed all technical preparations for a brand new check within the underground tunnels on the Punggye-ri Nuclear Check web site, which has been shuttered since 2018, leaving the query of timing within the arms of chief Kim Jong Un, South Korean officers have mentioned.

Here’s what international officers and analysts have mentioned about when and why North Korea would possibly resume testing, what sort of system it might detonate, and what the worldwide response could also be.


Solely North Korea is aware of. And observers say even throughout the nation there’s a good probability that solely Kim or these round him have any concept of tangible timing.

North Korea is a very tough goal for U.S. and different international spies, who’ve been caught off guard earlier than by a number of the nation’s advances, together with its check of a suspected hydrogen bomb and launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) able to hanging so far as the US, each in 2017.

“We often have a fairly good concept of their capabilities that we are able to detect from satellites or different technical intelligence, however a lot comes all the way down to what’s in Kim Jong Un’s thoughts. And that we do not actually know,” mentioned one Western army official in Seoul, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the problem.

Satellite tv for pc imagery has proven North Korea working to revive a number of the tunnels this yr that had been closed in 2018, when Pyongyang declared a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons checks. Kim, nevertheless, has mentioned he now not feels sure by that moratorium, with denuclearisation talks stalled since 2019.

A attainable window for a check may very well be between the Chinese language Communist Celebration congress, which begins on Oct. 16, and the midterm elections in the US on Nov. 7, South Korean lawmakers briefed by its spy company mentioned final month.

Different issues which will information Kim’s considering are the COVID-19 scenario within the nation, the conflict in Ukraine, native holidays, and signalling from companions in China and Russia, analysts mentioned.


If North Korea resumes nuclear testing, it might embody improvement of smaller warheads meant for battlefield use – not attacking cities – and designed to suit on short-range missiles such because the one examined final weekend, analysts mentioned.

The latest flurry of missile checks concerned models meant to function tactical nuclear weapons, together with a pair of “strategic” cruise missiles launched on Wednesday, in line with North Korean state media.

Smaller units might additionally enable North Korea to suit a number of warheads on one ICBM, permitting a single missile to strike a number of targets and complicate missile defence.

North Korea has additionally mentioned it desires to deploy a lot bigger nuclear weapons, so analysts say that may very well be within the works.

“They’ve solely performed a fairly restricted variety of nuclear checks,” mentioned Vann Van Diepen, a former Korea skilled with the U.S. authorities who now works with the 38 North mission. “And any weapons developer… would wish to have much more checks beneath their belt to have the best attainable confidence that these weapons are going to work.”

Kim can also be looking for to legitimatize his weapons programme, and will use a check to extend stress on Washington whereas its arms are full with the conflict in Ukraine and different crises, the Western army official mentioned.


The USA and its allies in Asia have vowed {that a} resumption of nuclear testing “can be met with a robust and resolute whole-of-government response”, however haven’t elaborated. Missile checks have been met with unilateral sanctions and shows of army drive, together with joint drills and the deployment of a U.S. plane service.

Earlier North Korea nuclear checks additionally incurred United Nations Safety Council resolutions that imposed sanctions, backed on the time by China and Russia.

These two international locations have blocked newer makes an attempt to impose new safety council resolutions, nevertheless.

Analysts say neither Beijing nor Moscow is prone to welcome a brand new check, however that they’re unlikely to again any main new punishments.

“They in all probability would not be eager on it. However I feel that is much less of a difficulty for them now than it was 5 or 10 years in the past due to the character of their relationship with the U.S.,” Van Diepen mentioned.

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