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

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: North Korea’s chief Kim Jong Un oversees a missile launch at an undisclosed location in North Korea, on this undated picture launched on October 10, 2022 by North Korea’s Korean Central Information Company (KCNA). KCNA through REUTERS/File Photograph

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s current flurry of missile launches has raised expectations that it might quickly check a nuclear gadget 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 website, which has been shuttered since 2018, leaving the query of timing within the arms of chief Kim Jong Un, South Korean officers have stated.

Here’s what overseas officers and analysts have stated about when and why North Korea may resume testing, what sort of gadget it might detonate, and what the worldwide response could also be.


Solely North Korea is aware of. And observers say even inside the nation there’s a good likelihood that solely Kim or these round him have any thought of actual timing.

North Korea is a very troublesome goal for U.S. and different overseas 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 placing so far as america, each in 2017.

“We normally have a fairly good thought 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,” stated one Western army official in Seoul, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the difficulty.

Satellite tv for pc imagery has proven North Korea working to revive a number of the tunnels this 12 months that had been closed in 2018, when Pyongyang declared a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons checks. Kim, nonetheless, has stated he not feels certain by that moratorium, with denuclearisation talks stalled since 2019.

A attainable window for a check could possibly be between the Chinese language Communist Social gathering congress, which begins on Oct. 16, and the midterm elections in america on Nov. 7, South Korean lawmakers briefed by its spy company stated final month.

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


If North Korea resumes nuclear testing, it might embrace growth 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 stated.

The newest flurry of missile checks concerned items meant to function tactical nuclear weapons, in response to North Korean state media.

Smaller units might additionally permit 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 stated it desires to deploy a lot bigger nuclear weapons, so analysts say that could possibly be within the works.

“They’ve solely carried out a fairly restricted variety of nuclear checks,” stated Vann Van Diepen, a former Korea professional with the U.S. authorities who now works with the 38 North venture. “And any weapons developer… would wish to have much more checks beneath their belt to have the very 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 battle in Ukraine and different crises, the Western army official stated.


The USA and its allies in Asia have vowed {that a} resumption of nuclear testing “could 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 pressure, together with joint drills and the deployment of a U.S. plane provider.

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, nonetheless.

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 most likely would not be eager on it. However I believe that is much less of a problem for them now than it was 5 or 10 years in the past give due to the character of their relationship with the U.S.,” Van Diepen stated.

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