Washington, Oct. 9: Communist North Korea became the world’s eighth declared nuclear weapons state when it conducted its first nuclear test early morning on Monday (Indian time).
The test caused surprise in Washington although Pyongyang had announced on October 3 that it would explode a nuclear weapon to counter “the US extreme threat of a nuclear war”.
North Korea’s second-ranking leader, Kim Yong-nam, the president of its Supreme People’s Assembly, had announced in his speech to the non-aligned summit in Havana last month that his country possessed nuclear weapons as “a self-defensive deterrent”, but few people appear to have taken Kim at his word.
Washington’s unwillingness to face the truth arose from its inability to do anything against North Korea after the Bush administration made pre-emption the centrepiece of its foreign policy and declared that Pyongyang was part of an “axis of evil”.
There is consternation here that even after North Korea last week declared its intention to test a nuclear bomb, the Americans were unable not only to predict the timing of the test but also to pinpoint the test site.
It was reminiscent of their similar inability to find out in advance about India’s Pokhran tests in May 1998: that failure led to a major introspection of US intelligence capabilities at that time.
At the time of writing, the UN Security Council was preparing to meet to discuss the crisis sparked by Kim Jong-il’s action, which came on the ninth anniversary of his appointment as head of the Korean Workers’ Party.
The Council met in a private session this morning and unanimously recommended South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-Moon to the General Assembly as the only candidate for election as the next UN secretary-general.
Shortly before the Council meeting, US President George W. Bush put the responsibility of restraining Pyongyang squarely on the Security Council, when he said the test “deserves an immediate response” from the 15-nation body.
Bush appeared to be hoping that the problem would go away when he said, almost 10 hours after other nations had validated the explosion, that the US was still attempting to confirm that a nuclear test had actually taken place.
The North Korean test drew global condemnation from Tokyo to Moscow to London, but follow-up responses are likely to differ from capital to capital.
Russia was the first country to confirm seismic analysis from the Korean peninsula as a nuclear test.
“We know the exact site of the test,” Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov said. He added that there had so far been no radiation fallout and that the ecological situation was normal.
The Russian news agency, Interfax, said the North Korean foreign ministry had told the Russian ambassador in Pyongyang in advance about the test, giving him some two hours’ notice.
On Friday, the Security Council adopted a non-binding statement expressing “deep concern” about North Korea’s threat to conduct its first test.
The statement reflected divisions among the major powers on how to deal with the problem. While the US and Japan want sanctions, Russia and China have been urging the Council to pursue only diplomatic means.
Pakistan, which played a major secret role in the development of North Korea’s bomb programme, had advised Pyongyang against openly going nuclear.
In Islamabad, a spokeswoman of the Pakistan foreign ministry said: “We had urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to desist from introducing nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula.”
She said: “It is regrettable that DPRK chose to ignore the advice by the international community not to conduct the test.”
The father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, A.Q. Khan, admitted in 2004 that he had passed on nuclear technology to North Korea. It is believed that this was a quid pro quo for missile technology, which Pyongyang gave to Islamabad.
In its reaction, India chose to dwell on the Pakistan-North Korea nexus, when New Delhi said today’s development “highlights the dangers of clandestine proliferation”.
The Indian statement also implicitly emphasised the difference between the 1998 Pokhran tests and the North Korean one by pointing out that Pyongyang is “in violation of its international commitments”.
North Korea, unlike India, is a signatory to the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.