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North Korea Triggers Third Nuclear Test

International Community Condemns Blast

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Updated February 13, 2013

World organizations quickly condemned a North Korean nuclear test on February 12, 2013. The test is North Korea's third since 2006. It was in direct violation of several United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Word of the blast, which reportedly delivered a bigger blast with a smaller device than previous tests, spurred the Security Council to go into an emergency session. Following that session, United States ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice had strong words for North Korea.

She said the Security Council "agreed that this test was an extremely regrettable act that further undermines international peace and security, as well as that of the region." Rice said the blast violates U.N. resolutions 1718, 1874, and 2087, and it goes against non-nuclear commitments North Korea made as part of the Six-Party Talks of 2005.

Those talks have proceeded haltingly since then. The other five members of the Six-Party Talks -- the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea -- all criticized the test. China, North Korea's chief ally, reacted harshly. In the United States, both Rice and U.S. President Barack Obama called the test "provocative."

Deciphering The Blast

North Korea's first two atomic tests used plutonium weapons. U.S. analysts were unsure if the February 12 blast was plutonium as well, or if it used a uranium device. Seismic recordings suggested the blast was up to 10 kilotons.

The United Nations strengthened sanctions against North Korea in January 2013. That was in response to a December 2012 missile launch that reportedly put a satellite in orbit. As has been the case since the late 1950s, a country's ability to successfully launch a ballistic missile and place an object in orbit increases its ability to deliver destructive missile payload on an enemy target.

Also, the idea that North Korea's nuclear devices may be getting smaller suggests its engineers are working toward an effective missile payload.

North Korea -- also known as the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) -- began rattling sabers after the U.N. sanction announcement. It vowed more missile and nuclear tests, and it made threats against the United States and South Korea.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "I strongly condemn Pyongyang's reckless act, which shows outright disregard for the repeated call of the international community to refrain from further provocative measures. The test is a clear and grave violation of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council."

U.S. Responses

Just hours ahead of his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama said North Korea will not achieve its desired results. "North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region," he said.

Obama continued, "These provocations do not make North Korea more secure. Far from achieving its stated goal of becoming a strong and prosperous nation, North Korea has instead increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery."

At the United Nations, Rice said the Security Council would direct more action at North Korea. After the DPRK's last missile launch, she said the Council promised to take "significant action" if North Korea committed any more international violations. "Indeed, we will do so," she said.

Rice added, the "UN Security Council must and will deliver a swift, credible, and strong response by way of a Security Council resolution that further impedes the growth of DPRK's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and its ability to engage in proliferation activities."

The North Korean atomic test presented Secretary of State John Kerry with the first crisis of his tenure. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the State Department had received word from North Korea through channels that a test could be eminent. About 11 p.m. February 11, Kerry learned that the DPRK had apparently gone through with the test.

Kerry immediately contacted the foreign ministers of South Korea (the Republic of Korea, or ROK), Japan, and China, and he attempted contact with the Russian foreign minister.

Nuland said, "(the) Secretary obviously stressed the need for a strong and swift response from the international community in order to send a clear message to North Korea that violations of its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions have consequences."

She added that, "the Secretary reaffirmed our defense commitments to the R.O.K. and Japan, which, as you know, include the security provided by our extended deterrence commitments, including our nuclear umbrella and our conventional forces.

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