North Korea successfully tested a hydrogen bomb on Sunday, according to officials in the country. If confirmed, it would be the most powerful nuclear explosion ever achieved by the isolated country. And South Korean media now report that the US and South Korea have agreed to jointly pursue some kind of military response. What that will look like, and whether it will involve any strikes on North Korean targets, is still unclear.
Things are moving quickly on the Korean peninsula, and there’s a lot we don’t know, including the details about what this reported US-South Korea “military response” will involve. But below we have a round-up of what we do know—everything that happened on the other side of the world while America slept.
North Korea tests H-Bomb
The explosion of North Korea’s hydrogen bomb was first picked up as an earthquake at exactly noon, local time. Measuring 6.3 on the richter scale by the US Geological Survey, such an explosion is at least 5 times stronger than any previous detonation performed by the country and roughly 8 times stronger than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima during World War II.
TV broadcasts in the country declared the nuclear test a “perfect success” of a “hydrogen bomb for intercontinental ballistic rocket.” Other state media claimed that dictator Kim Jong-un had personally overseen the test and described the bomb as “a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP attack according to strategic goals.”
North Korea has tested five nuclear devices before today’s, with the last nuclear test by the Kim regime in September of 2016. But this new test was the first of the Trump presidency, which has warned of “fire and fury” publicly, while privately acknowledging that there are no good military options on the Korean peninsula.
Before departing the White House, top Trump advisor Steve Bannon gave an interview where he said that “until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons” there was no real military option available to the US.
North Korea claims that the hydrogen bomb it tested is small enough to be fitted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The country tested its first ICBM on July 4, 2017, though there isn’t any confirmation that it has the ability to deliver a nuclear-tipped ICBM to the US mainland. Yet, anyway.
North Korea still hasn’t proved itself to be able to figure out reentry of an ICBM, meaning that any launch from considerable distance would cause the missile to burn up in the atmosphere. Experts consider it only a matter of time before North Korea cracks that problem, however, and a more powerful bomb means that it doesn’t need to be as precise if it wants to destroy an entire city.
US and South Korean defense chiefs consider military options
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported early this morning that the US and South Korea have agreed “to take military measures against North Korea for its latest nuclear test.” The form of military action isn’t stated, nor is it clear whether these military measures would include anything beyond a strategic show of force, similar to what the two countries have displayed in the past with simulated bombing raids and missile launches.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, talked with his South Korean counterpart General Jeong Kyeong-doo over the phone early this morning about “effective military responses” to North Korea’s latest nuclear test. Yonhap stated that the two countries would “take combined military measures against North Korea as early as possible,” but, again, didn’t elaborate on what that would look like.
“North Korea has conducted a more powerful nuclear test today than in the past while ignoring repeated warnings from us and the international community,” South Korea’s National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong said in a statement.
“The President ordered to draw up the strongest punitive measures in tandem with the international community against a series of provocations by North Korea including ICBM-class missile launch and nuclear test,” the statement continued.
Trump regime national security adviser H. R. McMaster also spoke over the phone with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong for roughly 20 minutes just an hour after North Korea’s nuclear test, according to the Associated Press. The substance of that call has not been released.
President Trump and Shinzo Abe talk over the phone
President Donald Trump reportedly spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for about 20 minutes regarding the test early this morning. Previously, Trump had spoken with Abe just yesterday about the threats posed by North Korea.
North Korea’s last military test was a missile that was shot over the northern part of Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean. Japanese citizens spent almost 15 minutes wondering if the missile was targeting the country or whether it would pass over. A smartphone alert system combined with speaker announcements warn Japanese residents when a possible missile strike from North Korea is on its way.
Japan said today that the country’s leader wishes to “calmly analyze a range of information he is receiving, discuss necessary action with other countries, and take all possible measures to protect people’s lives and assets.” The White House has not yet issued a statement about the call between PM Abe and President Trump.
South Koreans go about their lives, if a bit more fearful
Life continued on like normal in South Korea, as people there are pretty accustomed to the bluster of North Korea. But they’re less used to the inflammatory rhetoric that now comes from the US. And if war does come, some South Koreans are looking to countries with less fascist leaders than Trump to escape the inevitable carnage.
One South Korean elementary school teacher told the Korea Times that if war does break out she’ll “leave Korea and head for Canada or something.”
“To be honest I don’t put too much thought into this because it’s always been this way. War does not come easily,” the school teacher said. “And we shouldn’t be worried. Fear is what leads to war.”
Other South Koreans said that it’s much of the same old bluster, but seemed to express concern that President Trump seemed unhinged and unpredictable.
“This is nothing new. Just another provocation by the North as I see it and it’s been worse before but still did not lead to war. I don’t think any South Korean male who has been in the military is scared,” the 29-year-old Yoon Tae-jun told the Korea Times. “But then again I’m not sure this time because of Trump.”
China strongly condemns North Korean nuclear test
China has made it clear that it’s not happy about North Korea’s recent missile tests. And now the country has strongly condemned North Korea’s latest nuclear test.
China’s foreign ministry denounced North Korea’s latest test, expressing “resolute opposition and strong condemnation” of the test and saying that North Korea has “ignored the international community’s widespread opposition.”
“We strongly urge the DPRK [North Korea] to face the strong will of denuclearization from the international community, earnestly abide by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, stop taking mistaken actions which worsen the situation and are also not in line with its own interests, and effectively return to the track of solving the problem through dialogue,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement early this morning.
Aside from the possible destruction of Seoul in any military engagement with North Korea, one of the largest concerns for America and its allies is the prospect of China becoming involved. China has previously said that if the US strikes first, it will be forced to defend North Korea. But if North Korea strikes first, China has said that the isolated regime is on its own. Any involvement by China would surely mean World War III.
Today’s test was seen as taking the air out of this year’s BRICS Summit where China is flexing its economic muscles. Top officials from the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa are in the city of Xiamen, China for the summit right now to discuss multilateral trade between emerging economies. The discussion will no doubt be sidetracked by tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Trump expected to pull out of US-South Korean free trade deal
And to top it all off, the White House is expected to make an announcement by Tuesday that the US will be withdrawing from an existing free trade deal with South Korea.
According to the Washington Post, top White House officials like national security advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis oppose pulling out of the trade deal. But Trump is said to be insistent, as some kind of “America first” policy.
Trump, one of the worst deal-makers in history, deludedly believes himself to be a great businessman who can secure better deals for the US through his posturing. Such idiocy has never worked favorably for him in the past, instead alienating allies and making him a laughingstock, as it did with the Paris Climate Accord.
It’s unclear if this latest bomb test by North Korea will impact the timing of the White House announcement at all, but the dismantling of the deal is said to be far along.
Update, 7:42am ET: President Trump just sent out two tweets about North Korea’s latest nuclear test, describing the country’s actions as “hostile and dangerous to the United States” and describing it as a “rogue nation.”
Update, 7:48am ET: President Trump continued by saying that North Korea “only understand[s] one thing” though he didn’t specify what that one thing might be.
One assumes the president is talking about military force, but again we’re back to the Bannon question of how you assert that force without getting 10 million people in Seoul killed.
Update, 11:57am ET: As President Trump was leaving church today for the National Day of Prayer, a reporter asked, “Mr. President, will you attack North Korea?” Trump’s response: “We’ll see.”
Update, 12:08pm ET: President Trump just announced on Twitter that he’s meeting with his Chief of Staff John Kelly, General Jim Mattis and other military leaders today to discuss North Korea. He ended it with a strange send-off that included “thank you.”