North Korea Conducts Third Nuclear Test in Defiance of UN

North Korea conducted its third underground nuclear test today, underscoring a disregard for an international community that has already isolated the totalitarian state from the global economy.

The underground test “of a smaller and light A-bomb” was successful, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement. South Korea measured an artificial 4.9 magnitude earthquake at the North’s Punggye-ri testing site at 11:57 a.m. local time, and its Defense Ministry estimated the yield at 6 to 7 kilotons, bigger than the previous two tests. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of about 15 kilotons.

A detonation three weeks after the United Nations tightened its sanctions indicates Kim Jong Un backs the military-first policy of his late father as he solidifies hold of the country he took charge of 14 months ago. The incident comes amid political transitions in Asia and the U.S., posing an early challenge to policy makers from President-elect Park Geun Hye in South Korea to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“It just shows the failure of diplomacy and the continuation of the old broken-record story, the game of cat- and-mouse where North Korea is trying to intimidate its neighbors and the neighbors are trying to push for more deterrents and an escalation of tensions is inevitable,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korean analyst and associate researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Yield Differential

North Korea previously conducted two tests at its site in North Hamgyong Province, both with plutonium devices. The first in October 2006 yielded less than one kiloton and the second in May 2009 between five to six kilotons, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said in a televised briefing. He said it will be difficult to predict what fissile material — plutonium or highly-enriched uranium — the North used.

“The point is whether the North has successfully miniaturized and lightened the warhead,” said Jeung Young Tae, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “The threat is in whether North Korea can deliver a nuclear warhead, regardless of how powerful it is.”

North Korea has enough plutonium to produce between six and 18 nuclear weapons, according to the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the test a threat to regional stability that warranted “swift and credible action” from the international community.

U.S. Threat

“North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security,” Obama said in a statement from Washington, adding that his administration will “continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies.”

South Korea’s currency and benchmark Kospi index of shares initially dipped after the news of an artificial earthquake being detected in the north. The won gained 0.5 percent to 1090.69 per dollar and the Kospi closed 0.3 percent lower at 1,945.79 in Seoul. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index retained its gains, with markets including Hong Kong and Singapore off for lunar new year celebrations.

The South’s military will accelerate expanding its capabilities by deploying at an early stage its extended-range missiles, chief national security adviser Chun Yung Woo said in a live television briefing. It also remains on alert for the possibility of additional provocations, Chun said.

UN Meeting

Park, who takes office Feb. 25, strongly condemned the launch, vowing that her new government will not allow a nuclear- armed North Korea, her spokeswoman Cho Yoon Sun said.

The UN Security Council in New York will convene an emergency session today at 9 a.m., to discuss a response against today’s atomic experiment, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young told reporters in Seoul.

Kim Jong Un last month vowed “high-profile” retaliation against the U.S. and its allied for tightening UN sanctions after his country successfully launched a long-range rocket. His government threatened to bolster its nuclear capability in protest against the U.S.-led effort that was supported by China, Pyongyang’s most powerful ally.

North Korea notified the U.S. and China yesterday that it would conduct a nuclear test, the Defense Ministry spokesman said. Japan was informed by the U.S., Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

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