Daily Update – September 12&13

In lieu of a normal Daily Update yesterday, I wanted to focus on two major developing stories occurring in Korea over the weekend.  I apologize for posting this update being posted a day late, but I wanted to ensure the research was thorough.  The typical format will resume with the next daily update.

Earthquake Rocks South Korea

Yet another earthquake occurred on the Korean peninsula, but this one was not of artificial origin or tied to a nuclear weapons test.  On Monday, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook through Gyeongju, South Korea and was felt throughout the entire nation.  This was the second strong earthquake, as minutes before a 5.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the city.  Each quake was felt nationwide and as far away as Japan (Korea Times).

Korea has a very interesting history with earthquakes, spanning its entire history.  Gyeongju has a colorful history with these earth-shaking events.  In fact, about 5% of recorded earthquakes since the Three Kingdoms era – 120 out of 2600 – occurred in the city (Yonhap).  In 779, a strong earthquake destroyed several homes and killed around 100 people.  In the 11th century, Gyeongju was rocked by a variety of earthquakes.  Many equate the high amount of seismic activity in the city to its placement along the Ulsan fault (Yonhap), a fault which may be returning to seismic activity.  (For a more thorough, scientific study of the faults in southern South Korea, see this article published in Quaternary International on 5 July 2014.)

The major quakes did not cause too much damage to the city.  On Monday at 1am, reports indicated only 6 injuries and minor cosmetic damage, such as cracks, in buildings.  The quake also had little effect on the industry in the city; the article stated that factories in and surrounding the Ulsan and Pohang areas were not affected by the quakes and that the nuclear power plants in Gyeongju were still operating (Korea Times).  However, reports surfaced on Tuesday saying the four nuclear reactors were shut down as a precaution late Monday evening (Reuters).  Authorities then inspected the reactors on Tuesday (Yonhap).  The Cultural Heritage Administration also went to inspect cultural heritage sites, such as the Sekoram Grotto, Bluguksa Temple, and the Cheomseongdae Observatory, throughout Gyeongju (Korea Times).  Reports have yet to be made public, through the extent of the damage appears to be minimal at the time of this post; a Reuters article released Tuesday reports 14 injuries and no major damage, citing a Ministry of Public Health and Safety Official.  The Korea Times reported 8 injured and 253 reports of property damage from the quake.

Though the aftershocks of these two quakes seem to be over, the Korea Meteorological Administration is wary that quakes registering between 5.8 and 6 could shake the nation (Korea Times).   It is clear the city escaped major damage, but Korea may be in for more major earthquakes in the future.

Nuclear Test Response

The first few days following a North Korean nuclear test are always interesting, as everyone works to show strength and resilience while working to ensure the brittle veil of deterrence does not shatter on the peninsula, and this test was no different.

South Korean president Park Geun-hae has been sticking to a script of verbal of the Kim regime following the nuclear test.  She has called Kim Jung-un uncontrollable and reckless following the test (Yonhap).  Park is also expecting to reach out to leaders in opposition to THAAD deployment and make the case for them to shift their stance on the issue (The Guardian).  On Wednesday, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense and the United States Department of Defense called for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner” (Yonhap), reviving the old adage President George Bush pushed during the Six Party Talks.  (For a good study of Bush policy toward North Korea see Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb.)  The tables now rest in the hands of the international community – in particular the United Nations – as every nation works to ensure tough repercussions are enacted following this test.

The United States took it a step further.  Rather than just playing the diplomacy game, American B-1B bombers flew over Korea in a show of strength (NBC News).  The B-1B is a nuclear capable supersonic bomber.  This is not the first time the United States has flown bombers over Korea in a show of strength.  “Such flyovers are common when high animosity rises on the Korean peninsula” (NBC News).

On Monday, an unnamed South Korean official said North Korea had finished preparations for another nuclear test (BBC News).  A more ominous article run on the Yonhap website cities 38North chief editor Joel Wit saying Punggye-ri, North Korea’s nuclear test site, is ready for three more explosions at any time (Yonhap).  Many other news agencies have ran articles about North Korea’s readiness for another test as well.  A CNBC article argued that North Korea is currently taking advantage of an international situation in which major powers are distracted with internal political shifts, with a current presidential election cycle in the United States and another gearing up in South Korea.  Rapid progress and distracted powers could lead North Korea to conduct its sixth nuclear test on short notice.

North Korea’s Nuclear Test: An Analysis

Friday morning, at 9:30am local time, international organizations recorded at magnitude 5.3 earthquake at the nuclear testing site of Punggye-ri in North Korea.  The earthquake was reported at a depth of 0.0km (USGS).  Artifical origin was quickly speculated; Yonhap ran an article quoting the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming artificial origin within an hour of the test (Yonhap).  All the early information led many in the international community to speculate North Korea had conducted its fifth, and strongest, nuclear test.  Hours passed before North Korea commented on what was happening at the nuclear testing site.

Throughout the day, as the international community sat idle, North Korea refused to comment.  No comment was made during its noon news broadcast (Guardian Live Blog).  A few hours after the test, North Korea did release a statement.  “Scientists and technicians carried out a nuclear explosion test for the judgement of the power of a nuclear warhead newly studied,” the statement opened (KCNA*).  “The standardization of the nuclear warhead will enable the DPRK to produce at will and as many as it wants a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads,” it continued.  “This has definitely put on a higher level the DPRK’s technology of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.”  The statement concluded by saying the test, and the broader nuclear program, are a necessity in deterring the hostile American forces.  Though this rhetoric is nothing new, it is clear North Korea has made drastic advancements in its nuclear program and may be ready to pursue deployment of nuclear-tipped missiles (NY Times*).

South Korea quickly responded to the news of North Korea’s nuclear test.  After news of the earthquake started to circulate, Park Guen-hae, South Korea’s President, held an emergency meeting with aides while Laos and cut her trip short.  She also had strong words of condemnation.  “This clearly reaffirmed the North Korean regime’s reckless and its obsession with nuclear arms” (Korea Herald).  She also called Kim Jung-un “uncontrollable” in comments about the test (Yonhap).  The South Korean government also quickly sprang into action; South Korea’s National Assembly Convened an emergency meeting to discuss the nuclear test, despite the Chusok holiday (Yonhap).  South Korean officials have also vowed to seek, at all costs, stronger sanctions from the United Nations Security Council (Korea Times).

While South Korean politicians are debating the nuclear test and how to best respond, the South Korean public was relatively at ease.  North Korea’s nuclear test did not even crack the top ten most searched terms on Naver (Korea Times).  Many South Koreans do not fear North Korea’s nuclear advancements simply because North Korea already has the ability to cripple South Korea through conventional means.

Though South Korea took strong action, Japan was the first to condemn the test.  In a statement, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “Japan reiterates its strong demand for North Korea to implement the relevant UNSCRs and to take concrete action towards comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern, including the abductions, nuclear and missile issues” (Japanese Foreign Ministry).  China also expressed its firm opposition to the test and would lodge a diplomatic protest with North Korea’s Beijing Embassy (Reuters; ABC News).

While Asian leaders expressed grave concern over the test, condemnation of North Korea spread through the world.  The White House released a statement saying “the United States condemns North Korea’s September 9 nuclear test in the strongest possible terms” (White House Statement).  It continued by saying, “the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state” (White House Statement).  Other nations, such as France and Pakistan, have strongly opposed North Korea’s fifth nuclear test as well (Radio Free Asia).

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement outside of the UN headquarters, said “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the underground nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” and also called the test “another brazen breach of resolutions of the Security Council” (UN Office of the Secretary-General).  Later, the UN Security Council strongly condemned the test in an emergency closed-door meeting (ABC News).  Currently, there has only been condemnation from the United Nations, though it is highly possible the Security Council will levy new sanctions on North Korea in the coming months; the international community is calling for stronger sanctions from the UN.

Currently, yesterday’s test is still sinking in.  Strong words of condemnation have come from across the globe, though this is normal following a nuclear test.  North Korea’s fifth test also comes at a time when the politics on and surrounding the peninsula are moving rapidly; North Korea, outside of this test, has shown major advancements in its SLBM and medium range ballistic missile technology and South Korea announced the deployment of THAAD in Seongju Province.  This test will complicate the situation on the peninsula.  For example, China’s strong opposition to THAAD will make it easier for North Korea to act provocatively, but Beijing also strongly opposes North Korea’s nuclear program.  World leaders will also have to examine the complex webs of intentions around the peninsula to ensure the strongest response is enacted as quickly as possible.  New sanctions, in the form of a UNSC resolution, are likely to be levied against the regime, but the world will have to start exploring a new strategy to choke the nuclear program, since sanctions are having, at best, little influence on the regime.

*Due to complications of linking to articles on this site, and because I do not wish for people to visit such sites without proper knowledge of North Korea, I have not included a link to this article.  There are a variety of ways to view this statement if one wishes to read the entire text on their own accord.  The NY Times article is a thorough examination of the statement.

Nuclear Update

North Korea has officially confirmed it tested a nuclear device around 9:30am on Friday morning.  This will open dialogue at a variety of levels in the international community.  The announcement of the test highlights a key in North Korean history: this is the first time ever North Korea has tested two nuclear devices in a single year.  Today’s test also is the strongest test result in North Korean history, marking a very rapid advancement in North Korea’s nuclear program.  This will be the last update for tonight, as I am human and need to sleep, but I will analyze the test in a post tomorrow.

Update: Park Cuts Trip Short

South Korean president Park Geun-hae has cut short her international trip in light of the nuclear test.  While in Laos, she convened a meeting with her aides to discuss the situation.  Upon her arrival in Korea, she will be examining the situation.

Possible Nuclear Test in North Korea

There appears to have been a nuclear test in NK! Early reports are of a 5.1 magnitude artificial earthquake at Pyunggyeri, the site of the four previous tests.  Will update with more information when it is available.
Edit: South Korean government official says high chance North Korea conducted a nuclear test.  Today is the anniversary of the creation of North Korea, which was officially established by Kim Il-sung on this day in 1948.