North Korea

By Gideon Rachman

“Our intercontinental ballistic missiles are on standby … If we push the button, they will blast off and their barrage will turn Washington, the stronghold of American imperialists and the nest of evil … into a sea of fire.”

How dangerous is North Korea’s nuclear test?
Within hours of the North Korean nuclear test this week, the UN security council was meeting in emergency session. But how dangerous is this development, and what is likely to happen next? James Blitz, diplomatic and defence editor, Christian Oliver, former Seoul correspondent, and Simon Mundy, the current FT correspondent in Korea, join Gideon Rachman.

James Blitz

South Koreans burn pictures of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-eun after Pyongyang's nuclear test. (AP)

North Korea’s decision to conduct its third underground nuclear test will come as no surprise to governments around the world. Pyongyang has been making clear for some weeks that it planned a nuclear test at a “higher level” than its previous two in 2006 and 2009. Its decision to press ahead has already triggered widespread condemnation from the US and its allies. Now that the test has taken place, diplomats and nuclear experts will be asking four key questions about the nuclear explosion.

First, have the North Korans managed to developed a device that they can place on top of a long-range missile?

North Korea stated that the test used “a small and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously”. This will prompt fears that Pyongyang has managed to miniaturize a nuclear warhead, in order to place it on top of a long range ballistic missile. 

James Blitz

South Koreans protest this week about a possible North Korean nuclear test. (AP)

This is turning out to be a rather fraught time for people who worry about the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. In recent days, there has been much dismay about the way talks are going between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Iran does not look like it wants to make the kind of concessions that the US and its allies seek if there is to be a deal that averts Israeli or US military action over the programme.

Now it looks like there is about to be bad news from the world’s other nuclear pariah state – North Korea. All the signs are that Pyongyang is about to conduct another nuclear test, its third since 2006 and potentially one that is far bigger than the two it has conducted previously.

Nobody can be 100 per cent sure that North Korea will test a nuclear weapon in the next few days. But the signs are growing that something is afoot. North Korea announced last month that it would conduct a nuclear test to protest against UN Security Council sanctions, stating it would be an explosion at a “higher level” than has been seen in the past. 

Geoff Dyer

Susan Rice – a successor to Hillary Clinton? (Getty)

North Korea’s rocket launch has injected itself into American politics in an unexpected way: it has become a real-life test of the diplomatic skills of Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.

Ms Rice was a strong favourite to become the next secretary of state until she became the main target for Republican anger over the way the Obama administration handled the September attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But unlike the Benghazi attack, where her role was simply to appear on a few Sunday political talk shows, the North Korean rocket is a central part of Ms Rice’s job at the UN. And the pressure is now on to see if she can manoeuvre the UN into taking a much tougher line on North Korea. 

Here’s what piqued our interest today: 

David Pilling

I just came across this revamped version of what purports to be North Korea’s official website. Even if it is not, and is just a fan site, it is a credit to what is described on the homepage as a genuine workers’ state in which “all the people are completely liberated from exploitation and oppression”.

I’ve never been to North Korea (visa still pending) but, from what I can make out from this site, it sounds like a pretty wonderful place. It is apparently the only country where “the workers, peasants, soldiers and intellectuals are the true masters of their destiny” and in a “unique position to defend their interests”. 

Statues of North Korea's founding president Kim Il-sung (L) and his son Kim Jong-il are unveiled during a ceremony in Pyongyang on April 13 (Getty)

North Korea likes to celebrate on a monumental scale and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder, was supposed to be no different. But the long-range Eunha-3 rocket launched on Friday blew apart about 90 seconds into its flight.

 

Daniel Dombey

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

You can understand why the latest flare-up of tension in the Korean peninsula has left Barack Obama none too happy.

Obama has had a pretty poor November so far, what with historic reverses in the midterm elections and a wretched G20 in Seoul where, rather than rallying the rest of the world against China’s currency policy, he found himself at the receiving end of several countries’ strictures about the Fed’s attempts to reflate the stumbling US economy. 

North Korea has launched an artillery barrage against a South Korean island, killing two servicemen and seriously injuring more than a dozen troops and civilians, in a dangerous escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea returned artillery fire after North Korea on Tuesday unleashed a hail of 200 shells on Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea.