North Korea Announces Nuclear Test

Michael O'Hanlon
Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution/Co-Author, "Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security"
Monday, October 9, 2006; 2:00 PM

Michael O'Hanlon , senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and co-author of " Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security " and " Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: How to Deal with a Nuclear North Korea " was online Monday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss world reaction to North Korea's announcement that it has successfully tested a nuclear weapon.

The transcript follows.


Bellevue, Wash.: Was the threat of a nuclear test North Korea's last, greatest bargaining chip? What kind of deterrence do they have left?

Michael O'Hanlon: They can still use military force violently, as they have before, or threaten to export weapons, or to support terrorists. Alas they have many cards left


Miller Place, N.Y.: Has anyone considered who will get to control the nukes if whatever we do lead to regime changes in DPRK? Have we talk to neighboring states about it?

Michael O'Hanlon: Yes, war plan 5029 is largely about that problem. As for the long-term fate of any warheads, the goal would be to eliminate them, not transfer them


Washington, D.C.: Do you think we might be jumping the gun a bit, at least before it's verified that a nuclear event took place? The SecDef was mocked not long ago for noting on Iraqi WMDs that the absence of evidence was not the evidence of absence. Lost in that was the fact that pretty much the whole think tank world had made the same assumptions he had. Is this situation any different? Or does it even really matter what was actually blown up?

Michael O'Hanlon: You're right, we need clear proof; seismology is pretty good at analyzing the signature of nuclear tests versus large conventional explosions so I would expect this could be resolved fairly conclusively fairly soon


Arlington, Va.: Would the Bush administration seriously entertain policy options - such as naval blockades and surgical air strikes - that North Korea has explicitly stated would lead to war on the Peninsula?

Michael O'Hanlon: Yes but not just in response to this. For example, air strikes would make sense if North Korea moved to complete the large nuclear reactors that Bill Clinton convinced them to stop building in 1994 (after Secretary of Defense Bill Perry threatened to destroy them at that point)


Berkeley, Calif.: Given that most people in the worldwide intelligence communities already believed North Korea had several nuclear weapons, does the fact that they tested one actually change that much? Is it simply a question of perceptions of what the DPRK is willing to do or is there some tangible significant change? (That is, is this just saber rattling?)

Michael O'Hanlon: It changes things in that we know now that their warheads work, and that they admit to having them and want the world to know unambiguously--which presumably also lowers the odds they'd ever give them up. Beyond that, it is itself less significant than the reprocessing of the plutonium in 2003/2004 that lead to the quintupling of their arsenal


Hewlett, New York: Mr. O'Hanlon

Two questions for you , is it true that Mr Rumsfeld while on the board of ABB, sold hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and services to North Korean nuclear plants and is it also true that in 2003 Bush requested $3.5 million for a consortium building nuclear reactors in North Korea?

If so, why would they do these things knowing this has been an issue for many years for the US? Thanks Cal

Michael O'Hanlon: Not sure on the first point. On the latter, we had a deal with North Korea for 10 years to help them build two reactors that were considered "proliferation resistant;" Bush sustained it for a while but it was Clinton who designed it.


Port St Lucie, Fla.: Do you think the N Koreans would ever launch a pre-emptive conventional strike against S. Korea?

Michael O'Hanlon: Very unlikely unless they could think of some clever way to do so in a limited manner that did more to cause frictions in the alliance than to risk all-out war. Since that would be hard to accomplish, I doubt they will. But you never know.


Atlanta, Ga.: Is a military attack on N. Korea really unfeasible. Couldn't coordinated and prolonged strikes by S. Korean, American, and Japanese forces take out most of the N. Korean border artillery, air defense systems, fuel depots, C3 infrastructure, railways and bridges, supply lines, and nuclear facilities (whether buried or not) in two weeks time? Is Seoul really that hard to defend from N. Korean attack?

Michael O'Hanlon: On your first point (what we could do with 2 weeks of bombing) I think you are at least largely right. On your last point, though, it must be said, Seoul would be very severely hurt in the process, even if nukes weren't used


Washington, D.C.: What are the most immediate and long term sanctions that the international community or say the U.S. specifically can impose on N Korea as a result of this test? What is the likelihood of them abiding to any?

Michael O'Hanlon: the likelihood is low. the options range from clamping down on all North Korean assets held abroad to reducing trade and investment to an all-out blockade. the latter is extremely unlikely, but even more limited measures will be hard to pull off given the interests of China, Russia, and South Korea


Richmond, Va.: What do you think the U.S. should do in response to the DPRK tests? Do you see any evidence of movement on the part of the Chinese or the Russians to participate in 'containment' for North Korea?

Michael O'Hanlon: I believe, as Kurt Campbell and I argue in our new book, Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security, that we should try to force North Korea to a choice--reform like Vietnam (not just with weapons of mass destruction, but economics as well, and cut back military forces a lot in the process), and get help to do so, or be squeezed by the international community including Russia, China, and South Korea. But getting the latter countries to agree to such a strategy will be very hard. It's only even vaguely possible if Pres. Bush is more concrete about the help he would provide if North Korea does the right thing. And of course that's very hard to imagine now, because any talk of incentives for North Korea is going to be very difficult in the face of this test.


Richmond, Va.: Perhaps I am wrong, but I always thought that it is China that has the last word on North Korea's actions (i.e., they get food and oil from China -- NK's life and industry are in China's hands), so is it wrong to believe that China sanctioned this? If not, what have you heard on their reaction?

Michael O'Hanlon: China has lots of influence but I think they opposed this. However I do think they (and South Korea) can make life unpleasant enough for North Korea now as to make North Korea very unlikely to test again. Seoul and Beijing are I believe the keys to forcing North Korea to denuclearize and reform more generally. Whether they will take appropriate steps to have this kind of effect remains to be seen


Southern California: As bad as this is for the U.S., it's a foreign policy disaster for China. Apart from making them appear impotent, it guarantees an East Asian arms race that the Chinese have gone to great lengths to prevent. What are the chances the Chinese will attempt to solve the problem and restore their international credibility by taking action to encourage "regime change" in North Korea?

Michael O'Hanlon: I mostly agree with your analysis but I doubt very much China knows how to accomplish regime change in North Korea using any tools the PRC is willing and able to employ


McLean, Va.: Does the test increase pressure on the administration to pursue negotiations with the North Koreans, or do you think it vindicates its departure from the Clinton administration's approach? Also, what is your best guess for why the North Koreans did this now?

Michael O'Hanlon: I do not think this test vindicates Pres. Bush's approach but I believe he will claim it does.


Shanghai, China: This was a low yield device. Some are saying it was a neutron bomb. Small and easily shoveled off to terrorists by submarine. Is this a bomb that is for sale?

Michael O'Hanlon: We don't know anything about its physical size I don't think. Physical size and yield are not necessarily closely related. Remember fat boy! Our early fission bombs weighed several tons each


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Does the measured yield of this test correspond to a plutonium device or do North Koreans now have enough enriched uranium based on the Pakistani design to build a small nuclear device? What are the security implications of this kind of device for U.S. and its allies?

Michael O'Hanlon: I don't think we can tell whether it was plutonium or uranium from the yield. We could tell if any radiation escaped from the test site


Westerville, Ohio: Good afternoon, Michael. Assuming it is confirmed that N. Korea's test was indeed nuclear, what time range do you see before their nuclear capabilities are a real threat to the continental U.S., if ever? In other words, are their weapons technology capabilities adequate to produce a warhead sufficiently small that they could deliver it by missile or plane, and if so, what kind of range and what kind of time-line are we talking about? Obviously S. Korea and Japan are closer, and we have troops stationed in both locations. What kind of short-term threat do you see?

Michael O'Hanlon: They will only be able to threaten us if they can test a lot more or if they got help with the design and built it correctly. Plus they need to make their long-range missiles work. I think the real threat is to Seoul, maybe Tokyo


Birmingham, Ala.: North Korea has said before that they will consider referral to the UN Security Council, and/or sanctions imposed after, to be an act of war.

Do you think the Security Council resolution that might be approved today or this week might indeed be perceived as an act of war by Kim Jong-Il and could possibly lead to a shooting war eventually?

Michael O'Hanlon: I doubt the UNSC will take strong steps given China's and Russia's (and South Korea's) reluctance


Washington, D.C.: Assuming North Korea can be considered a nuclear nation, would Soviet-style, mutually assured destruction apply?

Michael O'Hanlon: Probably, yes. The chances of any one individual nuclear power ever intentionally causing a nuclear war are very small. But don't forget the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's still a worry


New York, N.Y. and Canandaigua, N.Y.: Michael:

A fellow former Canandaiguan asking you how you would place this incident in the context of Bush's overall diplomatic efforts -- with North Korea specifically and in the world at large? Is this explosion reflective of a failure on the part of the presdient's foreign policy and refusal to "reward" hostile nations by talking and negotiating?

Michael O'Hanlon: Greetings, Canandaigua friend! I agree this has been a failure of Bush foreign policy in part, but wouldn't focus so much just on the matter of whether we talk to them or not. We haven't talked to them a lot but we have talked some. The bigger issue for me is what strategy we've followed, what incentives we've offered, what type of coalition we've built to offer the incentives--but threaten punishment if North Korea keeps developing its arsenal. It is on those latter points where I think Mr. Bush has fallen short.


Hayward, Calif.: The response by other nations seems to swing between demands for "six-party talks" and threats of naval blockade and tightened economic sanctions. Are there more creative ways to deal with the Kim Jong Il's regime? I am surprised the United States has done essentially nothing to support an opposition movement in North Korea. At the very least we could give them access to radio and television broadcast, and printing presses to organize popular resistance. This might not bring down the government but it would certainly give it something to worry about.

Michael O'Hanlon: Yes but North Koreans in possession of radios that can hear frequencies coming from abroad tend to be sent to labor camps. You are right but it's very tough to pull off what you're suggesting, I believe


Rolla, Mo.: Where and what is the West's leverage against North Korea? Is there any?

Michael O'Hanlon: Mostly it's in terms of economics (our leverage), and mostly it's influencing China and South Korea since they hold most of the cards


Toledo, Ohio: There seem to be conflicting statements about whether the North Koreans have "claimed" to have tested or have actually tested. Has it been confirmed or are we getting worked up over a claim which may have already been shown to be false?

Michael O'Hanlon: I think you are right, we aren't totally sure yet last I heard, but the evidence is fairly strong


Geneva, N.Y.: Given the nationalism espoused by Japan's Prime Minister Abe and the whispers of a Japanese pre-emptive strike against the DPRK in July, what might this announcement mean for the future of Japanese re-militarization?

Michael O'Hanlon: I doubt PM Abe will develop a first strike capability unless North Korea directly threatens or attacks Japan. A general nuclear test probably won't be enough to cause that type of reaction by Tokyo


Greenville, S.C.: China has condemned N. Korea for the testing, which opens more opportunities for cooperation between the U.S. and China, particularly on establishing a "strategic fellowship" in dealing issues like nuclear proliferation.

China will assess its demand for U.S. concession on the issue of Taiwan in exchange for its cooperation on N. Korea and even on Iran.

Please comment the possibility of this swap, which may help determine the Sino-U.S. relationship in the next 50 years.

Michael O'Hanlon: I don't think we'll make a swap that would leave Taiwan defenseless. I think our Taiwan policy is in fairly good shape and we won't want to change it a lot--and China knows that


Washington, D.C.: You state that China and South Korea are the two powers most able to contain North Korea. The United States has pressure points with both of them: the continued presence of American troops is still desired by the South Korean government and for China, the American role (or lack there of) in the reemergence of Japan as a regional military power.

Would/should the U.S. privately threaten the removal of American troops from South Korea and American preference for renewed Japanese military power as a method of gaining real support from South Korea and China respectively?

Michael O'Hanlon: I wouldn't take those two approaches at this time. I'd try to convince South Korea and China by showing a new American willingness to help push North Korea to the Vietnam reform model, and then expecting help with a tougher approach if such inducements fail


West Bloomfield, Mich.: Why can't we sit down with N. Korea and try to defuse the nuclear threat even at this stage?

Michael O'Hanlon: I think Pres. Bush has been too focused on the form of negotiations, but the six-party format has a logic to it, and does allow for side bilateral consultations,and in any event the main problem I believe is not our negotiating style but our strategy (of course, the main problem at the core of it all is North Korea's regime)


Washington, D.C.: How difficult was to do? If the DPRK can build and test a nuclear bomb, why couldn't it be done elsewhere with greater ease? I'm not specifically thinking about terrorists, but why couldn't Argentina or Madagascar, two countries that are economically stronger than the DPRK, build a small nuclear device?

Michael O'Hanlon: Argentina could. They are smart enough not to.

North Korea is poor but it does have a moderately sophisticated military industry and scientific base, compared with other countries of its size and wealth


New York, N.Y.: From this dialogue, its sounds like there is consensus that a firm response (military, economic) is unlikely.... What message does that deliver to Iran?

Michael O'Hanlon: I still hope there will be a strong response. I am just not predicting it


Boulder, Colo.: While I find the idea of nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea to be abhorrent, I can't help but wonder just how does the U.S. rationalize it's own continued stockpiling and development of nuclear weapons (as well as that of so called 'friendly' nuclear powers) while simultaneously denouncing other nations attempts at same?

Michael O'Hanlon: A big question. But I can't make the comparison between the US and DPRK. Sounds like you weren't really anxious to do so yourself


Columbia, Md.: How likely is it that North Korea will seek an export market for their nuclear arms?

Michael O'Hanlon: low for the actual weapons

moderately high for related technologies


Seoul, South Korea: I'm an American teaching in South Korea. I've been here for four months and went through the days when N.K. tested their short and long range missiles but this seems to be a much more serious situation. My question is, should there be concern for foreign citizens living in Seoul as to safety? I've had a few friends book plane tickets home and with the possibility of monitoring the ports of N.K. being taken as an act of war, should we be concerned for our safety or is this similar to what we went through with India and Pakistan a few years ago? Thanks.

Michael O'Hanlon: I wouldn't worry too much. It's not good, but I don't think the Koreas want war,and neither do we. You should worry more if/when North Korea starts threatening to attack, to sell actual nuclear warheads abroad, or to complete its two large reactors


Rockville, Md.: We all read about North Korea's army, but not much is printed about South Korea's army. What are they able to accomplish? Could they take over the North in a lightning strike - or they configured for defense?

Michael O'Hanlon: They're better than ever. But even with our help such a war would take a few months and perhaps 1 million would die (even if nukes weren't used


Washington, D.C.: So Michael are we doing?

Four and a half years ago, George W. Bush used his State of the Union address to warn that North Korea, Iran and Iraq constituted an "axis of evil" that threatened the "peace of the world." The president said then that the United States would "do what is necessary" to ensure global security. "I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer," he said. "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

Are we a safer nation now that we are keeping the terrorists busy in Iraq but have nukes pointed at our backs? What now???

Michael O'Hanlon: President Bush has, in my view, a reasonably good track record on Asia policy but a terrible one on North Korea policy

_______________________ Thank you for joining us.


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