North Korea has warned that it plans to carry out new underground nuclear tests, which would be sure to spark even more international outcry than its December satellite launch. But how close is the communist nation to being able to launch a nuclear warhead? And, realistically, would we even know ahead of time? From CNN International:
The answer, like the cloistered "hermit kingdom," remains largely a mystery as does much of its nuclear program.
"It's a question over the delivery system and the reliability of those systems," said Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group covering Northeast Asia. "That is essentially unknown, or known by a few people inside North Korea."
A 2009 report by International Crisis Group suspects that North Korea "probably has somewhere between six and twelve nuclear weapons, or at least explosive devices," but notes that experts are divided whether any of these to be now useable as warheads -- small enough to be mounted on missiles and durable enough to withstand the hazards of flight.
"It's pretty clear that these are advanced technologies and the systems present a number of engineering challenges -- and to master these technologies requires a number of tests," Pinkston said.
The UN Security Council angered Pyongyang by passing a resolution last week strengthening sanctions in response to the launch. But a review of UNSC actions against North Korea also reveals why Kim Jong Un apparently feels free to press forward with a nuclear test -- years of condemnations, delayed reports, and warnings without teeth.