Rogue Triad and H-Bomb Tests

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on February 3 that a third nuclear test by North Korea was imminent at its Punggye test site in the Hamgyong Mountain range in the northeastern part of that country adjoining the Chinese Jiangsu province. According to another news story, this specific site has three unevenly horizontal L-shaped tunnels bored into the 7,000-feet high granite mountain, Mount Mantap, each with nine bulkheads to absorb the shock waves from nuclear tests. The granite prevents venting of noble gases, such as xenon, that can help outside experts divine the nature of the device.

The Washington think-tank, Institute for Science and International Security, is of the view that the Punggye complex, inclusive of the instrumentation bunker to record the test data, closely resembles the Pakistani Ras Koh nuclear testing facility in the Chagai Hills. The Yonhap account revealed that North Korea’s National Defence Committee decided on a ‘high level’ test to be carried out in the western-most shaft as early as mid-February 2013. That the phrase ‘high level’ referred to a thermonuclear test was confirmed by the Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, on January 25 mentioning that a fusion-boosted fission (FBF) device using plutonium as ‘primary’ in a staged thermonuclear weapon — which by itself is a ‘mini thermonuclear’, would be triggered by North Korea. A second near-simultaneous test of a uranium device is possible both to test the explosive cladding of the ‘secondary’ in the thermonuclear package, and to mask the results of the FBF. Indeed, the weekly science journal, Nature, on February 3 contends that scientists re-examining isotopic data have concluded that the North Koreans conducted two low-yield tests in 2010, one of which may have been an FBF.

In the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Siegfried Hecker, a former US nuclear weapons designer, revised his earlier conclusion that the first North Korean nuclear test was a failure with just 1-2 kiloton (KT) yield, to suggest that it was actually a successful test of a small, light warhead/weapon packing over 8 KT of destructive power. Hecker, who has been allowed to access sensitive North Korean nuclear facilities, reported that during a visit three years ago he saw an installation with 2,000 centrifuges, presumably of the P-1 type of Pakistani origin. This number, however, indicates that North Korea doesn’t have enough of them. A minimum 10,000 uranium centrifuges are required to output a reasonable amount of weapon-grade uranium enriched to 92 percent plus level. Also, a new centrifuge plant takes five years to tune up and another five years to output the 14 kg of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) required for the ‘secondary’.

The situation raises the question: Which country transferred the thermonuclear fuel, tritium, for the FBF and the large stock of HEU to North Korea? The answer, by connecting the dots, points to China and Pakistan.

China has been the most egregious proliferator of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technology to Pakistan, North Korea, Libya and, per Western sources, to Iran. North Korea, as a pariah state is a pliable instrument for Beijing and Islamabad to exploit. As Pyongyang doesn’t give a damn, it is utilised as a proxy to, in one case, stir up trouble and, in the other case, possibly to test a Pakistani FBF design vetted by Chinese scientists. With great strategic forethought, Beijing spawned these proliferation dangers and, thereafter, positioned itself as part of the solution to, for instance, keep the unpredictable North Koreans in check, and Iran from reaching the nuclear weapons threshold. Beijing bolsters its ‘mediator’ credentials by occasionally feigning anger at Pyongyang’s brinksmanship and at Islamabad for the Sunni mullahs radicalising the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang. Elsewhere, there is evidence showing Beijing has clandestinely transferred thermonuclear materials along with technical expertise to a Pakistan craving fusion weapons to match India’s arsenal. Islamabad, however, cannot afford to test its own hydrogen bomb but can use the Punggye site to do so. North Korea is happy to oblige as long as it shares in the data, notoriety, and fusion weapons skills, combining these to extort food aid and development assistance from the international community.

Some experts maintain that Pakistan sourced the HEU for the North Korean FBF, except it is under close observation. In view of the state-of-the-art nuclear forensics available with the US, Islamabad cannot risk moving HEU to North Korea for fear of punitive actions and sanctions, which it cannot survive. However, there is no reason for Pakistan to attempt such a foolhardy venture considering China can easily transport the HEU, along with the tritium, undetected across the mountainous land border.

Beijing prizes its mediatory role between the West and particularly North Korea called a ‘weak and crazy’ state by George Friedman of Stratfor. It is a description that fits Pakistan as well. Controlling both these states equipped with thermonuclear capabilities constitutes a powerful negative leverage — something that Beijing has used effectively over the years to keep the proliferation issues simmering, but not boiling over, in the process winning the gratitude of the West. Besides, a hydrogen bomb armed-Pakistan will have India obsessing even more about its smaller neighbour, thereby at once reducing itself and taking itself out of the big power game afoot in Asia, which serves China’s purpose just fine.

Whether or not North Korea explodes a thermonuclear device anytime soon, this is the direction in which the rogue triad of China, Pakistan and North Korea is moving or manoeuvring to move. It is imperative that New Delhi issue an immediate demarche to Washington, stating unequivocally that nuclear testing by North Korea and its acting as proxy for China and Pakistan is pushing India towards resumption of nuclear testing. Open-ended fusion tests, desperately needed since the failure of the hydrogen device in 1998, will render the country’s thermonuclear stance credible. Tragically, the feeble-minded Manmohan Singh government has not stood up for the national interest all these years, and is unlikely to muster the gumption to issue this demarche in its last months in office.

[Published as “China hand in N-proliferation””in the ‘New Indian Express’ February 8, 2013 as ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, disarmament, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Missiles, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, United States, US., West Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Rogue Triad and H-Bomb Tests

  1. RV says:

    One wonders what it will take for US lackeys, slaves, and quislings like MMS&Co. to issue a demarche to their “massas” in Washington DC, stating that a North Korean test will be treated as a Pakistani test and will result in a resumption of Indian testing. The US has been a primary motivator and supporter of WMD proliferation directed against India. Senior military officers in South Korea, long thought of as being a US stooge, have shown a lot more character than the Indian coolies in indicating that South Korea may launch a preemptive strike against North Korea and risk “all out war” should it be threatened by WMD’s:

    OTOH, the Indian coolies and the sold-out Indian media who are mostly in the payroll of the US, church interests, and the ISI continue to turn a “Nelsons eye” to US perfidy during 26/11, Pakistan’s continual build up of its strategic arsenal, mutilation of Indian soldiers, Pakistani involvement in nuclear tests in third countries, etc…….., etc….., etc……. It is often overlooked and hidden from the Indian public that a Dhruva-type reactor, whose construction the MMS regime had stated it would fast track to compensate for the closing of the Cirus reactor as a consequence of the “nuclear deal”, is unlike to reach any fruition in the foreseeable. future. This is despite the fact that funds for its building were allocated as far back as the Narasimha Rao government.

  2. Shaurya says:

    I think the best way the reign in Pakistan is to target directly at Beijing, with a weapons buildup and our own counter string of pearls with active weapon transfers. Sigh: Only if we had built the capacity to do so.

    We should also let Beijing know informally that if anytime, Pakistan threatens or is crazy enough to use WMD against India, India would use WMD against PRC. Madness cannot be countered by sane and reasonable counters.

  3. RV says:

    “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by” – attributed to Sun Tzu.

    One cannot but help feeling some hidden delight that the very East Asian countries who pontified to and condemned the Indian launch of the Agni-2 in response to the Pakistani launch of the Ghauri in 1998, are now running around like headless chickens. This article makes interesting reading:

  4. RV says:

    Great Strategist,

    In the most interesting book: “Future Imperiled: India’s Security in the 1990s and Beyond [New Delhi: Viking Penguin, 1994]”, edited by none other than your exalted self, Gary Pressler has come right out and said that the US State Department has persistently lied about Pakistan’s nuclear build up. You of all persons should certainly know that the AQ Khan networks (note the plural because the better known one was for nuclear matters and the much much lesser known one was for missile technology including cruise missiles, etc…) were abetted quite a bit by the CIA.
    One wonders why there’s never a sniff of US complicity and perfidy in your comments on Pakistan’s massive strategic build up?

  5. RV says:

    Interesting story for whatever it’s worth:

  6. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad, I believe my comment yesterday was unjustified. Nobody is more aware than myself of how US perfidy was exposed by you on many an occasion. The so-called Indo-US nuclaer deal being one such incident, where you, iyengar, and a few others tried to fight off the mindless ecstasy of the entire Indian power-structure and so-called intelligentsia . You’ve repeatedly stated that the US slaves and coolie Indians need to send their “massas” in Washington a demarche stating in no uncertain terms that a North Korean test would be treated as a Pakistani test, which would result in Indian testing to complete the unfinished business of 1998. I’m aware that a single individual cannot fight the lemming-like attitude of a worthless system and leadership in a Nation where the average individual who counts for anything is so shameless that it is impossible to humiliate him/her. In any case, I believe change will come not if not through internal means, then externally!

  7. Vihan says:

    Dear Bharat,

    A small addendum – P1 centrifuges of Dutch – URENCO Origin, who’s designs were stolen by the Pakistani establishment via A Q Khan under the noses of the Dutch establishment which did not act due to US pressure but pontificates non proliferation none the less. The same centrifuges were clandestinely supplied by the Pakistani establishment via A Q Khan to Libya, Iran and North Korea and even to China which set up a centrifuge plant based on that technology in Hanzhong. China also supplied the designs of a “nuclear weapon” and supplied 50 kg of enriched uranium, 10 tons of UF6 (natural) and 5 tons of UF6 (3%).

    The role of certain Europeans like Friedrich, Urs, and Marco Tinner, Gerhard Wisser, Johan Meyer among others and various companies in getting components and industrial tools for manufacturing the centrifuges for the Pakistani establishment via A Q Khan also needs to be stated.

    These are specific documented facts which must be stated verbatim lest people forget which our fellow countrymen regularly do. They also serve to remind the the non proliferation Ayatollah’s(while I disagree with K Subrahmanyam’s minimum credible nuclear deterrent, this phrase coined by him is certainly a very apt one) of their sins.

    Otherwise a brilliant article as always.

    Best Regards,

    – vihan

    • RV says:

      One of the most damning indictment of the US involvement was by the former Dutch PM Ruud Lubbers. BTW, KS’s theories were nothing more than “toothless waffle”.

      • Vihan says:

        Agreed. Unfortunately we have not done enough to leverage this fact and others to those particularly in Europe who pretend to champion non proliferation and have a withered fig leaf covering their sins.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.