Why retraction on NoKo test?

Very strange things are happening in the aftermath of the fusion-boosted fission (FBF) device tested at the North Korean N-test site in the Hamgyeong mountains. Readers may care to peruse in sequence the stories here ID-ed. There was the story in ‘Nature’ immediately after the test mentioning both the Russian monitoring station at Petropovlovsk and the Japanese centre at Takasaki having data-reads of, by implication, a sophisticated explosive device. See:
The next story features a retraction by ‘Nature’, which ‘talks of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) advising the weekly to retract its story because it says the detection by the Takasaki-sensors of the noble gas Xenon-133 — evidence of tritium used in the FBF device tested, was no big thing as the Japanese station routinely picks up traces of Xenon-133 owing to nearby nuclear facilities, and should not be attributed to the NoKo test. In these stories there’s no mention whatsoever of the Russian radionuclide facility. See:
The third story in ‘Nature’mentions preparation of the next N-test by NoKo (mentioned by my sources in my original blog a few days back on the NoKo test):
And finally, there’s this curious turn to the story of the US Air Force deploying the WC-135 “sniffer” aircraft over northwestern NoKo but finding absolutely no evidence whatsover of nuclear particles and concluding without actually concluding that there was no test at all!!! But the Richter scale jumped registering an earthquake-sized event, and therefore it is a bit of mystery! Here:

Possible explanation:
The giveaway here is the role of the CTBTO. As stated in my earlier articles/blogs pertaining to Obama’s foreign policy agenda for his 2nd term, written before and after the US presidential elections in Nov 2012, in which disarmament and nonproliferation top the list. The NoKo test has the potential of upsetting this agenda — and robbing Obama of the chance retrospectively to justify his Nobel Peace Prize — of coaxing India into signing this treaty, and this was prospect was enfangered. It could get India all worked up, because as I had stated this would put Pakistan — which had designed the FBF device, aided and assisted by China, which had thereafter refined and vetted the design — way ahead of India. Any national interest and national security-minded Indian government would have issued the demarche to Washington as I had suggested, and ordered preparations for resumption of N-testing to get underway, pronto. That hasn’t happened. To preempt the slim chance of an informed audience and, through them, the Indian people pressuring the politically weak and weak-willed Manmohan Singh regime to get on with the job of open-ended thermonuclear weapons testing in order to produce warheads that work to the satisfaction — as I have always maintained of the military primarily, rather than just Dr R Chidambaram, one-time Chairman, AEC, and as S&T adviser to PM since the early 2000s, all-time retardant against making the Indian arsenal effective, reliable, and safe and at least on par with Pakistan’s weapons inventory — forget the Chinese Second Artillery Strategic Forces. There is no other explanation for the retraction and the deliberate playing down of the NoKo tests results. Hey, but the truth is out.

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, civil-military relations, disarmament, Europe, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, Japan, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, South Asia, United States, US.. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Why retraction on NoKo test?

  1. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Are you saying we have no FBF warheads ? What was the S-1 primary (which was successful unlike the S-1 secondary) then ?

  2. satyaki says:

    What is Chidambaram’s interest in preventing further tests ?

    • The obvious one — fear of US-led sanctions, he, MMS, and rest of GOI fear, India cannot bear, when the truth is the opposite — Washington cannot afford to alienate India no matter how many tests it conducts.

    • RC has since before the 1998 tests quixotically maintained — with no science to back his contention — that India did not need to physically test the weapons ever for it to have a credible deterrent! What his “interest” is would require getting into his mind.

  3. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad, this is indeed a most interesting and intriguing sequence of events/information that you have posted. Your possible explanations of these shoddy retractions by the “international community” are spot on, and most credible. As an aside, I believe that your article contains one minor oversight. There is indeed information in the public domain concerning another possible/impending North Korean (and Pakistani) test. However, this is not in Nature (your second and third links above are identical). I am herewith posting a link of an AFP report which supports the information you have suggested:


  4. RK Anuj says:

    Interesting! Obama/ CTBTO tweaks the media reporting so some INFORMED INTELLECTUALS in India do not influence the govt to start nuclear testing. A credible nuclear deterrent, Bernard Brodie wrote in 1959, must be always at the ready, yet never used. Nukes are by deduction for deterrence and not for use. It does not matter if your bomb is 20 KT or 3 MT, causes 1 mn cas or 10 mn, so long as u can guarantee survivability after a first strike & assured second strike. Belligerents of the 21st century are not the same as Mao’s China to whom 30 mn casualties meant nothing. If it is a scientific quest that motivates your desire for testing, Good! If it is deterrence that you seek, be assured, it is well in place. Nukes never did deter war. They only shifted it in space and paradigm. Thank heavens for our policy makers who do not fall for war- mongers’ logic.

    • Indian nuclear weapons arsenal is small and of unproven, untested quality and may fail to deter. As to how much’s enough, what will deter whom, etc. are hoary issues debated since the nuclear dawn — the first test at Alamogardo, and cannot be gone into here. You may care to peruse my tome of a book — ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’, 2nd ed (2005, 2002, Macmillan India) where these issues have been thrashed out in considerable detail from a purely Indian security and great power perspective. I was Brodie’s student at the Graduate school in UCLA in the Seventies — and his notion of the minimum deterrent was situation-based and not inelastic.

      • RK Anuj says:

        Precisely the point. Deterrence issues have been debated since the nuclear dawn, with little convergence of thought. The only certainity has been that no nukes have ever been used since 1945, proof that even the most obdurate belligerents have had a modicum of sanity. There is no evidence to prove that certain quantity/ quality/ type of weapon has resulted in the deterrence. But certainly enough to show that war has not been deterred. As you rightly said these issues can be endlessly debated. But, when in every blog/ paper/ tweet you cast aspersions on the character/ nationalism of those not in sync with you, you reduce the debate to the worst form of sophistry.

      • Nobody is quite sure just why there’s been no use of nuclear weapons since 1945. Couldn’t it be precisely because every country that could, armed to the teeth — which, incidentally, is what’s suggested by the unfolding history? If one’s to arrive at your kind of conclusion based on 20/20 hindsight, how can one be certain that the minimally nuclear-armed will not be at the receiving end in the future? National security plans cannot be based on ‘best-case’ analysis, but on the ‘worst case’possibilities.

    • RV says:

      @RK Anuj: yours is the type of random, retrograde, and thoughtless nonsense (which attempt to pass off as “informed debate”) which led to centuries of foreign invaders ruling India. You’ve conveniently skirted the main issue, i.e. India does not have enough WgPu or delivery vehicles to build an arsenal of 20 KT types to withstand a first strike and deliver an assured second strike. You carry on the display of your utter ignorance by again conveniently neglecting to mention that India does not have a credible command and control infrastructure for its so-called “strategic forces”.

    • RV says:

      @RK Anuj: as as addendum, you’ve stated “Thank heavens for our policy makers who do not fall for war- mongers’ logic.”, you may be reminded that Indian policy makers may not have fallen for hard technical and strategic analysis/facts which you denigrate as “war mongers logic”, but they certainly have adopted an intellectual dung beetle and/or Quisling type logic of the kind you appear to be abundantly gifted with, if your views are anything to go by. In fact, if you aren’t an Indian policy maker already, do send in your resume with a sample of your nonsensical arguments. You’ll be selected to join the “august lot” in a jiffy.

      BTW, in your “learned opinion” how much WgPu do you estimate India has, and how many long range missiles (6,0000-12,000 kms.+) does India possess? What in your opinion are the difficulties in making a deployable weapon with RgPu? How does one overcome these difficulties? BTW, “Pu” is the chemical symbol for plutonium, which should not be mistaken for the word which replaces “u” with “oo” which your views and analysis appear to be abundantly littered with!

      Who in your opinion are India’s enemies, and what in your “learned opinion” is their strategic doctrine? On what basis do you make the claim: “Belligerents of the 21st century are not the same as Mao’s China”? On what basis do you surmise that India can hope to inflict 30 mn. casualities on anybody after absorbing a first strike and hitting back with a second strike?

  5. RK Anuj says:

    @RV I did not wish to dignify your comments with a response. But then, folks of your ilk misconstrue silence for surrender. Please brush up your language skills before you even begin to understand /interpret my opinions and motivations. Sarcasm and cheekiness are a poor substitute for intellect. While you display plenty of the former, makes me wonder, doesn’t your voicing ill- informed doubts about Indian Nuclear Command Structure/ capabilities, make you the Ephialtes of India?

    @Bharat Karnad Yes, I agree that National Security Plans have to be based on worst- case scenarios. But the worst case is usually also the least probable. This probability will depend on a large number of factors, weapon- design in the instant case being only one of them. There are also numerous ways to further minimise the probability, the unbridled arms race that you seem to advice being one such. But then, the same 20/20 hindsight also suggests that the arms race that many indulged in in the past created more problems than it solved. In retrospect, was it the best course for security planners of those countries? Could Be. But there is little data to prove conclusively that it was, while there is some to prove otherwise. So, why trudge the proven beaten path that led nowhere, except take every one along a circle of more and more weaponisation and attendant problems? Surely, with your expertise on the issue, you can think of a better course of action.

    • RV says:

      @RK Anuj: I’ve possibly forgotten more on the matters this topic deals with, than you could possibly ever learn in your life time, given that your mind is a prime candidate for labeling as one the most underdeveloped regions of India. Your bogus pseudo-intellectual arguments.and language dripping in sophistry are poor substitutes to hard technical and strategic knowledge, which you seem to be incapable of even comprehending let alone analyzing.

      These statements of yours: “[b]ut the worst case is usually also the least probable. This probability will depend on a large number of factors, weapon- design in the instant case being only one of them” is the ultimate exposure of your pathetic state of knowledge and logic. BTW, in National Security Policy, it is the duty of any Nation to take into account worst case scenarios, because in times of grave crises one cannot go to a gun fight armed with a broken walking stick. Finally, as a word of friendly advise, do try to abstain from taking an enema, else you fold up and fit into a matchbox.

    • RV says:

      @R K Anuj: Since you’ve talked about my ignorance about the Indian National Command structure/capabilities, pray, do enlighten me/us as to how does weapons design impact worst case scenarios (your statements above: “[b]ut the worst case is usually also the least probable. This probability will depend on a large number of factors, weapon- design in the instant case being only one of them”)?

      I could tell you how, but first I’d like to hear the views of one as enlightened as yourself. Further, what sort of weapons design are you talking about, when your only TN test was a dud? One can come up with all the designs and simulations one wants, but nothing beats the “real thing”, i.e. actual testing! There are limits to which data from a failed test can be extrapolated to conjure up working weapons designs which do not require testing. Physics has disproved such misnomers a long time ago. Perhaps, you have something up your sleeve which we request you to share with us.

      What do you have to say about India’s limited WgPu stock, especially in light of the fact that: (i) Cirus has been scrapped, (ii) the Dhruva-type reactor whose funds were sanctioned as far back as the Narasimha Rao regime, and whose construction MMS promised to fast-track after the “nuclear deal”, is nowhere in sight, and (iii) the argument that all 8 Indian un-safeguarded power reactors are continuously running at slow burn is at best tenuous.

      I agree that India has plenty of RgPu. But there are serious design difficulties in building a deployable weapon using RgPu. There are certainly ways to get around this which again require more testing. Since you have dropped the term “weapons design” (see above), perhaps you might indeed be a great storehouse of wisdom which I overlooked in my ignorance. I thus, most humbly request you to answer my queries and point me to the path of enlightenment.

  6. satyaki says:

    Anuj Sir,

    Do you believe that we should refrain from qualitative quantitative improvement of our deterrent even in the face of persistent improvements in Pak/China ? Why should the onus of not escalating an “arms race” be on us rather than on Pak/China, who provke it and escalate it at each stage ?

    One should distingush between the necessary process of continuous upgrades to our deterrent/delivery capabilities and a full fledged arms race (which only Pak appears to run at present): even if we operate in a mode of continuous upgrade of our deterrent capacities while keeping the speed of this process within a limit that our economy permits (without imposing artificial political constraints on this process), we will be able to achieve a credible deterrent vis a vis China (even if we do not match China quantitatively) while remaining well ahead of Pak (which would have no hope of catchup unless it is willing to completely wreck its economy to the point where its national survival is threatened). This in itself is a way of imposing costs on Pak for its attempts to gain nuclear superiority over us. What do you find unacceptable in this ? I would not find a solution acceptable that says that we stop where we are and allow Pak to have an edge vis a vis us in this field (when we can very well afford to catch up and outstrip them).

    The point advocates of testing make is that weapons of higher yield are required for a credible deterrent (especially vis a vis Pak) unless you are willing to produce several times the number of 20 kt weapons than the number of say, 200kt weapons we would require for a MCD. This makes it practical to go in for weapons of moderate yield (100-200 kt) which is what we too, have attempted if you go by open sources. The problem is that we have not convincingly demonstrated the required capabilities. Hence the need for testing. Given that the international community is incapable of any real punishmnt for us beyond light temporary sanctions, testing is worth going for. I do not see how such a position is war mongering.

  7. RV says:

    Bharat, if my memory serves me right, Santhanam had written a 50+ page report. Is there any possibility that it may be available in the public domain in the near future?

    • RK Anuj says:

      @RV You are right, you have forgotten more about the subject, and much else in life, than I can ever learn. Reflects in your manner and language. Take care dear, nevertheless.

      @ Satyaki I agree with your premises. But I don’t think we need to worry much about Pak, as much as we need to about China. Even in so doing we needn’t trash our limited capabilities altogether as our learned friend RV seems so inclined to do. But even that’s not my point. My issues with more testing are on following account :

      Nuclear weapons have not deterred war.
      Size of arsenal has had no effect on conflict.
      Nuclear weapons have never been used except once.

      Our own experience in 99, 2002 and 2008 proves my point.

      On the other hand you can find evidence of numerous problems they have created for the possessors of the largest arsenals. The mighty are not strong because they have more nukes. They are so because of their national ability for scientific and economic innovation. Nuclear weapons provide enough fodder to the ego of the emasculated like a certain gentleman we read about earlier.

      Strategy is not so much about weapons. There are several other ways to build up strength and ward off foreign invaders who seem to scare the enlightened souls like RV. I can recount many if only some folks will learn not to barge into a discussion when they are not being addressed.


  8. satyaki says:

    @RK Anuj

    Nuclear weapons do not deter all kinds of war. They however, impose very severe constraints on the magnitude of a conventional war that can be imposed on a possesor of a credible deterrent. (I am not talking of Vietnam and Afghanistan as relevant examples because the possesor of nuclear weapons in these cases was the side that made the move to a larger scale conventional conflict)

    Our experience in 1999/2002 and 2008 does show my point. In fact, from Pak’s point of view, it reinforces the credibility of a nuclear deterrent. As China’s conventional gap with us grows wider, deterrence is the only reasonable way out unless you want to bleed the economy white by making
    uncontrolled purchases of imported conventional arms of questionable value.

    The size of a deterrent does matter until you reach a point, similar to say, France (a medium sized arsenal that is largely immune to first strike given its sea based deployment). Until then, a smaller arsenal with lower yield warheads does give the adversary the temptation to knock it out in a first strike. Especially when the adversary has a superior arsenal. The chances that nukes will be used again with us at the receiving end increase if we refuse to see reality and make the necessary preparations.

    Even after preparations, especially testing, I do not see why we would end up with the problems of managing the largest arsenals. In fact, with lack of testing, our deterrent would need more warheads in order to remain credible. Given that nuclear weapons constitute the ultimate firepower and given our past history, we must have them in sufficient quantity and quality. Period.

    You have still not clarified if you beleive we must do nothing to upgrade the deterrent whatsoever.

  9. satyaki says:

    @RK Anuj

    It would be foolhardy to ignore Paks capabilities. They have acheived nuclear/military parity or better with an economy a fraction of the size of our’s (of course, with help from PRC).

    As for might, hard might does count, my friend. Nukes are the elephant in the room as far as the might of Russia, the U.S.,China and France is concerned. Japan, Germany and South Korea too, have ability for scientific and economic innovation. While they may be economic powers, as military powers, they are featherweights. Japan and SoKo are therefore, forced to rely on the U.S. “extended deterrent” when faced with NoKo for example. This makes them U.S. puppets rather than sovereign powers in their own right when push comes to shove.

    While scientific and economic innovation does count and must be nurtured, it by itself cant make up for lack of hard military strength (the core of which is a credible nuclear deterrent).

  10. satyaki says:

    @RK Anuj

    With great difficulty, we have managed to partially get over our disdain for hard military power and acheived some sort of a nuclear deterrent. It would be very unfortunate if we let the past hangups against military strength militate against taking this acquisition to its logical conclusion, which is the possession of a credible deterrent undergoing the logical process of constant upgradation. This ought to constitute the core of our defensive military power.

  11. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Are you saying that most of our warheads are these unproven staged TNs based on S-1 ?

    Going by the stated 1.5 ton payloads, dosent it appear that there may be a number of FBFs of some kind or the other with a similar design yield as the TNs (also unproven, but probably more credible for now)…

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