Pungyye-ri blast — Time India resumed thermonuclear testing (re-titled)

Image result for pics of north korean hydrogen bomb

North Korea did it. Exploded at the Punggye mountain site a genuinely full-bore thermonuclear weapon. The Richter scale registering 6.3 level seismic shock wave followed by a 4.1 level quake and huge rockslides, translatable to around 250 KT yield, though Western sources who have always underestimated North Korean nuclear prowess, claim these seismic reading denote yield in the 50-120 KT class. It  leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that Kim Jun-Un now possesses the mighty Hydrogen Bomb. That should quiet the “fire and fury” talk by Trump and still the doubts Western strategic circles have to-date feasted on about Pyongyang still lacking the critical staged weapon threshold tech.

Indian government/Indian Ministry of Defence  have finally taken note, evident from some newspapers who get their regular feed on security matters from MOD reporting the disquiet especially about the North Korea- Pakistan angle, and how this would result in Pakistan soon being in possession of the essential two-stage fusion weapon design. “Der se ayai, per durust ayai”. Welcome to the real world, babu-log. Something this analyst has been belabouring in my books ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’ [2008] and ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ [2015].

But the real culprit are not the nuclear tutpunjias — Pakistan and North Korea, but their nuclear master China which has continuously been disseminating nuclear expertise for over 30 years and thermonuclear material and design assistance over the last 15 years to Pakistan, which has been the remote channel helping North Korea become a thermonuclear weapons power. In fact, the boosted fission design the North Koreans last tested was one Pakistani scientists designed with Chinese help as, perhaps, is the hydrogen bomb. Pakistan has always been the route and instrumentality  that China used to nuclear arm North Korea.  I elaborated and updated all these various streams of evidence and material on this “rogue nuclear triad” in a piece “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan, North Korea” published July 25, 2016 by The Wire (https://thewire.in/53338/countering-the-rogue-nuclear-triad-of-china-pakistan-north-korea/ ). This was a piece Ryan Evans, chief editor of the Washington-based blog — ‘War on the Rocks’, highly popular with the US strategic Beltway community, had expressly solicited from me but refused to publish because of my solution it carried about how to deal with this triad — a solution I have been touting to GOI and in my writings since my time on the First National Security Advisory Board in 1998 — TRANSFER NUCLEAR-TIPPED MISSILES TO STATES ON CHINA’S PERIPHERY — Vietnam, for a start, followed by the Philippines, and any other country that lines up to oppose China.

After all, that was the metric Beijing used to arm Pakistan to contain India, and North Korea to contain Japan, thereby neutralizing its two main Asian rivals —  India and Japan. It was a reckless strategy China adopted, but it opened the door for a strong, expansively nationalist-minded government in Delhi to return the compliment in kind, considering Japan is still too colonized by the US to consider the option of, if not proliferating to 3rd countries, than to arming itself with H-Bombs to keep off China. The basic weakness in the extended deterrence notion is this: The US will be damned if it is going to come to Japan’s or South Korea’s or any other country’s rescue if that risks an annihilating North Korean atomic/hydrogen bomb strike on Guam or even Hawaii, what to speak of Los Angeles/San Francisco. The reason why I argued in the 2008 book that sooner rather than later, Japan. South Korea and Taiwan will serially/near simultaneously go weapons nuclear. I called them the “nuclear dominoes”.

Time is long past, I have been arguing, to begin paying back China in its own coin. But, here’s the problem. Rather than using North Korea’s thermonuclear blast to tell the world that all restraints are off, and India will resume fullscale open-ended testing of hydrogen weapons, MEA was fast and nearly the first off the block to excoriate North Korea for the H-test. (The S-1 test in the 1998 Shakti series of underground tests to reiterate again was a fizzle and unless we test again at full yield or, at a minimum, the certifiable and scalable 250 KT level, India cannot credibly claim ownership of thermonuclear weapons status.)  Can anything more retrograde for India’s nuclear security be imagined? This sort of reaction is not a surprise from an MEA with FS, K. Jaishankar, the lead negotiator of the nuclear deal with the US and therefore the prime official prop for it. He’d be most keen for India never to test again and thus imperil the N-deal, his handiwork,  from which India has got little it couldn’t have got without it, but has surrendered much. The larger question though is — Does the Modi government’s desire to please the US trump India’s national security interests???

And the still more pressing question is — why has Delhi not publicly decried the China-Pakistan-North Korea nuclear connection, and squarely blamed Beijing for the proliferation nightmares the world is in for? Why is China the beneficiary of the Indian government’s inability to perceive the primary threat to the country’s existence even as no opportunity is lost to rail against the minor, pipsqueak of a neighbour to India’s west? Oh, I know, I know. GOI is waiting for the US to do so first, whereupon the brave and bold in Delhi will suddenly wake up to the peril that’s always been posed by China, and only China.  Pakistan is a small sideshow that — if Delhi has the slightest strategic sense it will try its utmost to dissuade from climbing into Beijing’s pocket, which it almost has done  by signing on to CPEC. A whole slate of economic and other inducements as I have long argued is what Islamabad would find irresistible. Because let’s be absolutely plain about this: India finds itself unable to handle Pakistan very well, and it has in mind to tackle a Pakistan- fully allied with China?

But what about the nuisances — the LeT, JeM leaders prancing about Muridke and elsewhere — what stops the Indian military from deploying their Special Forces on strategic missions for a change to take them out? Or, RAW from arranging what needs to be done? Surely, these are options, the NSA, Ajit Doval, with his career in covert ops, is well suited to conceive and order. Then again, perhaps, the Modi govt thinks thundering on about “surgical Strikes” will do the trick.

But our “strategic” brains so stop working as soon as Pakistan heaves into view, it is pathetic, of course, but also so ridiculous — there’s nothing left to say. Moreover, with the BJP going deeper into the Hindutva mode and GOI and Indian military continuing to fixate on the so-called ‘Pakistan threat’, India is as likely as not to slip from the marginal position it now occupies in world affairs — truth be told —  to the sub-marginal state category Pakistan currently occupies. If Pakistan has China to lean on, we have Umrika bahadur. Right?

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 arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, North Korea, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Taiwan, Terrorism, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Pungyye-ri blast — Time India resumed thermonuclear testing (re-titled)

  1. An Exceptional & Constructive-Criticism,which astoundingly is HARD to subvert or deflect. Sir, Whatever, you are saying is going to happen anyways, But when these BABUS from the South-Block will feel the HEAT & ACCOUNTABILITY for the damage they have done ? second of all, if the GOI is going to resume MEGATONNE tests AGAIN, what will be the possible modus operandi & ROE for Washington to pull down the strings for New Delhi & Tokyo ? Thirdly, i was watching some youtube videos regarding underwater atomic explosions which USSR & USA had conducted earlier, so why we cannot do that COVERTLY ? Your response will be Highly appreciated by the people of India

  2. andy says:


    Well,well,well…Bharat can afford to say” I told you so”because that’s what hes been warning against for more than a decade.Now that his warning has indeed been fufilled by the rogue triade of DPRK,China and the Islamic republic of Pakistan,its only natural for right thinking folk to demand that his recommended countermeasures be implemented ASAP.

    A quick transfer of nuclear tipped Agni 1 or 2 to Vietnam for starters should indeed put the same strategic shackles on China as it has sought to do by nuclear arming Pakistan against India.Simplicity ,as the saying goes, is the essence of genius.No need for any elaborate moves,that cost huge sums of money,this one will do the trick to a large extent,in the shortest possible time and with minimal cost.

  3. ResumeNuclearTesting. says:

    I agree entirely with your viewpoint here and support the resumption of nuclear testing – with proper planning for the consequences of course. However, I would like some clarity on something (as asked before), in your book Nuclear Weapons & Indian Security 2002 ed. and at page 320 and then again at page 376, you indicate that India had designed and deployed 100 kiloton fission weapons with a mass of 250-300kg. Is this the case still and how much fissile material would one use?

  4. Depends on weapon design, its sophistication, but a basic 20 KT fission weapon’d take anything from 8-12 kg WgPu.

    • ResumeNuclearTesting. says:

      But did India design and deploy a 100 kt fission weapon as indicated? If so, you’re 2002 book contained a major revelation.

  5. MS says:

    Why do you call it reckless strategy of China in helping Pak and North korea go nuclear? A friend of China will call it a brilliant strategy and even an enemy with wisdom would admit the same. As you said, having the foresight to identify two rivals and neutralising. China wants to lead the world so they are all the time playing the game.

    Your point about arming the other players(and also making them allies) is right but very difficult to do now-here again, like in the manufacturing business, China leads the way. The Chinese way is the only way..perhaps.

    One used to read that Pak missiles are better when we started the agni development. Now, it is the nuclear bomb-they have got better design. We don’t want to test now because we don’t want any distractions when we are thinking of “make in India”. And we do not have a friend in north korea to verify our deisgn.

    As soon as I read a current Indian general’s warning about a Pak threat a few days ago, I thought- Oh, is it to buy import more weapons. Everybody including the weapons lobby has heard some in politics talk about Pakistan, so they are cleverly using it to sell imported weapons.

    Why don’t we get to read what you have written in your last para hinting at today’s situation in newspapers. I mean, your style. You have summed up so much in just a few lines.

    • san man says:

      China was perfectly willing to test while it was pursuing Make-in-China. The thing is that China had multiple winds supporting it – they also had Western Cold War allies in their corner, to preserve relations no matter what. India needs to bide its time until US-led China-containment strategy is fully rolling, so that ties can’t be derailed just by our test. At a very minimum, we have to be ready to test on short notice, in case Pak eventually tests a Pyongyang-gifted H-bomb. Another problem is that Pak might be able to get an H-bomb tested on North Korean soil, just as it got a nuke tested by China.

  6. raja says:

    Pakistan has to fear its population growth more than any NW.

  7. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    In your recent book “Why India is not a great power (yet)”, you refer to the existence of 2.5-3 meter dia composite solid motor casings. Have experimental motors with composite casing of such diameter actually been tested by DRDO? They would be more useful for the space program than for DRDO.

  8. Couple of quick questions,Sir;some of them i have been meaning to ask for a long time.

    1)Is our thermonuclear technology essentially frozen at 1998 levels or have we come long way with computer simulation.

    2)You have for the longest time been a proponent of co-opting Pakistan, an idea quite frankly even those of us with open minds can’t seem to get our heads around, since the very identity of Pakistan state and it’s people is anti India/Hindu, and whose sole objective is destruction of India/hindus at all cost, ghazwa-e-hind that is.

    Don’t you think it’s too late now post Zia to even consider co-opting Pakistan?

    • 1) Without more testing, no simulation rectifications in design are worth the computers they are done.
      2) Other than intelligently co-opting Pakistan, what alternative do we have? Would it be better for us that Islamabad turn into Beijing’s outpost, which some sections in that country would prefer to do — cut their noses off to spite India’s face?

      • I would say. Co-opting is hardly something that will work with Pakistan. There is nothing we can do to really get them around. We seem to have tried everything since ’47. By letting them build their weapon we have also given up any possibility of meaningful coercion. Pakistan is also already a Beijing outpost, just as it was American outpost earlier. In fact, it would be anybody’s outpost willingly, if it helps it gain some parity with India. Since it is not a security seeking state, but a state, hell bent on somehow causing instability in the Subcontinent.

        The only logical option is to co-opt Pakistan’s other two not so friendly neighbors. It’s containment seems to begin in Afghanistan. China can make Pakistan an outpost only because India has not been assertive about its legal rights in Gilgit-Baltistan.

  9. raja says:


    1.”Whoever has teeth they may eat peanuts!”

    2.”Some threaten war to deceive others and some others are at war and deceive themselves”

    3.Diplomacy without gun is useless
    Guns with Diplomacy is dangerous

    4.Army, navy and airforce…The degree of combination determines whether it is a serious force or a circus force!

    5.He who controls trade controls the world
    He who controls currency controls trade

    6.Modern world…place where war and peace always coexists

    7.One world, one order, but…many countries!

    8.Never leave anyone with peace!

    9.Always have the capability to threaten but never go to war!

    10. Always eye others country!

  10. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:


    The US Geological Service put the magnitude of the resulting earthquake at 6.3, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) and Norwegian agency NORSAR had raised their initial figures to 6.1.

    As a result, the respected US website 38 North, which is linked to Johns Hopkins University, said it was raising its estimate for the yield of the blast to “roughly 250 kilotons”. The figure is more than 16 times the size of the 15-kiloton US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

    “This large explosive yield is also quite close to what 38 North had previously determined to be the maximum estimated containable yield for the Punggye-ri test site,” said 38 North.

    Governmental estimates of the yield vary from South Korea’s 50 kilotons to Japan’s 160. US officials have said they are still assessing whether it was an H-bomb, also known as a thermonuclear weapon, but that “so far there is nothing inconsistent with the North Korean claim that this was a hydrogen bomb”.

    According to 38 North, satellite pictures from last Friday, five days after the test, showed new activity in alternate tunnel portal areas at the Punggye-ri test site including parked trucks, mining carts and other equipments. “Onsite work could now be changing focus to further prepare those other portals for future underground nuclear testing,” it said.

  11. Kya says:

    During whole of mid 80s and late 80s india was pleading with usa that pakustan is cladestinally smugvling uranium and tools from europe to maje atomic bomb -but usa arrogantly brushed aside indian complaints .
    Has india any moral righr to ask usa now to chide pakistan abd china for pak nukes when america itself helped pakis get nukes ?

  12. Kya says:

    Democracy at its best. “I will tell you what you can or can not do; if you do not obey, I will tell the World body (UN) to place excruciating sanctions on you.” “Because I can attack any country I like, does not mean that you are allowed to build weapons to defend yourself”

    WOW … So the US is the only country allowed to have nukes… So between 1945 and 1992 as part of the nuclear arms race. The United States conducted around 1,054 nuclear tests by official count, including 216 atmospheric, underwater, and space tests…. North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests..

    Check your facts!! The US is the trouble maker, -as usual. There was originally no North and South Korea. The Soviet Union began liberating the country from the North end from the Japanese occupiers. Then, the US, seeing what the Soviets were doing, decided to interfere and entered the South end and began supporting RIVALS of the Northern Koreans. So the interfering US caused the split in the country and in the process, killed 100,000 of Koreans!


    The best defense against the US and its coalition of criminal states is a good military equipped with weapons of mass destruction to repel the invaders and enemies of humanity. Disarm yourself to please the US and it allies and you might as well send them an engraved invitation to invade your nation so they can rape, pillage and steal whatever land and natural resources they want.

  13. Kya says:

    North korea facts

    Some interesting points:

    The Korean state is 3250 years old.
    They had book printing 320 years before Gutenberg.
    Luxury jeeps on the streets of Pyongyang suggest the country is not as poor as people say.
    Info about and footage of Kim’s pretty, pop-star wife
    Russian population centers of Vladivostok and Hassan are a few miles away – if war comes to N. Korea, particularly nuclear war, it will be a disaster for Russia too.
    North and South Koreans think of themselves as one nation, one race, and both are fiercely nationalistic and look down on other races. The two countries are much closer emotionally than people in the West realize. Foreigners are enemies in North and South alike.
    N. Korea has a complex caste system which is officially supported. It has 51 castes.
    N. Korea abandoned Marxism in the 1970s!
    Why the energy embargo won’t hurt the North much (they have plenty of coal)
    A look inside a typical Korean apartment.
    Government decisions are made collectively – it is not an autocracy headed by Kim.
    Government and army extremely rational in their behavior.
    A very tough, united people prepared to fight for their lives. No 5th column. People trained for nuclear war, not intimidated by it.
    N. Korea has diplomatic relations with 161 nations, but not with US.
    N. Koreans are ready to fight, and not afraid of war. Impossible to bring this proud people to their knees.

  14. Kya says:

    North korea shows how manly leadership guarantees the freedom and liberty to the Nations who resist pressure to be a vassal and who make sure that they are strong enough to with stand that pressure.
    With so much arrogant bullying by the anglosaxons 5 evil eyes ,North korea has to safeguard her interests.
    UNO has failed to guarantee the rights of nations so if might is right then other nations have right to have that might as well .
    For that the leadership needs to have guts.
    Guts which was singularly lacking in case of India when that weakling atal bihari vajpayee put moratorium on further test within 4 days of nucklear tests , one was which was even a failure. All so that usa does not get annoyed !
    Then that foolishness was surpassed by that unelected and unelectable ( even in municipal election) mm singh the traitor prime minister who destryoed any chance of India to have believable deterrance or nukes.
    India does not have hydrogen bomb and will not have any – while even pakistan has one.
    Surpirse is that indians have never risen en mass to even catch that traitor mmsingh and tear him live into pieces for his treachery against India.

  15. Kya says:

    Blame china for india veing a loser nation _ This is the advice that Americans and British parasites will give to India because for them China be better countered by another parsu _India this time indians are supposed to forget that it is the same anglosaxon media and govt. Which used to harass Indian govt.in 80s to make peace with China to counter Russia.
    India is supposed to sacrifice her interest for sake of her real enemies the anglosaxon parasites.


    In the whole decade of 80s when usa was using China against russia it was usa and her stooge inside India who were forcing Indian govt. Of rajiv gandhi To be very friendly to China and be distant to Russia; So much so that they forced rajiv Gandhi to accept Tibet as part of China in autumn 1988.
    So much for American propaganda now to make enmity between India and China because they want India to be American pasty and fritter away the military and economic power of both Asian countries that anglosaxon hegemony remains as parasite on the world.

    China should not get trapped by the Anglo American plot. The enemies of China know that China give undue imporimportance to symbol -so so called one China policy is weakest link in China. Because that unnerved China that Taiwan be recognised by other states when reality is that Taiwan is still not a physical part of China so China would be foolish to get agitated by western bait to enrage China by threatening to recognise Taiwan.that state is already a separate state as a fact now.
    West can not make it more separate .China would be foolish to get agitated about Taiwan. China must rearm herself heavily and when time comes must attack the west along with Russia and iran to sort out those intruders into Asia.

    ________””‘””‘”‘””‘”‘”‘””””‘”‘”‘””‘”””” c
    America realised that if Russia China and India get together then they can counter anglosaxon bullying of 5 evil eyes.
    So American agents inside India from the time of traitor mm singh were induced to lie about China and made many constant derogatory writings about China to Viviane the atmosphere.they have succeeded.
    Indians out of jealousy want to destroy China and want to live happily ever after I see Anglo American slavery.they like not Asian friend but a white man as tyrant

    China should be wars of treacherous Russia who will jump into usa bed even if it means betraying her allies like iran and Syria China.
    China should be wars of India too which really has become an American vassal ( one amongst 100) and has been invited by Anglo American to open another front against China.
    My country India is in grip of traitors ever since that ugly sardar mm singh was installed as PM despite him not winning a single seat _not even for himself.
    Such is the democracy in India where a man could be pm for ten years despite having been rejected by the electorate in the general election. ! This fraudulent democracy was sustained by the corrupt connivance of English league media in India.
    So beware of this name “democracy” it is a pimpocracy for the oligarchy everywhere.


    Quote -”

    China had the world’s greatest navy, with an estimated 317 ships – constructed at Nanjing. These ships were made with special woods and waterproofing techniques, and they had an adjustable centerboard keel. Some of the ships were 440 feet long and 180 feet wide, ships with four to nine masts that were as high as ninety feet, with silk sails and with crews that numbered as many as five hundred.

    But in China interest in a great navy and merchant shipping was overshadowed by concern about military defenses on land. Attempts to control Annam failed and were expensive. In the mid-1400s the Mongols were making border raids and appeared to the Chinese as a greater threat. Also, Confucian influence had increased at court. Confucian scholars were filling the ranks of senior officialdom and remained hostile to commerce and foreign contacts. The Confucianists had little or no interest in seeing China develop into a great maritime trading power. The Confucianists saw internal trade as enough. The government ended its sponsorship of naval expeditions, and, in the spirit of isolationism, the government forbade multi-masted ships sailing out of port.”

    “Brahmins were much like the Confucians in their opposition to trade, the Brahmins making involvement in foreign trade, as well as farming and overseas travel, forbidden to their class. Generally, religious contemplation was esteemed while people with power had little interest in improving conditions for the merchant or in improving technology.”

  16. Mr Karnad,

    I am currently reading your book ‘Strategic Sellout’. What do you think the nuclear deal has lead to after all these years? Which fears have come true and which promises have been delivered?Uranium supplies a good enough reason or redherring.Do you think it is still worth testing the HBomb now and face the resulting backlash?
    Here is an interesting quote from Sen Pressler.
    “I would love to see peaceful use of nuclear energy, but I am worried that so far it (Indo-US nuke agreement) has mostly been an arms deal. It seems to me that much of the new agreement is a large arms sale to Indians,” Pressler said.

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