Nuclear test in North Korea upset the international community. Experts predict grave consequences for Pyongyang.

Russian seismologists registered an earthquake measuring 5.5-6 on the Richter scale in North Korea at about 5 a.m. yesterday. The Americans estimated its magnitude at 4.7. Academic circles were but running checks when North Korean news agencies reported a successful nuclear device test.

The Defense Ministry evaluated power of the nuclear device exploded in North Korea at approximately 20 kilotons. The first nuclear device ever exploded in this country (October 9, 2006) had been estimated at the range of between 5 and 15 kilotons. Japanese and South Korean media outlets cite sources in their respective intelligence services as saying that there was more than that to the progress Pyongyang made. They say that North Korea tested a compact device this time, something that could be put on a missile. Three years ago, it had been an unwieldy and fairly primitive contraption.

Three missile launches North Korea carried out within hours after the nuclear test added to the general atmosphere of confused distress. As it turned out, however, they were antiaircraft missiles the North Koreans used to try and frighten away foreign reconnaissance aircraft (American, first and foremost) that had rushed to the region.

It has been long since the international community last demonstrated an analogous degree of unanimity. It took practically all world powers bare hours to condemn Pyongyang in no uncertain terms. Comments from North Korean neighbors were particularly devastating. Foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea met, discussed the latest developments, and pledged to combine efforts to engineer adequate punishment by the UN.

The European Union condemned Pyongyang’s actions as a “provocation” and “crying violation” of UN Security Council resolutions.

US President Barack Obama called the North Korean nuclear test a menace to peace in the world. “Provocations such as this will only strengthen international isolation of North Korea,” he said.

Russia joined the chorus of critics with the announcement that the DPRK “… delivered a serious blow at international efforts to reinforce the Nuclear Weapons Nonproliferation Treaty.” “Actions like that might only be appraised as violation of Resolution 1718 of the UN Security Council that demands from Pyongyang to abstain from nuclear tests,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The international community may be unanimous in condemnation of Pyongyang but joint actions against the DPRK seem to remain an impossibility. Urgent meeting of the UN Security Council was called Tuesday night, but even this structure of five permanent members is split on the issue. The United States, France, and Great Britain demand even stiffer sanctions against Pyongyang. China and Russia keep saying that embargoes and sanctions alone will have no effect on the unruly North Koreans and suggest a “more considerate” policy toward Pyongyang. “Doing without hysterical bouts is what counts now. It will be wrong to repeat the mistakes already made after the North Korean missile launch,” a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Pyongyang had launched an ICBM in early April, a development that shocked the international community and elicited animated protests throughout the world.

The impression meanwhile is that efforts of Russia and China to downplay the nuclear missile threat posed by the DPRK will encounter firm opposition in the UN Security Council, and first and foremost from the United States. The April launch earned Pyongyang but a critical statement from the UN Security Council, not even a resolution. Obama was then condemned for treating the DPRK lightly. The US President cannot afford making another analogous mistake several weeks later because it might mark him forever as a weakling.

Also importantly, the West understands that the current crisis is really a test for the international community in the matter of nonproliferation in general. “The DPRK is like a litmus paper,” Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center said. According to the expert, the future of the Iranian crisis depends on how the international community treats the North Korea outrage now. Tehran will take any purely verbal reaction (like another toothless resolution of the UN Security Council) as confirmation of the helplessness of the West and double its efforts to develop its own nuclear program.

CJSC Admiral Michael G. Mullen is convinced that, permitted to proceed at the current rate, Tehran will develop “… an atomic bomb in a year or three.” Some experts actually say that it does not even take bombardments to prevent it from happening because punishment of the DPRK will turn the trick. Considering the volatile situation in the Middle East and the reaction in the Arab world to the US operation against Iran, the idea to whip North Korea few in the world care about must be really tempting for Washington.