Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell told ABC's This Week, "We have no indication that was a nuclear event of any kind. Exactly what it was we're not sure."
North Korea claims that the explosion was part of the demolition of a mountain for a hydro-electric project.
It's a good time to review the situation on the Korean peninsula where we have over 37,000 troops stationed.
Korean War 1950-53 Casualties:
Republic of Korea (South Korea)
Democratic People's Republic Of Korea (North Korea)
520,000 casualties (estimated)
900,000 casualties (estimated)
In addition, the two Koreas each suffered estimated casualties of one million civilians.
The Korean peninsula is a heavily militarized powderkeg. South Korea's neighbor to the north, North Korea, is one of the most hostile and unpredictable regimes on the face of the earth.
Legally, North Korea and South Korea are still at war. The 1953 Armistice Agreement is not a peace agreement. It is an agreement to cease hostilities.
North Korea has consistently and blatantly violated the Armistice Agreement from the time it went into effect until the present. The violations of the Armistice Agreement have included dozens of hostile incidents on the part of North Korea to include infiltration, sabotage and direct combat.
North Korea has the capability of instantly striking Seoul with long-range artillery, rockets and missiles. North Korea has many rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere on the Korean peninsula and beyond.
Click on photo to enlarge
Seoul is a city of over 10 million people. No one can know the exact effects on that population if they should be hit with conventional (or even worse, chemical) strikes; but there are few who would disagree that it would be devastating.
Evacuation of family members and civilians is planned for and controlled by the U.S. State Department in the event hostilities commence or the State Department judges that conditions warrant evacuation.
This assumes that the State Department will have the time and ability to execute their emergency action plan. In the event of hostilities, North Korean targets would very likely include airports and seaports to prevent or slow re-inforcements to the peninsula. In other words, the very facilities needed by the State Department to evacuate American civilians and family members are potential North Korean targets.
In the Cold War, weapons of mass destruction were considered weapons of last resort whose use risked the destruction of those who used them. Today, our enemies see weapons of mass destruction as weapons of choice. For rogue states these weapons are tools of intimidation and military aggression against their neighbors. -- from US National Security Strategy, 2002
Below are excerpts from recent, official assessments.
From Testimony of Director of Central Intelligence before Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (February 11, 2003):
"Mr. Chairman, I turn now to countries of particular concern, beginning, as you might expect, with North Korea."
"The recent behavior of North Korea regarding its longstanding nuclear weapons program makes apparent to all the dangers Pyongyang poses to its region and to the world. This includes developing the capability to enrich uranium, ending the freeze on its plutonium production facilities, and withdrawing from the Nonproliferation Treaty. If, as seems likely, Pyongyang moves to reprocess spent fuel at the facilities where it recently abrogated the 1994 IAEA-monitored freeze, we assess it could recover sufficient plutonium for several additional weapons."
From Testimony of Director of Central Intelligence before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (24 February 2004):
"The North Korean regime continues to threaten a range of US, regional, and global security interests. As I've noted earlier, Pyongyang is pursuing its nuclear weapons program and nuclear-capable delivery systems. It continues to build its missile forces, which can now reach all of South Korea and Japan, and to develop longer-range missiles that could threaten the United States."
"Moreover, the forward-deployed posture of North Korea's armed forces remains a near-term threat to South Korea and to the 37,000 US troops stationed there."
From Testimony of Admiral Thomas B. Fargo, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command before the House Armed Services Committee (March 31, 2004):
"The stakes posed by the North Korean conventional threat remain high, and are even higher if North Korea continues its pursuit of nuclear programs."
"North Korean missile and missile technology exports pose a grave proliferation concern. Its missile inventory includes over 500 short-range SCUD missiles and medium range NO DONG missiles capable of delivering conventional or chemical payloads well beyond the peninsula."
From Testimony of General Leon J. LaPorte, Commander United States Forces in Korea, before the House Armed Services Committee (March 31, 2004):
"Last year, North Korea posed renewed threats to global security by acknowledging its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other related international agreements."
"North Korea's efforts to strengthen its military, in light of its bellicose rhetoric and history of provocation, remain the most substantial threat to regional peace."
"North Korea has the fifth largest armed force in the world. The ground force has almost one million active duty soldiers."
"About 70 percent of the North Korean Army is deployed south of Pyongyang, where they are capable of attacking with little tactical warning."
"A large number of North Korean long-range artillery systems can strike Seoul from their current locations."
"The size, firepower, and proximity of North Korea's conventional forces to Seoul – coupled with their lethal asymmetric threats – give North Korea the capability to inflict great destruction and casualties if they chose to attack."
"The North Korean ballistic missile inventory includes over 500 SCUD missiles that can deliver conventional or chemical weapons across the entire peninsula."
"North Korea has an assessed significant chemical agent stockpile that includes blood, blister, choking, and nerve agents. These weapons threaten both our military forces and civilians in the Republic of Korea and Japan."
"We also assess Pyongyang has an active biological weapons research program, with an inventory that may include anthrax, botulism, cholera, hemorrhagic fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid and yellow fever."
"North Korea’s abandonment of the 1994 Agreed Framework and International Atomic Energy Safeguards Agreement, withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, restart of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and declarations they have reprocessed 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods indicate they are following a path that may lead to additional nuclear weapon production."
"The intelligence community assesses North Korea already has one or two nuclear weapons, and that they have the potential to make several additional nuclear devices."
"North Korea poses a dangerous and complex threat to peace and security in the region and throughout the world."
"They maintain a massive, offensively postured, conventional force that far exceeds the requirements to defend their country."
"Their continuing weapons of mass destruction programs constitute a substantial threat to Northeast Asia and the world."
"The Korean People's Army continues to invest heavily in military programs designed to offset our operational superiority. We see no indications the Kim regime will change its "Military First" policy, brinkmanship, nuclear challenges, missile proliferation, and illegal activities that ensure regime survival."
As I mentioned before, the Korean peninsula is a powderkeg. It has been that way for over 50 years. The biggest change came last year when North Korea acknowledged their nuclear weapons program.
Every day that goes by without intervention is a day that North Korea increases its nuclear strength. It is a very bad situation. We may well be forced to finally finish the Korean War with nuclear weapons of our own.