An unnamed, but senior Trump Administration official says the US is taking the “threat” of North Korea carrying out an above-ground hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific “seriously.” The official added it would be a “game-changer” if it actually happened.
Speculation has been swirling around the test, though it appears to be purely based on an off-hand comment by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho to reporters suggesting such a test “could” happen. This came with an admission, however, that “I don’t really know since it is what Kim Jong Un does.”
Ri’s comments followed Kim’s statement condemning President Trump as “mentally deranged,” and appear to be just a guess of something they might do in response to President Trump’s threat at the UN General Assembly to “totally destroy” North Korea.
It’s plausible that such threats might provoke North Korea into such a test, and there are reasons to think this might happen. The Punggye-ri test site was estimated to be able to contain a 250-kT detonation, and the site is seen to be crumbling after the sixth, and largest, test. North Korea may simply have no place to conduct an underground test of any larger scale.
Above-ground nuclear testing has been unheard of for decades. The last atmospheric nuclear weapons test was in October of 1980, conducted by China. Like China, North Korea is not a signatory to the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban (PNTB) Treaty.
Still, if such a test would be seen as a “game-changer” by US officials, it’s positively shocking they don’t see President Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea as one. Indeed, there are suggestions aides were warning Trump not to single out Kim during his UN speech, and that the comments on destroying the nation were not in the draft version of the speech.