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North Korea tests ‘H bomb’: Why it raises security concerns for India

North Korea carried out a powerful nuclear test on Monday, claiming to have developed an advanced hydrogen bomb that could sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

world Updated: Sep 04, 2017 23:57 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 3, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) looking at a metal casing with two bulges at an undisclosed location. (AFP Photo)

North Korea’s claim of testing a hydrogen bomb have raised concerns among Indian security experts of a possible reverse flow of the advanced technology to a country that Pyongyang has for long secretly cooperated with on nuclear and missile know-how – Pakistan.

The US Geological Survey registered a 6.3-magnitude quake at North Korea’s Punggye-ri test site on Sunday, and Western experts believe this indicated Kim Jong-un’s regime had detonated a hydrogen bomb with a yield of 100 kilotons.

This is almost 10 times bigger than North Korea’s last nuclear test in September 2016. By contrast, the bomb dropped by the US on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of about 15 kilotons.

Hydrogen or thermonuclear bombs use fusion, or the merging of atoms, to unleash huge amounts of destructive energy, unlike atomic bombs that use fission. More significantly, this is a technology Pakistan is not believed to have mastered as yet.

Collaboration between Pakistan and North Korea on nuclear and missile technology dates back to the 1980s. In his 2008 book Goodbye Shahzadi, journalist Shyam Bhatia quoted late Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto as saying that she had smuggled in uranium enrichment know-how during a state visit to North Korea in 1993.

This data was reportedly used to facilitate a missile deal, whereby North Korea supplied Pakistan with long-range missile technology in violation of non-proliferation regimes. It is widely believed Pakistan’s Ghauri missiles are based on North Korea’s Nodong missiles.

Timeline of nuclear and major missile tests in North Korea since January 2016.

“Based on the earlier patterns of cooperation, there is an immediate need to study whether there could be a reverse flow of the technology from North Korea to Pakistan,” said Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies, a Delhi-based think tank.

“There has been a nuclear-missile trade-off between Pakistan and North Korea and the Chinese provided facilitation to close the gaps,” he told Hindustan Times.

Air vice marshal (retired) Kapil Kak, a former deputy director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said there was a long history of clandestine cooperation between Islamabad and Pyongyang. “If North Korea’s nuclear technology has advanced to this extent and if it is shared with Pakistan, it will be a major crisis,” he said.

Kak said the policy of escalation adopted by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also represented a major concern for India and the region. “He is escalating to the hilt and no one will take chances with him. He has everything to lose if he doesn’t play this escalatory game,” he added.

Experts believe these developments will have a say on how India fashions its national security policies vis-à-vis China, which continues to be the biggest backer of the North Korean regime despite its criticism of Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests.

The shared concerns of India and Japan about China’s backing for countries such as North Korea and Pakistan helped lay the foundation for closer security cooperation between New Delhi and Tokyo in the 1990s and continues to be a key factor even now.

Experts said India will also have to focus on China’s larger strategic objectives behind enabling the WMD programmes of countries such as North Korea and Pakistan. “The patterns here are very opaque and we have to keep a close eye on what the Chinese hope to achieve,” Bhaskar said.

First Published: Sep 04, 2017 17:09 IST