Nuclear test reveals as much about North Korea’s intentions as it does its capabilities

North Korea have released this image, reportedly of Kim Jong-un signing the order for the test.

North Korea claims it has successfully conducted a test of a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear device.

Two experts Emil Dall and Timothy Stafford - Research Analysts for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies - examine the impact it could have.

Today’s North Korean nuclear test and the subsequent statements by North Korean state media suggest that the country may have perfected the technology to produce and test a Hydrogen bomb.

Instead of being the product of a single fissionable reaction as is the case with an atomic bomb, a hydrogen bomb consists of a series of stages whereby a primary fission explosion is used to trigger a secondary fusion explosion which greatly maximises the scale of an explosion and its destructive capability.

If true, this would put North Korea on par with the five recognised nuclear powers under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and ahead of other nuclear armed states such as India and Pakistan.

Though there is always a reason to be sceptical of statements coming out of North Korea, the development of a hydrogen bomb would be the logical next step in the its nuclear weapons development.

It may take days or even weeks to receive proper indications about the true nature of the nuclear test conducted, and the international community will need to prepare for prolonged period in which its imply not possible to confirm or deny North Korea’ assertion that a hydrogen device was tested successfully.

It is important to recognise the significance in itself of North Korea pursuing a nuclear weapons programme – whether hydrogen or not.

ITV News International Affairs Editor Rageh Omaar reports:

Today’s developments demonstrate North Korea’s continued willingness to defy international opinion and the sanctions regimes. Pyongyang is sending a clear message to audiences at home and abroad that its nuclear weapons programme remains one of its highest priorities, and that significant advancements have and will continue to be made.

While the exact capabilities of the North Korean nuclear programme may remain unclear, today’s developments signify that North Korea’s determination to go further has not been diminished by international pressure.

1952 file photo: The mushroom cloud from the first ever hydrogen bomb, 'Ivy Mike', detonated by the US. Credit: Reuters

As a result, its fourth test reveals as much about North Korea’s intentions as it does its capabilities. Such a development can only cause concern amongst the international community.

Attention will now turn to how the international community should respond. The test is unlikely to result in an instant diplomatic crisis. North Korea continues to lack the capacity to miniaturise its nuclear weapons, something it would need to perfect before it would be capable of threatening states beyond its region.

In addition, the progress it has made in its missile program, whilst significant, remains limited.

However, the nuclear test suggests that North Korea is unlikely to be persuaded to change course.

Accordingly, attention will shift to the diplomatic steps – additional sanctions, etc – that can be taken to compel it to pursue a different approach.

These are the views of Emil Dall and Timothy Stafford and do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.