Editorial: North Korea’s threat to conduct hydrogen bomb test in Pacific Ocean is unacceptable

In New York, North Korea’s foreign minister hinted at the possibility of conducting a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean. He made this remark in the wake of a statement made by Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, that Pyongyang would consider taking the “highest level of hardline countermeasures in history” in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

This boggles the mind. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France once actively carried out atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, but the testing over the Pacific Ocean came to an end more than 40 years ago in response to growing international public opinion against nuclear weapons. Even if the foreign minister’s statement is merely a verbal threat, such talk is completely unacceptable to the people of the A-bombed cities. That a diplomat would make this statement is improper and we urge that it be retracted.

In this nuclear age, indigenous peoples and minorities have been deprived of their lands, and many nations have suffered damage as a result of nuclear tests and uranium mining, which endanger human lives and health.

Up until 1958, the United States carried out 67 atomic and hydrogen bomb tests in the Marshall Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean. In the hydrogen bomb test conducted at Bikini Atoll in 1954, 23 crew members of a Japanese tuna fishing boat from Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, called the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (The Lucky Dragon No. 5) were exposed to the radioactive “ashes of death,” with Aikichi Kuboyama, the boat’s radio operator, dying six months later.

In the wake of this historic incident, the movement to ban A- and H-bombs began to spread in Japan. The people of Japan, having suffered the damage caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll, are opposed to nuclear tests performed in the Pacific Ocean by any nation. The people of Australia, New Zealand, and other countries must voice strong objections to the remark made by North Korea’s foreign minister about the possibility of pursuing a nuclear test.

In 2014, the Marshall Islands, now an independent country, brought a complaint to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against nine countries which possess and develop nuclear weapons. Was North Korea’s foreign minister aware of the strong antinuclear sentiments of the Marshall Islands when he made his remark?

Furthermore, while he stated that a nuclear test might be performed in the Pacific Ocean, how would North Korea actually carry out such a test, technically?

At a press conference on September 22, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera expressed concern, saying that if a hydrogen bomb were carried by a ballistic missile, it would likely pass over Japan. North Korea appears poised to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and pursue an experiment with a long- or intermediate-range ballistic missile.

If such an experiment is actually performed, there will be unavoidable damage to boats at sea or aircraft flying in the vicinity. The radioactive fallout will spread contamination over a wide area.

If an American ship or plane is damaged, there is the danger of calls in the United States for retaliation. The end result would be an extremely volatile situation.

Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. Despite sanctions against it, imposed unanimously by U.N. Security Council resolutions, North Korea went ahead with another launch of a ballistic missile, which passed over Japan. These sanctions should now be fully implemented so that North Korea will understand that its brinkmanship will not have the desired effect.

The highest priorities involve pressing North Korea to abandon its efforts to develop missiles and nuclear weapons, denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and establishing peace and stability in the region. While harsh words have escalated between the United States and North Korea, a path to dialogue must remain open.

South Korea’s foreign minister also criticized the statement made by his North Korean counterpart, saying that this sort of intimidation would again exacerbate tensions. The South Korean government should put top priority on urging North Korea to renounce its nuclear development program by working together with Japan and the United States, while firmly resisting public calls for the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on September 24, 2017)