South Korea retaliated for North Korea’s nuclear test with broadcasts of anti-Pyongyang propaganda across the rival’s tense border Friday, believed to be the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The broadcasts will draw a furious response from North Korea, which considers them an act of psychological warfare. Pyongyang is extremely sensitive to any outside criticism of the authoritarian leadership of Kim, the third member of his family to rule. When South Korea briefly resumed propaganda broadcasts in August after an 11-year break, Seoul says the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire, followed by threats of war.
South Korean media reported that frontline troops, near sites where 11 propaganda loudspeakers started blaring messages at noon (0300 GMT), were on highest alert. The military moved military back from the border ahead of the broadcasts. South Korea’s Defense Ministry couldn’t confirm the reports on its soldiers’ high alert, but said it will sternly repel any provocation by North Korea.
There was no immediate reaction by the North, but its response could be especially harsh because of the high emotions surrounding the likely birthday of Kim, who is believed to be in his early 30s. North Korean military forces often compete to show their loyalty to the leader. The North’s state media has yet to mention Kim’s birthday or South Korea’s loudspeaker campaign.
The broadcasts include popular Korean pop songs, world news and weather forecasts as well as criticism of the North’s nuclear test, its troubled economy and dire human rights conditions, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry. Included are songs by a young female singer, IU, whose sweet, girlish voice might be aimed at North Korean soldiers deployed near the border.
August’s broadcasts, which began after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for land mine explosions that maimed two South Korean soldiers, stopped only after the rivals agreed on a set of measures aimed at easing anger.
It may take weeks or longer to confirm or refute the North’s claim that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, which would mark a major and unanticipated advance for its still-limited nuclear arsenal. Even a test of an atomic bomb, a less sophisticated and less powerful weapon, would push its scientists and engineers closer to their goal of building a nuclear warhead small enough to place on a missile that can reach the U.S. mainland.
Later Friday, South Korea was to announce the results of its first round of investigations of samples collected from sea operations to see if radioactive elements leaked from the North’s test, according to the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety.
President Barack Obama has spoken to South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and reaffirmed the “unshakeable U.S. commitment” to the security of the two Asian allies. Separate statements from the White House said Obama and the two Asian leaders also agreed to countries “agreed to work together to forge a united and strong international response to North Korea’s latest reckless behavior.”
South Korean and U.S. military leaders also discussed the deployment of U.S. “strategic assets” in the wake of the North’s test, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Thursday.
Ministry officials refused to elaborate about what U.S. military assets were under consideration, but they likely refer to B-52 bombers, F-22 stealth fighters and nuclear-powered submarines.
When animosities sharply rose in the spring of 2013 following North Korea’s third nuclear test, the U.S. took the unusual step of sending its most powerful warplanes — B-2 stealth bombers, F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 bombers — to drills with South Korea in a show of force. B-2 and B-52 bombers are capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency session and pledged to swiftly pursue new sanctions against North Korea, saying its test was a ‘clear violation’ of previous U.N. resolutions.
The North’s claim of a successful test drew extreme skepticism abroad.
An early analysis by the U.S. government was “not consistent with the claims that the regime has made of a successful hydrogen bomb test,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
South Korea’s spy service said it thought the estimated explosive yield from the blast was much smaller than what even a failed hydrogen bomb detonation would produce.
Some believe North Korea might have detonated a boosted fission bomb, a weapon considered halfway between an atomic bomb and an H-bomb.
But even if the North exploded a boosted fission bomb, its explosive yield, estimated at six kilotons, showed the test was likely a failure, a South Korean defense official said Thursday. An explosion two to five times more powerful would have been reported if it were successful, the official said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.
The North’s 2013 test produced an estimated yield of 6-7 kilotons of explosives, according to South Korean officials.
Fusion is the main principle behind the hydrogen bomb, which can be hundreds of times more powerful than atomic bombs that use fission. In a hydrogen bomb, a nuclear fission explosion sets off a fusion reaction responsible for a powerful blast and radioactivity.
The hydrogen bomb already is the global standard for the five nations with the greatest nuclear capabilities: the U.S., Russia, France, Britain and China. Other nations may either have it or are working on it, despite a worldwide effort to contain such proliferation.
To build its nuclear program, the North must explode new and more advanced devices so scientists can improve their designs and technology. Nuclear-tipped missiles could then be used as deterrents and diplomatic bargaining chips — especially against the U.S., which Pyongyang has long pushed to withdraw its troops from the region and to sign a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War.