EXPLAINER: How impoverished N. Korea finances testing spree
TEL AVIV, Israel – The Obama administration has said it wants to improve U.S.-North Korea relations, but if North Korea were a rich country it could simply buy up all of America’s dollars.
The U.S. does have dollars to buy weapons and other tools of war, but they would be of limited use in the current North Korean situation.
North Korea can buy, say, a few thousand tons of plutonium, but it would need to spend at least twice that to build a bomb.
It is not clear how wealthy North Korea is. The International Monetary Fund estimates the country will be bankrupt in 2024 unless it gets at least $2 billion a year in aid from China.
And that’s if it gets even that much.
North Korea has been testing ballistic missiles. But that is a small part of a much larger testing process that it has been pursuing for at least the past four decades.
North Korea has built scores of tunnels to hide its weapons and has tested dozens of nuclear bombs. It also has conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, but these have not been publicly confirmed by the government. (The IAEA has only recently confirmed the last one, in October.)
The scale of the tests has caused many analysts to draw parallels to the infamous Soviet-era “test series” that began in 1964 and ended in 1974, when Moscow stopped its testing.
North Korea’s current tests, however, are more like a nuclear launch.
To get a better idea of them, watch the clip of one from Oct. 3. You might want some Kleenex handy.
Most of its nuclear weapons work by using a device called a thermonuclear device, which is basically an atomic bomb but with a small, thermally-sensitive plutonium core that melts the surrounding rock if the temperature gets too high.
Nuclear weapons are a hot topic. The U.S. military has been studying new bomb designs, while North Korea has been increasing the number of its existing nuclear bombs, most of which are “pocket” devices that can be easily stored in a backpack.
The U.S. military has had long-term plans for more powerful nuclear weapons, but they could not be