On Monday, North Korea successfully conducted its third nuclear test. The U.S. Geological Survey detected a 4.9-magnitude tremor near a mountainous site on the Korean peninsula at 11:58 a.m. local time. A "miniaturized" warhead was detonated late Monday evening and caused an underground explosion, according to a Feb. 11 Washington Post report.
Shortly after Pyongyang confirmed the nuclear test, Japan and other nations proposed a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to condemn the provocation. Last December, North Korea sparked international outrage when it test launched an intermediate ballistic missile that flew over Japanese airspace and landed in Philippine territorial waters.
Defense experts in the United States have long predicted that North Korea is developing long-range missile technology that could one day deliver WMDs that can reach western U.S. territories. The area covered could include Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington state. California is America's most populous state with over 50 million residents, and has the world's ninth largest economy.
The Korean peninsula isn't the only one developing its nuclear capability. Last week, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced to a large rally in Tehran that Iran is "now a nuclear country".
Both developments could reduce President Barack Obama's domestic political support. His nominee for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, have repeatedly hinted that the U.S. may not need to deter Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. Additionally, Hagel has suggested that Israel may pose as a bigger threat to regional stability than Iran, comments that drew intense criticism from Jewish leaders.
Over the weekend, former vice president Dick Cheney attacked Obama for nominating a "second rate" nominee in Hagel. At a fundraiser in Wyoming, Cheney said that Hagel, a former Nebraska U.S. senator, was chosen because Obama "wants to have a Republican that he can use to take the heat for what he plans to do to the Department of Defense" (i.e., sequester cuts).
In anticipation of Obama's steep reductions in defense spending in order to pay for domestic spending and welfare programs, the U.S. Navy has halted a $3.3 billion repair program for the U.S.S. Lincoln. It has also withdrawn one aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf, leaving just one carrier group for the entire region for the first time since 2010. The Navy has also withdrawn one guided missile destroyer from the Middle East in order to save money.
On Monday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) sent memos to congress that Obama's sequester cuts will reduce America's defense forces to levels not seen since the late 1970's.
Last week, the Center for Public Integrity published a report that the Obama administration plans on reducing America's nuclear arsenal by one-third. Additionally, sources informed the CPI that senior Obama advisers wanted the plan, which was devised last year, withheld from the public view prior to the November 2012 presidential elections.
The revelation is controversial since, in March 2012, Obama (who was not aware he was being recorded) told Russian's then-president Dmitry Medvedev that he would "have more flexibility" on contentious military issues, such as missile defense, after the U.S. presidential elections.
North Korea is one of nine countries that possess weaponized nuclear technology, though it is believed to possess the fewest warheads. The U.S. and Russia possess the vast majority of nuclear warheads, while China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel also possess such arsenal.
In the 1990's, then-president Bill Clinton shipped food and medical supplies to North Korea in an effort to convince its leaders to halt its nuclear program. For years, the rogue nation had denied that it was developing such technologies.
However, Pyongyang conducted nuclear test explosions in 2006 and 2009. Some military experts estimate that it may have enough material to create a dozen warheads. During the administration of George W. Bush, the U.S. and its allies conducted multilateral talks with North Korea but those talks went nowhere. It then appeared that such "negotiation" were just stalling tactics employed by the North.
Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has taken a soft approach with the rogue nation, saying in speeches that the U.S. would reciprocate friendlier relations if North Korean leaders wanted to embrace such a policy. On Monday, the Japanese government informed media outlets that the Obama administration was told on Feb. 11 that a nuclear test blast was imminent.
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