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North Korea: member of the Bush administration Axis of Failure tests nuke

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(Note from John: AJ is a former intelligence officer with the US Department of Defense.)

North Korea's claim of a successful nuclear test is certain to reverberate around the world. Some very, very brief history for this quick analysis (and I promise a fuller assessment tomorrow):

Sunday was considered a likely test date because Kim Jong Il assumed the titles of General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Chairman of the National Defense Commission, which is the primary center of power in North Korea, on October 8, 1997. The situation was increasingly tense over the past week, as North Korea floated the possibility that it might test, then there was a border skirmish in which shots were fired and accusations exchanged (though no injuries), and the newly-elected Japanese Prime Minister arrived in Seoul today. As if things weren't complicated enough already, members of the UN Security Council are widely expected to select South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon to succeed Kofi Annan as secretary-general of the UN on Monday night. Those are your fun water-cooler factoids for tomorrow. Reports are filtering in that South Korean officials confirmed reports of a test, and after initial claims that no relevant seismic activity was detected, it now looks like such an event was identified. The story is only about an hour old, but right now it appears legitimate.

As for policy, China is going to lose its collective mind over this, but it will do so relatively quietly. South Korea and Japan will be extremely unhappy, and they'll express their dissatisfaction publicly. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has, not surprisingly, called an emergency meeting of principals, and with Japan's Prime Minister already in the country, the two nations will be working closely. The UN is likely to take some kind of punitive action, though I'm not sure what options it has left to further isolate what is perhaps the most solitary nation in the world. The test comes as North Korea was acting increasingly desperate and erratic. The government's behavior is a reflection of considerations including sanctions, regional calculations, and a healthy dose of just plain crazy.

All of this, of course, comes after years of the Bush administration alternately mismanaging and ignoring the North Korea situation. President Bush claimed he would not tolerate a nuclear North Korea, but he has done worse than that: he ignored the threat of North Korea as it expanded its nuclear arsenal, and was unable to offer the appropriate carrots and sticks to prevent this hugely destabilizing event. Shameful.

Again, I'll have more tomorrow, but for the moment, this much is clear: this is a diplomatic, security, and non-proliferation failure... and perhaps disaster.

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