As important as knowing how we got here is what we do next. Arms Control Wonk is reporting that the test was likely a dud. I had come to a similar conclusion after looking at some of the numbers overnight, but just figured I most likely just didn't know what the hell I was talking about. From Arms Control Wonk:
I love the US Geological Survey.
They’ve published lat/long (41.294°N, 129.134°E) and Mb estimates (4.2) for the North Korean test.
There is lots of data floating around: The CTBTO called it 4.0; The South Koreans report 3.58-3.7.
You’re thinking, 3.6, 4.2, in that neighborhood. Seismic scales, like the Richter, are logarithmic, so that neighborhood can be pretty big.
But even at 4.2, the test was probably a dud.
Estimating the yield is tricky business, because it depends on the geology of the test site. The South Koreans called the yield half a kiloton (550 tons), which is more or less—a factor of two—consistent with the relationship for tests in that yield range at the Soviet Shagan test site:
Mb = 4.262 + .973LogW
Where Mb is the magnitude of the body wave, and W is the yield.
3.58-3.7 gives you a couple hundred tons (not kilotons), which is pretty close in this business unless you’re really math positive. The same equation, given the US estimate of 4.2, yields (pun intended) around a kiloton.
A plutonium device should produce a yield in the range of the 20 kilotons, like the one we dropped on Nagasaki. No one has ever dudded their first test of a simple fission device. North Korean nuclear scientists are now officially the worst ever.
That leaves us in a very powerful negotiating position. Kim Jong Il called our bluff, only he didn't make his hand. Now, he is out on a limb, and out of time with his own bluff and this time the whole world is calling. Hopefully he knows this and his scientists didn't just tell him it worked anyway.
Kim Jong Il, much like our own leader, suffers from an endless abundance of pride to a dangerous degree, and we can use that to our advantage again assuming that he knows he is up the creek without a paddle.
We should offer to enter with North Korea into bilateral talks, but within the six party talks framework. Once we confer with the other five we should then make Kim Jong Il an offer he can't refuse. The sticks? Go along with this, or you die, or you will be exposed as a fraud, and then you die. The carrots? Food, oil and a shot for North Korea to enter into the rest of the world.
Kim Jong Il would have to agree to abandoning his nuclear program, and relinquishing all plutonium and bomb grade uranium to the IAEA plus closing and sealing all research facilities. Furthermore, the IAEA would be granted admission to any site in the country they wished to ensure future compliance.
In return, we would agree to sign a non-aggression treaty. It's not like it is worth the paper it's written on anyway.