North Korea watchers are in a quandary over the reclusive nation’s latest military boast, wondering if it's just propaganda of if the country has indeed added the hydrogen bomb to its arsenal.
The claim was made by the country’s erratic and controversial leader Kim Jong Un while touring a historic weapons industry site in the country.
Kim is reported as saying, “Korea has turned into a powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.”
If it is true that North Korea has developed a hydrogen bomb, also known as a thermonuclear bomb, it represents a huge upgrade to its nuclear weapons capabilities.
A thermonuclear bomb, which is hundreds of times more powerful than an atomic bomb, employs fission power released from uncontrolled fusion reactions.
North Korea carried out unsuccessful nuclear weapons tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and for its efforts became subject to United Nations trade and financial sanctions.
Lee Chun-geun, a research fellow at the Science and Technology Policy Institute, is skeptical about Kim’s claims. "It is hard to regard North Korea as possessing an H-bomb. I think it seems to be developing it," he says.
A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson says the country's military does not have any intelligence to back up its neighbor’s hydrogen bomb boasts. "We are closely monitoring and tracking any and all of North Korea's nuclear activities. So far, we have not noticed any unusual movements or activities." he said.
Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea based at China's Central Party School says he doubts North Korea has the ability to develop a hydrogen bomb. "They have not even conducted any single test and now they make this claim — there's no way for us to believe it is true," he says. "Their purpose could be to pressure the international community. Their main aim is to demand the international community to recognize the country as a nuclear state, and to further stress they will not abandon the nuclear weapons.”
What is worrying is that this is the first time that Kim has said North Korea possess a hydrogen bomb.
The Chinese Government, which is a close ally of North Korea, has not yet issued any statement of Kim’s claims.