North Korea’s Purported Nuke Looks Like A Cartoon Bomb

Internet-ready cartoon bomb material

Rodong Sinmun front page, March 9, 2016.

Rodong Sinmun front page, March 9, 2016.

This is Kim Jong-un and friends with a maybe-nuke.Rodong Sinmun

The March 9th, 2016 front page of Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s official state-run newspaper, features a glistening spherical nuclear weapon. It looks like a cartoon bomb. We know very little beyond that, though Pyongyang claims that it’s a miniaturized warhead, which is a necessary development if Kim Jong-un is going to have a weapon that can go on a ballistic missile. This would be a frightening development, if there were any guarantee that what Pyongyang says about the warhead is accurate.

There isn't. Earlier this year, when North Korea tested a nuclear weapon, they claimed it was a thermonuclear device. Seismographic evidence instead suggests it was a modest improvement over earlier bombs, not a substantially deadlier device. February's satellite launch by the hermit kingdom was underwhelming, putting a silent object haphazardly into orbit. Even when North Korea has a genuine success, like a modest improvement in submarine-launched missile technology, they bury that evidence in enough propaganda that it's easy to miss.

This shiny spherical warhead is likely the same: a prop aimed at strategic significance. As Ankit Panda of The Diplomat notes:

What’s worrying with the newly released images is a diagram seen behind Kim Jong-un that, despite being blurred, offers enough detail to suggest that it is a diagram of the Teller-Ulam design for a thermonuclear weapon. As Melissa Hanham, a North Korea-watcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies,noted, it’s unclear if the device seen in today’s Rodong Sinmun is a standalone implosion device or, in fact, the “primary” in a thermonuclear device. There remains the possibility that the device could, in fact, be a standalone implosion device and the Teller-Ulam diagram in the background is part of the staging to reinforce North Korea’s claim of having achieved a fully staged thermonuclear device. Despite these ambiguities, Hanham told me that the device “looks pretty serious.” ”It’s very hard for us to determine or for them to demonstrate the capability short of testing it on the tip of a flying missile,” she adds. North Korea has, to date, never tested its KN-08 ICBM.

In the meantime, feel free to photoshop the North Korean bomb-like thing into old cartoon, stills from Batman: The Dark Knight, and basically anywhere that needs a modern update on old bomb art.

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