What Just Happened in North Korea?

South Koreans watch a TV broadcast of a New Year’s Day speech by the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

                              PHOTOGRAPH BY AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP

CREDITPHOTOGRAPH BY AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP

North Korea detonated some sort of bomb last night. Pyongyang says that it was a hydrogen bomb, although, as Barbara Demick notes, the seismological readings don’t really support that claim. The tremor from the explosion seems to have had a magnitude of 5.1, indicating an explosion estimated at anywhere between six and fifteen kilotons, and even a partially successful hydrogen-bomb explosion (driven by nuclear fusion, rather than fission, as in a classic atomic bomb) would have been bigger. This detonation would be of a similar size to the tests that North Korea conducted in 2006, 2009, and 2013. (The BBC has a chart.) So what is going on? Here are four points to keep in mind.

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