A North Korean Nuclear Weapons Test in the Pacific Ocean: An Act of War?

    Dave Majumdar

    Security, Asia

    Would America respond?

    If North Korea decided to launch a nuclear test in the Pacific, would that be an act of war?

    Reporters posed the question to U.S. Secretary of Defense, retired U.S. Marine Corps. Gen. Jim Mattis, but his staff intervened before he could answer. However, Mattis did suggest that such an atmospheric blast would be a grossly irresponsible act.

    “This would be a shocking display of irresponsibility toward global health, toward stability, toward non-proliferation,” Mattis told reporters enroute to India on Sept. 24.

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    Indeed, one of the reasons that Mattis did not answer the question is because it is a delicate matter from a policy point of view. Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, is of the opinion that a North Korean nuclear test in the Pacific would not necessarily be an act of war.

    “No,” Lewis told The National Interest. “The ocean is really big; although there would probably be more than a few ships that would see the explosion, I suspect the odds are fairly low that anyone would be hit.”

    James R. Holmes, professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College told The National Interest that a nuclear test in isolation could not necessarily by itself be considered an act of war.

    “This is another gray zone,” Holmes said.

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    The National Interest



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