April 14, 2017 6:22 pm JST

North Korea should see no bluff in 'mother of all bombs'

Washington's strike in Afghanistan is mother of all hints to Pyongyang

TETSURO KOSAKA, Nikkei senior staff writer

The GBU-43/B, also known as the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, detonates during a test at Elgin Air Force Base, Florida, U.S., Nov. 21, 2003 in this handout photo provided Apr. 13. © Reuters

TOKYO -- The U.S. dropped the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal for the first time in combat on an Islamic State group facility in Afghanistan.

The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," is designed to destroy underground facilities.

Considering the current circumstances, its use seems to serve three purposes, including pressuring a defiant North Korea to think twice about its nuclear ambitions. But it is by no means intended just as a bluff.

First, the bomb was used to maintain a balanced approach for Washington toward the use of chemical weapons following a U.S. cruise missile strike on a Syrian military facility to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons. 

Based on its research, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons determined that the Islamic State group used mustard gas on Kurds in the Syrian civil war in 2015. Washington found its approach lopsided if it attacked only Syrian forces. Also, the U.S. does not want to give Assad and his ally, Russia, a pretext to criticize the U.S. for not punishing the Islamic State group for using chemical weapons. 

Secondly, the bomb's use sends a message to North Korea, which has continued to challenge the international community with nuclear tests. Pyongyang is believed to have constructed extensive underground military facilities to defend against potential U.S. air raids after it saw that such strikes have led to the demise of autocratic regimes in Iraq and Libya. As it is believed that the U.S. has located key entrances to these underground facilities, North Korea is worried that it could be targeted for an attack using the GBU-43/B.

Upon detonation, the GBU-43/B emits a powerful blast that reverberates far beyond the scale of typical bombs, ripping through underground facilities. It is capable not only of destroying enemy weapons in subterranean facilities, but injuring combatants via its shock waves. 

It also seems to me that Washington wants to make North Korea reluctant to embark upon a battle. 

The third purpose is to collect data that is only available when a bomb is used in an actual combat situation. This is important because the extent of damage a bomb can inflict varies according to factors such as the way it is dropped or detonated, and the conditions in which it is used.

Washington appears to have a two-step strategy in mind regarding North Korea. In the first step, the U.S. is trying to get North Korea to engage in dialogue by pressuring the country through the threat of military action, which also includes the deployment of a naval strike group near the country. If this does not work, the next step is military strikes. 

The purpose of dropping the "mother of all bombs" certainly includes conducting a drill ahead of possible use in North Korea.

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