As the world scrambles for a forceful response to North Korea’s latest nuclear provocation, Pyongyang seems to be basking in the “perfect success” of what it called its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date, with aftershocks impacting buildings in China and Russia.
While it is clear that the test is, once again, a complete defiance of international law, any scrutiny of the claims made by North Korea — of the detonated device being a hydrogen bomb, but small enough to be fitted onto the nose of an intercontinental ballistic missile and so on — will surely take time for independent confirmation. The underground test site did not apparently leak any radioactive material, which makes corroboration of the facts even harder.
But in the meantime, governments around the world and institutions ranging from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to the International Atomic Energy Agency must craft together a strategy that delivers better and quick results — deterring North Korea from pursuing a fatal combination of aggression and ignorance.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ballooning obsession with developing nuclear missiles that target US cities must be effectively punctured soon: The new test suggests that the North Korean nuclear programme is rapidly progressing on all fronts and all efforts to put pressure on it — through sanctions, isolation, and military threats — have failed miserably. So whether it takes tough new UN sanctions, a further deployment of the strategic assets of the United States military and its allies around North Korea, or full diplomatic and economic isolation of Pyongyang — this is a time for decisive action.
It is encouraging to see China’s strong and unequivocal condemnation of the latest tests — as the key interface between the rest of the world and the pariah state, Beijing must play a responsible role in efforts to ensure that North Korea complies with UNSC resolutions and works towards the common goals envisaged by the international community — a denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, protection of the nuclear non-proliferation mechanism and maintaining peace and stability in northeast Asia. And while the immediate focus is on North Korea’s deliberately belligerent actions, the current situation is also an opportunity for the international community to outlaw all nuclear testing — which is only possible in a scenario where all countries with advanced nuclear technology have ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
The only way to move forward and resolve the long-simmering problems of the Korean peninsula is through dialogue. Ironically, the international community has spent enough energy on the semantics of the situation with North Korea. It is time now for purposeful action that prevents the crisis from escalating into a full-blown war with catastrophic consequences.