Why Russia and China Won’t Curb North Korea Any More Than the U.S. Will Curb Saudi Arabia


VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — On Jan. 6, the North Korean government announced to the world that it had conducted a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. There are significant doubts as to whether the device detonated was actually a thermonuclear bomb. For that, the energy yield should have been by orders of magnitude greater. According to preliminary assessments, this most likely was an “ordinary” atomic explosion, possibly enhanced with tritium or deuterium. However, this gives little comfort. Hydrogen or not, North Korea’s latest test is another step in its steady advance towards a full-fledged nuclear capability. Coupled with the North’s ballistic missile program, which is also making incremental progress, this means that at some point in the future Pyongyang’s regime will be capable of delivering long-range nuclear strikes against the countries it counts among its adversaries. Of course, the United States is at the top of North Korea’s potential hit list.

Immediate international response to the test was predictable. The major powers issued public denouncements, while the United Nations Security Council convened for an emergency meeting. But, beyond rhetorical condemnations and probably some symbolic sanctions, we are unlikely to see any substantial actions that could help resolve the North Korean nuclear problem. The range of available tools to deal with the DPRK is extremely limited. When faced with serious offenses committed by “pariah states” like North Korea, Washington tends to reflexively fall back on two options: military force and economic sanctions. However, neither of them is going to work in this case.

North Korea has for a long time been the most heavily sanctioned state in the world.

Using military force to take out the DPRK’s nuclear facilities is off the table as this may provoke a furious retaliation by Pyongyang and precipitate a —> Read More