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CSIS Briefing
N. Korea Announces Successful Hydrogen Bomb Nuclear Test
What Is the Road Ahead?
Special Contribution
By Victor Cha
CSIS Korea Chair
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (right) with his brasshats

The latest test, coming two days before Kim Jong-un's birthday, demonstrates that North Korea is not building a couple of bombs in the basement, it wants the most modern, sophisticated, and lethal nuclear weapons program it can achieve.

If the hydrogen bomb claims are true, then this is beyond the capabilities that the expert community thought the North could achieve. The battery of international sanctions after three nuclear tests are not delaying the development of the program.

All eyes will be on China to see whether this nuclear test near the Chinese border will finally compel a change in Beijing's support of the regime. While it might lead to some short-term titration of assistance, it is unlikely to cause China to abandon the North.

This is the fourth nuclear test by North Korea since 2006, and the third during the Obama administration.

The international community will harshly condemn the test and move to apply more sanctions but it is unclear what yet another UN resolution will do to deter advances in the program.

The nuclear test flies in the face of recent efforts at inter-Korean dialogue, Japanese initiatives, and overtures by China to the reclusive regime, demonstrating the political will of a regime that seems intent on establishing itself as a nuclear weapons power before re-engaging with any of the regional powers, including the United States.


What Is the Road Ahead?

On Jan. 6, 2016 The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will convene this week, issue statements and eventually authorize a new UNSC resolution (UNSCR) calling for ramped up sanctions. The past three resolutions have not, however, impeded the nuclear program or deterred more tests.

The United States will throttle up sanctions based on the new UNSCR and the Presidential Executive Order 13687 issued on January 2, 2015 following the Sony hack to impose more financial sanctions on accounts and individuals involved with proliferation, cyber attacks, and human rights.

The United States may seek immediate trilateral meetings with its key allies Japan and Korea, as well as pursue better cooperation on missile defense and intelligence sharing with Seoul and Tokyo.

There will be anger and disappointment expressed by them and others, but it remains to be seen whether we will see a change in Chinese behavior.

The Chinese foreign ministry stated that they were not informed of the test in advance. A good, albeit lofty, outcome would be for China to embargo economic activity in response to the test, and temporarily close off airspace to North Korean flights.

In terms of diplomacy outside of UN actions, the nuclear test provides an opportunity for the Six-Party Talks to consider organizing China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States to discuss steps forward and potential contingencies.

Once a UNSCR is put forward, North Korea is likely to respond in some manner to the UNSCR when it is announced, which may lead to a new round of provocations.



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Dr. Victor Cha is Korea Chair of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). He earned his MA from Oxford, and Ph.D. from Columbia. Many books he authored include the award-winning author of "Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle." As prolific writers of articles on int'l relations in such journals as Foreign Affairs and The Washington Quarterly, he also interacts frequently with CNN, NYT, and Washington Post as well as Korean media.

 

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