Society & Culture

North Korea: A New Perspective

Reports that North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb in early January caused consternation bordering on panic in both Washington and the East Asian capitals.  That reaction appears to have been a bit excessive.  The available evidence indicates that the explosion was far too small to be a thermonuclear device.  Most likely, it was the test of a fission warhead (a smaller atomic bomb), similar to tests that North Korea had already conducted on three previous occasions—including one as far back as 2006.

Nevertheless, the incident is unsettling.  Once again, Pyongyang appears to have ignored the protests of neighboring countries and the broader international community.  North Korea also defied a series of U.N. resolutions when she decided once more to cross the line into forbidden atomic technology.  Perhaps even more worrisome, the North Korean government again disregarded explicit warnings from its only close ally, China, to refrain from such conduct.

The latest episode continues a pattern that we have seen far too often.  Whenever North Korea wants to gain attention (and diplomatic and economic concessions) from the United States and her East Asian allies, she engages in ostentatiously provocative conduct.  That stage is typically followed by a North Korean offer for constructive negotiations.  Although negotiations usually ensue (the desultory six-party talks that have taken...

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