Korean Tensions

AP+Photo%2FAhn+Young-joon

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

The Korean Peninsula has been rife with tension for several decades. Since the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953, several futile attempts have been made by several different parties to reconcile North and South Korea, and sporadic clashes continue between the democratic south and the communist north. Progress in the region has arrived at a particularly wide impasse especially since North Korea had started developing its nuclear weapons program.

The threat of a North Korean regime with nuclear weapons has been of grave concern to many countries in the world.  According to the United States Geological Survey, the recent hydrogen bomb reported to have been tested on January 6, 2016, just 30 miles northwest of Kilju City, was measured to have caused a magnitude of 5.1 earthquake.

It has been common knowledge that North Korea has been pursuing nuclear capabilities for many years. Though many governments around the world have not reacted much since the beginning of these endeavors, most, if not all of them, are against North Korea’s possession and testing of nuclear weapons, and many also doubt the country’s bomb-making capabilities all together. If North Korea is to be believed, it has only served to renew the global campaign against North Korea’s military aspirations. Even China, one of North Korea’s few allies, denounced the nuclear test.

Following this event, various North Korean media outlets reported that the test had been “a complete success and…self-defensive measure taken by North Korea to defend its right to live in the face of the nuclear threats and blackmail by the United States and to guarantee the security of the Korean Peninsula.” Many analysts have met media reports, such as this one, of a hydrogen bomb test with skepticism. Norsar, a Norway-based group that monitors nuclear tests, noted that the blast magnitude is not equivalent to what a hydrogen bomb would register. South Korea and Japan also reported that they have not yet found any traces of radiation.

Regardless of the skepticism whether North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb, the fact remains that it detonated some sort of explosive capable of registering as an earthquake. This significantly ratchets up the tension in the region. CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate puts it succinctly, “This is a really unstable regime, one whose leadership we really don’t understand, that really presents a risk not just to peace on the Korean Peninsula, not just to South Korea or even neighbors like Japan, but also potentially to the United States.”

If the United Nations enforces a new round of sanctions against North Korea as a result of its renewed aggressions, will they work? Years of punitive economic policies have failed to dissuade the DPRK’s focus on its military. A CNN article by Greg Botelho and Euan McKirdy on January 8 documents that North Korea has a huge army of 1.2 million active soldiers plus 7.7 million more in reserves in a country of 25 million people. A nuclear North Korea, with its army, poses an extraordinary threat for South Korea, Japan and the world.