North Korea’s Nuclear Provocation

Today North Korea claimed to have successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb. Though experts have not verified this claim, it corresponds to a 5.1 magnitude seismic event recorded on Tuesday. The purported test, which would signify a significant increase in North Korea’s nuclear capability, has been widely condemned by world leaders.

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North Korea’s leader has claimed a number of advanced nuclear capabilities, including boosted yields, warhead miniaturization, and sea launch capability. With only the seismic detection information in hand, there is little this most recent test can tell us to prove or disprove such claims, and expert opinion is running skeptical.

In the near term, the test makes negotiations harder not easier. North Korea cannot appear to be rewarded for such provocative behavior. For now the world is focused on further sanctions. However, North Korea is already a pariah state with a devastated economy. Additional sanctions may have political value as a statement of resolve, but it is hard to see how they can generate impacts that are meaningful and coercive. Given North Korea’s erratic and risk-tolerant behavior, U.S. and regional responses must be accompanied by more effective counter-provocation and counter-escalation strategies and redoubled efforts to improve our deterrence posture and messaging toward North Korea.

Read the full analysis here.

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