When the U.S. Geological Survey as well as earthquake monitoring stations in South Korea detected a 4.9 magnitude earthquake in North Korea on Monday evening, experts throughout the world suspected that the communist nation had conducted a nuclear test.
Within hours, North Korea confirmed it had once again defied the world and violated its obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. The massive blast constituted a crucial step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile capable of striking the United States.
The news drew nearly immediate condemnation from Washington, the U.N. Security Council, and even its only major ally, China. A day before President Obama was set to deliver his annual State of the Union address, North Korea declared that the highly provocative atomic test was merely its “first response” to what it called U.S. threats, and said it will continue with unspecified “second and third measures of greater intensity” if Washington “maintains its hostility.”
This latest development is dangerous on numerous fronts.
There is no doubt that the nuclear arsenal of North Korea, an impoverished country ruled by a vicious dictatorship, is a very real threat to the security of the United States and its allies. Equally disconcerting is the concept that unless this provocative action is responded to in a very real way, it will only embolden the tyrannical regime in Iran to continue on its own path of nuclear armament.
At this writing it is unclear whether China, who has expressed firm opposition to Tuesday’s test but called for a calm response by all sides, will sign on to any new, binding global sanctions. With a military response unlikely, there are few viable options on the table.
For the sake of global security, the response to this very potent threat can’t be simply lip service. Firm and concrete steps must be taken by a united Western leadership, and the reaction must be loud enough that it will be heard in Pyongyang and Teheran.