North Korea’s “H-Bomb for justice” receives immediate condemnation, but is that enough?

Christina Foster, Vol. 37 Associate Editor

North Korea, the self-declared nuclear state, claims to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.[1] The testing occurred at 10:00am local time on January 5, 2016[2] and is one of several experiments carried out by leader Kim Jong-Un and the late Kim Jong-Ilin what is becoming a routine violation of international law. Last May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused North Korea of “flagrant disregard for international law,”[3] and the country is clearly showing no signs of letting up. While the United Nations Security Council has adopted several resolutions which impose sanctions on North Korea, these resolutions are merely soft laws that lack teeth. Even more problematic are the conflicting international policies and wavering stances of powerful nations, such as China and the United States. To achieve the objectives of the resolutions that target North Korea’s nuclear program, the leading countries of the world need to effect stricter sanctions and follow through as a united front. While North Korea’s nuclear proliferation is just one of many international concerns that the United States and its allies currently face, in Pyongyang, developing a nuclear program has long been at the forefront of the government’s ambitions.[4] To North Korea, the alleged hydrogen bomb is a symbolic “treasured sword for justice” against South Korea, the United States, and their allies.[5] A hydrogen bomb is a thermonuclear weapon that is significantly more powerful than an atomic bomb, and only five countries—Russia, China, France, Britain, and the United States—are confirmed to possess this kind of bomb.[6] Obtaining such a weapon would constitute a considerable military advancement for the isolated country. There is great skepticism surrounding North Korea’s capacity to produce a hydrogen bomb. The United States Geological Survey has confirmed that the test took place, triggering a 5.1 magnitude seismic event.[7] The United States Government, however, believes the bomb that North Korea detonated was not a hydrogen bomb, but rather an ordinary atomic detonation.[8] Regardless of the kind of bomb, it certainly violated a number of international resolutions.[9] The UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions since 2006­­ in an effort to penalize North Korea for the development of its nuclear weapons program.[10] These have done little to deter the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program because, although legally binding, “states are prohibited from using force to carry out the obligations of the resolutions.”[11] The United States and South Korea have taken a hard stance against North Korea, as they are still technically at war with North Korea. In a symbolic effort to assert its presence and alliance with South Korea, the United States flew a B-52, long-range bomber, at low altitude over South Korea just days after the latest testing.[12]  South Korea has also resumed its propaganda blasts in the demilitarized zone, with continuous broadcasting of everything from K-Pop to news and anti-North Korea political propaganda.[13] China, on the other hand, is one of North Korea’s few allies and has been reluctant to implement punitive measures over the years.[14] But even China has become weary of the North’s antics, which are clearly in violation of international law. In recent years China has joined the United States and other leading nations in placing sanctions on North Korea in areas of banking, trade, travel, and aid.[15]  Following the most recent detonation, the five members of the UN Security Council met to determine the punitive actions that the United States, China, Russia, and others might take against North Korea.[16] China expressed its firm opposition to the nuclear test[17] in January, but it is still unclear what punitive measures, if any, China will support.[18] While the US and South Korea will continue to express their fervent disapproval, “the effectiveness of the international response rests on the actions of . . . China.”[19] China may be disheartened, but as North Korea’s only official ally, many experts believe that China is unlikely to take any great measures to punish North Korea.[20] Others believe that China’s strengthened relationship with South Korea and frustrations with Pyongyang, will cause China to reevaluate it’s position on the matter.[21] Either way, without a unified strategy, the Security Council will struggle to halt North Korea’s march towards a developed nuclear status.

[1] Euan McKirdy, North Korea Announces it Conducted Nuclear Test, CNN (Jan. 06, 2016, 3:08), [2] Id. [3] Sounak Mukhopadhyay, ‘North Korea Has No Respect for International Laws’: Kerry, Int’l Bus. Times (May 05, 15, 8:48 PM), [4] Robert Kaplan & Rodger Baker, Why North Korea Needs Nukes, Forbes (Dec. 4, 2013), [5] McKirdy, supra note 1. [6] Did North Korea Detonate a Hydrogen Bomb? Here’s What We Know, N.Y. Times, (Jan. 6, 2016), [7] McKirdy, supra note 1. [8] Ford Fessenden, Josh Keller, & Tim Wallace, Why Experts Doubt That North Korea Tested a Hydrogen Bomb, N.Y. Times (Jan. 6, 2016), [9] Greg Botelho & Euan McKirdy, U.N. Poised to Act Against North Korea After Latest Nuclear Test, CNN (Jan. 07, 2016, 2:50 AM), [10]  Supra note 6. [11] Kelsey Davenport, UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea, Arms Control Association (Oct. 2015), [12] Kirk Spitzer, U.S. B-52 Flight Ups Ante in Nuclear Weapons Dispute with North Korea, USA Today (Jan. 10, 2016, 8:03 PM), [13] Simeon Patterson, Korean Loudspeakers: What are the North and South Shouting About?, BBC (Jan. 12, 2016), [14] Shannon Tiezzi, How will China Respond to North Korea’s Nuclear Test?, The Diplomat (Jan. 07, 2016), [15] Supra note 6. [16] Greg Botelho & Euan McKirdy, supra note 9. [17] Russia, China And U.S Condemn North Korea’s Nuclear Test Claims, NPR (Jan. 6, 2016), [18] James Griffiths, What Can China Do About Nuclear North Korea?, CNN (Jan. 7, 2016, 3:18AM), [19] Jack Moore, The Response to North Korea’s H-Bomb Test Rests on China, Newsweek (Jan. 06, 16, 10:27 AM), [20] Id. [21] James Griffiths, supra note 18.