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North Korea: Ramifications of its Nuclear Test; By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0012/2016

Courtesy: Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, January 9, 2016

As you see, the latest North Korea’s move by claiming they had successfully tested Hydrogen Nuclear Bomb has caused worldwide concerns. So, I would like to ask for your opinions about what is happening:

Q1: Does North Korea’s move really affect the world security? Especially according to Reuters, North Korea boosted frontline troop strength as South readies broadcasts.

ANSWER: North Korea’s explosion of a nuclear devise affects world and regional security in two major respects. First, it undermines the authority of the United Nations Security Council to control the global proliferation of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. This could embolden other states, such as Iran, to follow a similar path of flouting the Security Council. Any undermining of the Security Council weakens global order in general.

Second, North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons directly affects the security of South Korea and Japan because they are non-nuclear countries. If North Korea continues its nuclear weapons program this could produce domestic pressures in Japan and South Korea to develop their own nuclear weapons. South Korea once embarked on this path but ended its program under U.S. pressure. Both Japan and South Korea, faced by a nuclear armed North Korea, will intensify their defense relations with the United States. The United States is considering deploying ballistic missile defences to South Korea. This will cause concern in China. The United States will be threated if North Korea developed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Q2: Under the pressure of having a close tie to North Korea before, what will China do to keep things under control?

ANSWER: China is caught between a “rock and a hard place”. There are no easy choices for China. China does not want a nuclear armed North Korea on its doorstep with an unpredictable leader such as Kim Jong-un. If a nuclear war broke out on the Korean peninsula China would suffer greatly. A North Korea that used the threat of nuclear blackmail could act against Chinese wishes.

But there are limits as to how much pressure China can put on North Korea to get it to act as China wants. If China imposed severe economic sanctions this could contribute to the collapse of the North Korean regime. South Korea and its ally, the United States, would benefit from a reunified Korea. China would bear the costs of refugees fleeing across the border. This would cause domestic instability in China.

Q3: What do you think about the possible affect on North Korea from the expected United Nations Security Council sanctions?

ANSWER: United Nations Security Council Sanctions will have only a marginal impact on North Korea’s future policies. North Korea’s leaders ensure their survival and well-being first and let the general public suffer. UN sanctions will only reinforce North Korea’s leadership embattled mindset. In the past, North Korea has attempted to manipulate a situation such as this to extract concessions or rewards from hostile powers. If Kim Jong-un buckled to UN sanctions he would lose power. UN sanctions could encourage some individuals inside North Korea to overthrow Kim but their chance of success appears slim.

[Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. Email: All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer)]

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