On January 6, 2016, North Korea claims to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb underground; although the resulting earthquake was a 5.1 on the Richter scale, leading experts to theorize that the test was actually on a fission bomb. These types of weapons produce smaller and lighter warheads, ideal for arming a device like a missile.
During the Cold War, one of the biggest perceived threats to the United States almost came to fruition during the Cuban Missile Crisis; from October 14, 1962 to October 28, 1962, Americans waited with bated breath, anticipating that their worst fears would become their reality. The Soviets had installed nuclear-armed missiles in the Communist country of Cuba, only an inconsequential 90 miles from US shores. In North Korea there may be a similar threat, newly rejuvenated.
“It is very significant that a rogue nation would have the technology to do such a thing,” says Jaclyn Clark, who teaches International Affairs at Cosby. “Most of their technology comes in the form of China’s cast offs, as no other nations would consider giving them anything. This is another reason the situation in North Korea bears watching closely.”
North Korea has been watched closely after the initial H-bomb test, but that did not stop the country from launching a long-range rocket to place a satellite in orbit in early February, though some officials have speculated that the launch was in fact a ballistic missile test and a direct infringement of UN resolutions.
The historical context of North Korea’s existence and connection to China after WWII is complicated, and relevant today, decades later. “After WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel, with a communist government in the North that was closely tied to China (which became communist in 1949), and a non-communist/capitalist government in the South,” says Clark. “In June of 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations (with predominantly US troops) sent troops to defend South Korea in what is known as the Korean War.
This seesaw conflict ended with a ceasefire in 1953, but to this day, troops guard each side of the de-militarized zone because all 3 North Korean dictators have not accepted that South Korea wishes to remain independent. Since 1953, the economy of South Korea has grown exponentially with close ties to the US and the rest of the western governments. Unfortunately, the North Korean economy has led to great suffering among the Koreans living north of the de-militarized zone, and their only ally has been China.”
Does that mean the United States and the rest of the world should be worried about North Korea as a serious threat? Clark says, “Yes, but [they should be] more worried about the fact that the only country North Korea ‘listens to’ did not step up to do more than slightly reprimand them. North Korea is not going to listen to the US or any other western nations, and the fact that the US is losing the influence on China to insist they do more than reprimand is troubling.”
This slow development in North Korea leaves the countries of the world waiting in anticipation for something critical to take place. In the United States, people have lost the terror that afflicted past generations: the terror of those who built bomb shelters and taught their children to seek cover from nuclear warheads in their classrooms. News that North Korea tested an H-bomb was met with concern, yes, but nothing like the widespread panic of the Cold War. Despite this muted reaction, it is clear that the People’s Republic of North Korea will need to be increasingly relevant in the minds of everyone in the world.