This is the latest in the tit-for-tat war of words between the United States and North Korea. North Korea has a history of ratcheting up international tensions following perceived insults and increased sanctions against it. Most recently, it had responded to new U.N. sanctions by launching a missile over Japan. In response, Trump – during his U.N. speech on September 19th – called the North Korean regime to task for its human rights violations and weapons tests and referenced Kim Jong-un, saying:
The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.
Thus, North Korea’s newly threatened hydrogen bomb (H-bomb) test is yet another step in the escalating tensions with the country. North Korea seeks to develop working H-bombs due to their greater power and ability to be miniaturized to place within warheads on land and submarine-launched missiles.
While North Korea claims to have detonated an H-bomb on September 3rd, some analysts are skeptical. Its previous nuclear weapons tests, begun in 2006, were atomic bombs (A-bombs). A-bombs are older technology and less powerful than H-bombs, working through nuclear fission rather than the nuclear fusion of H-bombs. An H-bomb dropped on Seoul, South Korea would kill an estimated two million people as well as spark a war which would see many more casualties and cause great turmoil in the region.
The international community as a whole is increasing the pressure on North Korea in an effort to get it to cease its weapons tests. Most significantly, China – North Korea’s erstwhile ally – is now implementing the new U.N. sanctions by prohibiting its banks from conducting business with the country or its people. President Trump has also stated that additional sanctions are coming.
Where will all this lead? Will the war of words escalate into a shooting war? Will North Korea’s actions eventually cause the United States and its allies to decide that the risk of a pre-emptive strike is worth taking in order to prevent a greater tragedy? The U.S., Japan, and China seem to be preparing to get their citizens off the Korean peninsula in anticipation of the situation deteriorating further.