North Korea may now be too dangerous to be attacked. But that may force all to find a diplomatic solution.
PARIS — As soon as North Korea's sixth nuclear test was announced on Sunday, the litany of condemnations against Kim Jong-un's umpteenth "provocation" started up yet again. But despite all the "strong condemnations," the world's most powerful countries will most likely prove incapable of forging a coherent response. The regime in Pyongyang, meanwhile, is convinced that it has finally attained the key to peace.
Any sanctions declared against North Korea over the coming weeks will end up hurting the population, but it won't make Kim Jong-un yield. If the young leader has taken the liberty of angering Beijing, its last true ally, annoying its Russian neighbor or taunting U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pledged to meet North Korean threats with "fire and fury," it's because he knows that the international community can no longer stop him.
After decades of efforts, the regime built by Kim Jong-un's grandfather is on the verge of acquiring nuclear power — the only thing that can guarantee the country's survival through deterrence. North Korea is now equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the U.S. or Japan. Soon, it will also have miniaturized nuclear warheads. With this kind of arsenal, North Korea will have to be taken seriously. We will have to retire any thoughts of an armed intervention as the resulting scenarios are unimaginable.
Even Trump won't risk a third world war.
The country may now be too dangerous to be attacked. The South Korean capital of Seoul and its 10 million inhabitants, as well as U.S. military bases are located just 60 kilometers from the border with North Korea. It would only take seven minutes for a Nodong missile to hit the center of Tokyo, killing tens of thousands of people. Although Trump said on Sunday that he hasn't ruled out the military option, even he probably won't risk a third world war — and his own allies and military advisors are urging him to abstain from any such action.
While the North Korean "victory" might be scary, it doesn't mean that the world has become more dangerous after the latest nuclear test. Instead, North Korea is likely to feel reassured by its nuclear deterrence capability and will no longer have any interest in continuing its provocations. Kim Jong-un knows that North Korea is certain to lose if it risks triggering an all-out war.
Despite the short-term friction, North Korea's nuclear arsenal could lead to an appeasement strategy in the long term. After years of tension, a new dialogue with Washington and Seoul might even become a possibility. A North Korea with nuclear deterrence capability might, strangely enough, help the region discover a new form of stability.