Recently North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test. While political leaders have already condemned the country’s nuclear efforts, the United States and its allies must take further action against both North Korea and its greatest ally, China.
On September 9th, North Korea conducted a test that produced 10 kilotons of explosive power — one kiloton equals 1,000 tons of TNT. While many have questioned the validity of these tests over the past few years, North Korea has now proved its advanced nuclear technology and will only continue to improve its weapons.
In the context of the upcoming U.S. election, additional nuclear tests, or even more dangerous tests, could occur just as a new president is elected. Over the past 60 years, North Korean leaders have often attempted to increase tension during presidential elections. It is imperative that the U.S. and other countries diffuse the situation and stop the advancement of the North Korean nuclear program.
Throughout the past 25 years, the U.S. has responded to these tests through a gradual increase in UN sanctions that have had little to no effect on the development of nuclear weapons. While these sanctions slightly hinder the growth of North Korea’s economy, the well-being of the North Korean people is not high on the priority list of leader Kim Jong Un, as most of the country’s 25 million citizens survive on less than 1,000 calories a day. While North Korea has made treaties to stop weapons development in exchange for humanitarian aid, the nation has frequently broken the treaties within a year.
Michael Green, former direction of Asian affairs on the National Security Council, has said, “I don’t think we can solve [this problem] diplomatically, that much is clear. Every administration in the last 20 years has tried a diplomatic approach, and the North Koreans [have] blown through every one.”
With China as an ally, North Korea has been able to avoid repercussions of breaking treaties and sanctions made by the UN Security Council (UNSC). Chinese companies account for $1 billion of North Korea’s earnings annually, so without China’s backing, North Korea would likely fall apart. However, China refuses to cooperate with the United States.
Now that North Korea has developed weapons of mass destruction, South Korea needs to be equipped to protect itself from its northern enemy. Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) is a system used to defend against medium range missiles, and the U.S. currently plans to fund this program for South Korea. But the Chinese government is convinced that it will be used to spy on their country, despite little evidence to support this claim. The disagreement over Thaad could be another excuse for China to help North Korea.
As one of North Korea’s only allies, China is vital both politically and economically to the small country. Likewise, North Korea is a valuable bargaining chip for Chinese negotiations with the U.S. Without action from China, there will be no stopping North Korea’s advancement in weapons technology.
The U.S. must not only increase sanctions on North Korea but also crack down on Chinese companies which break agreements made with the UNSC to cease trading with the communist country. While this approach might cost some Chinese companies and sour diplomatic relations, the U.S. must establish a policy that punishes countries for assisting North Korea in order to guarantee meaningful change.