North Korea is again the recipient of international condemnation after conducting its fifth nuclear test and its second of 2016. The test appears to be North Korea’s largest yet; reports indicate a 10 kiloton yield, or two-thirds the size of the nuclear weapon used on Hiroshima during World War II.
The test, conducted on the morning of Friday, September 9th, coincided with North Korea’s founding date, and follows a long list of recent provocations by the country this year. In addition to its fourth nuclear test in January, North Korea has conducted ballistic missile tests at an unprecedented rate. These activities indicate the North’s commitment to establishing a credible nuclear deterrent.
Already, North Korea has received condemnation from the United States, China, and the United Nations (UN). Increased sanction pressure, both through United States and international community, are likely to follow. The international community has already responded forcefully this year, adopting the most rigorous sanctions regime to date through a UN Security Council Resolution. But this has done little to curb North Korea’s efforts, indicating the ineffectiveness of the current cycle of “Test, Condemn, Sanction, Repeat.”
Nonetheless, at a time of such international discord, there is a positive component: the international community’s ability to quickly identify a nuclear test. Since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature, 283 monitoring stations have been installed and certified. These stations detect abnormal seismic and atmospheric data and have accurately captured each of North Korea’s nuclear tests.
But, unfortunately, the United States has thus far failed to ratify the treaty. And just this week, dozens of Senators signed a letter to President Obama threatening to defund the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the entity responsible for maintaining and furthering the international norm against nuclear testing, which is in the clear national security interest of the United States.
While adequate detection is critical for global non-proliferation efforts, North Korea has shown a clear willingness to forge ahead unconstrained. As we have stated before, the United States and its international partners must engage North Korea through appropriate diplomatic channels with the intent of first developing a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear activity. The involvement of China, North Korea’s most reliable partner, is essential to effectively accomplish this goal.
With every advancement, Pyongyang’s willingness to roll back its program will only decline. As North Korea’s fifth nuclear test and other provocative activities show, time is not on our side.