The unexpectedly fast progress of North Korea’s engineers and scientists has once again demonstrated that if nothing is done, the world will see the dramatic and dangerous emergence of a nuclear-armed state — and one with uncertain intentions. China, the United States, and Japan have already condemned the test; Obama, on the eve of his State of the Union address, called it a “highly provocative act.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated the obvious: the test was a “clear and grave violation” of Security Council resolutions. Indeed, international sanctions have failed in the most spectacular way. North Korea has been under a strict sanctions regime since 2006, but this has not prevented it from successfully developing both nuclear weapons and proto-ICBMs. One cannot even conclude that the gains have been achieved at the cost of sacrifice for common North Koreans — while North Korea remains poor, sanctions coincided with a period in which the country’s living standards might even have increased. The nuclear test has also demonstrated that China, the one country seen as able to rein in North Korea, has even less control over it than previously thought. Over the last month, Beijing had taken an unusually tough stance towards Pyongyang’s promise to conduct the third test, and yet the North went ahead anyway, ignoring Chinese pressure and thinly veiled threats.
It’s time to accept the obvious. In spite of all efforts to halt or slow down the process, North Korea will become a successfully nuclearized state. Once it achieves that goal, it will remain so for the foreseeable future. In order to prevent Pyongyang from further perfecting its nuclear and missile abilities the West must begin an earnest dialogue with the country’s leaders.