A quake last night in North Korea had scientists looking for both their Richter and Geiger instruments, and for good reason. Pyongyang declared their fifth nuclear test a success and not just because it produced their largest yield, a conclusion provisionally shared by other nations in the region and the US. The Kim regime now claims it has mastered the process of designing and building nuclear warheads to fit on ballistic missiles, a step that makes North Korea a major threat to Pacific nations:

North Korea conducted its fifth and biggest nuclear test on Friday and said it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile, ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the United Nations have been powerless to contain.

The blast, on the 68th anniversary of North Korea’s founding, was more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to some estimates, and drew condemnation from the United States as well as China, Pyongyang’s main ally.

Under 32-year-old dictator Kim Jong Un, North Korea has accelerated the development of its nuclear and missile programs despite U.N. sanctions that were tightened in March and have further isolated the impoverished country.

Have they succeeded in fitting nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles? If so, then the threat is real and may require an escalation to deal with it. North Korea’s military has made quite a show lately of launching missiles from land- and sea-based platforms with increasing success. The submarine launch last month and the demonstrated range of that system puts all of Japan under Kim Jong-un’s nuclear reach, assuming that the claims about nuclear warheads is true.

This prompted another round of finger-shaking from the regional powers. Barack Obama warned of “serious consequences” on his ride back from the G-20 summit and Laos. South Korean president Park Geun-hye accused Kim of “maniacal recklessness” in pursuing nuclear weapons, and even China rebuked Kim for the test, promising to file an official diplomatic protest with the North Korean embassy.

All of this has an air of unreality to it, however, or perhaps a sense of déjà vu. Diplomatic protests and empty threats haven’t changed the Kim regime’s march to ballistic nuclear weapons. For that matter, neither have trade deals and promises of talks. The only paths left are either open war or forcing China to clean up the mess that it has shielded for decades in Pyongyang, and it’s far from clear that any of the nations arrayed against Pyongyang have the will to force either. It will probably take a nuclear attack from North Korea for anyone to take effective action against the Kim regime, and by then it will be too late.

It’s a very disturbing development, one that has implications that potentially outweigh the stakes we face in the Middle East. That might not be for long, though, because we’ll have exactly the same problems with Iran as we do with North Korea in ten to fifteen years. If we’re lucky.

However, not everyone’s worried about it. At least one young woman in Pyongyang was celebrating the victory over the “US bastards”: