Are the North Koreans a threat? Not to the United States, not remotely. They have enough plutonium to build at most a handful of nuclear weapons, though whether they’ve built them, nobody knows. They’ve conducted underground tests twice, one in 2006, the other in 2009. The explosive power in both instances ranked extremely slight in the annals of nuclear coming-out parties.
There are signs that they’re preparing to test a uranium bomb. (The others were plutonium.) If they do, and if it’s a little bit more awesome than the earlier tests, the proper response, again, is … well, not quite to ignore it, but almost.
One obstacle to silence on this score is that we have allies in the region. Specifically, South Korea and Japan can’t be expected to strike a cool pose in the shadow of Pyongyang’s bomb. Nor can the United States, their ultimate guarantor of security, sit back and whistle as if nothing had happened. Doing so might send a signal, to all concerned, that we accept North Korea’s status as a nuclear power.
So, yes, the Obama administration should, again, issue the obligatory condemnation, draft a resolution for the U.N. Security Council, and ratchet up sanctions against Pyongyang’s regime. Just don’t expect this to result in much.