In the first days of 2016 North Korea has made claims that it is in possession of a Hydrogen Bomb, their proof being the ground shaking blast caused by an explosion. This is obviously worrying for the United Nations Security Council which has approved sanctions on North Korean trade and finance, including “a partial ban on permitting North Korean ships to enter ports around the world, an effort to cut off more of the countrie’s trade.” In addition the UN is considering sanctions on banking, similar to those placed on Iran in the days of the nuclear program negotiations.
The chief issue that the UN and US is facing is how to handle this problem in a safe manner and what the countries within close proximity need to do. This specifically includes China, which is technically an ally of North Korea. Being North Korea’s neighbor and major trading partner, particularly in oil, China is a key player in this ordeal. Obviously it is a difficult issue for China first because as an ally of North Korea, it looks bad in the eyes of the world at large, but also if China shuns this ally it could turn out to be a major security threat. Consequently, the sanctions and harsh talk by South Korea and the US towards North Korea holds the potential to strain relations with China. In other words, no matter what anyone does, someone is not going to be happy. US Secretary of State John Kerry has noted that Beijing’s efforts “to rein in North Korea had been a failure and that something had to change in its handling of the isolated country it has supported for the past six decades.”
Whether much is done now or in the near future to handle North Korea, this unfortunate state most likely does not have much time left. Historically the initial leadership of a new state is often the most successful and as that leadership is passed down through a family, its state worsens. Not to say the leading family of totalitarian North Korea has ever been “good” but perhaps Kim Il-sung was the most capable leader, succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-Il, who was leader for his lifetime, and finally the current Kim Jong-un who seems to be the most outrageous, having executed several senior staff, expressed multiple threats (in his short time as leader) towards South Korea and the US, and continued the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear program. It is perhaps only a matter of short time before North Korea starts to show true signs of deterioration and major change (in leadership). Kim Jong-un could very well be the nail in the coffin of the current incarnation of the totalitarian rule of North Korea. The UN can only hope that the upcoming changes in the regime are brought about through the least amount of conflict and force. It will depend of how the UN/US and the surrounding states, especially China, handle the downward spiral of such an oppressive and tightly held state.