© 2022 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

North Korea Conducts Nuclear Test Sparking International Condemnation


Leaders around the world have a lot of strong words today for North Korea. The country conducted another nuclear weapons test - its fifth and largest. But what can any of them do about it? President Obama called the test a grave threat to international peace and stability and made a round of phone calls to allies in the region. NPR's Jackie Northam reports on the limited options to answer Pyongyang's behavior.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The Obama administration has been pursuing a policy of strategic patience in dealing with North Korea. What it's got in return is an increasingly provocative behavior, including a number of missile and rocket launches and nuclear weapons tests. Scott Snyder, a Korea specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the U.S. needs to rethink its options for dealing with a rogue state.

SCOTT SNYDER: The problem with the pace and growing intensity of North Korea's nuclear missile development is that it puts pressure in ways that remove the middle option of thinking that time is on your side.

NORTHAM: But the question is, what can the U.S. - or any country - do to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions? The U.N. is looking at slapping more sanctions on the country. There's doubt whether previous sanctions have done much to dent Pyongyang's nuclear program. But Kurt Campbell, formerly the State Department's top Asia expert, says sanctions have only been carried out in a half-hearted manner.

KURT CAMPBELL: If you look at the sanction regimes that is presented against North Korea and compare that to the sanctions that we have in place versus Iran or even Myanmar, there's really no comparison.

NORTHAM: Campbell says part of the problem is China, North Korea's closest ally, has not fully implemented the existing sanctions, which are meant to hurt North Korea's economy. Campbell says there's so much more the international community could do to make it tougher for North Korea to operate in international financial markets.

CAMPBELL: The problem is that this would also probably infect and influence Chinese financial institutions as well. However, I think we've reached a place in which we need to communicate directly with Chinese interlocutors - that either they take steps to put pressure on the banks and financial activities of North Korea, or we will.

NORTHAM: There has been no diplomatic activity with North Korea for years. And Defense Secretary Ash Carter would not say whether military action is on the table now, but he also called on China to use its influence to rein in Pyongyang's activities.


ASH CARTER: China has and shares important responsibility for this development and has an important responsibility to reverse it.

NORTHAM: But getting China on board is difficult. Beijing is angry that the U.S. wants to deploy a missile defense system in the region. And it wants to make sure North Korea remains stable. A regime change or a humanitarian crisis could send a flood of refugees across the common border. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.