The United Nations will explore imposing additional sanctions on North Korea in an emergency Security Council meeting Wednesday. The United States and Japan requested the meeting in a response to allegations that Pyongyang successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has adopted four resolutions since 2006 calling on North Korea to halt and dismantle its nuclear program. All four of them, like the one expected to be discussed Wednesday, passed after North Korea was accused of continuing to test nuclear weapons.
International sanctions have had little success in curbing the nuclear program because “North Korea is isolated from the global economy,” Timothy R. Heath, a senior international defense research analyst at the RAND Corporation told International Business Times. “The points of leverage that can be gained from sanctions are very little.”
North Korea’s GDP makes it one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. International sanctions have, for the most part, prevented North Korea from engaging in international trade. Preventing trade with North Korea has hurt the country’s economy, but the victims are the civilian population and not the nuclear program — making it harder to impose additional stringent sanctions.
Past UNSC resolutions North Korea were adopted unanimously, but experts said that some members of the 15-country council have not followed through. This doesn’t signal under-the-table support for North Korea’s nuclear program, analysts say, but is indicative of a lack of sanctions implementation.
“China has been outspoken about its goal of seeing denuclearization achieved on the Korean peninsula, so I do think has China was against North Korea’s nuclear testing before, and it’s had a similar reaction with regard to U.N. sanctions; but when it came down to it, nothing actually changed,” said Lisa Collins, a fellow with the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“China will probably favor any type of new sanctions that may be implemented through the U.N. Security Council. But ultimately, they are unlikely to go through with those sanctions even if they are on the books,” Collins added.
China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and one of North Korea’s only international allies. Despite their partnership, China has always voted in favor of resolutions favoring North Korea’s denuclearization. But it has rarely followed through for fear that the economic pressure “could collapse the country,” Heath said.
“Their choices have been to cling to the weapons; they think it gives them security and significance in the international community,” Heath added.
North Korea's previous nuclear tests have been with atomic bombs, but if Wednesday's allegations are true, this marks the first time Pyongyang has successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the reports were “deeply troubling” and called on North Korea to allow for "for verifiable denuclearization,” as was demanded of Pyongyang after previous UNSC resolutions that requested the country join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
An H-bomb, or a thermonuclear bomb, would be a major addition to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. A hydrogen bomb acts as a catalyst in itself for a second detonation, making it up to 3,800 times more powerful than the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 200,000 people.