Commentary

North Korea's test of thermonuclear device raises serious concerns

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The threat posed by North Korea took on an entirely new dimension when that nation claimed to have detonated its first thermonuclear device. That would be a genuine game changer.

It has been known now for a number of years that North Korea had become an atomic power. It had been able to develop a crude, rather simplistic, atomic weapon. But the weapon that was detonated was by no means crude. And even though the Kim regime is known to be congenital in its lying and consistent in its threats and misrepresentations, in reality seismic observers in South Korea and in China and in the United States noted that this particular blast was so strong that it set off a significant seismic event.

This adds to the likelihood that in this case North Korea wasn’t lying. It actually does possess and has detonated a thermonuclear weapon, a so-called hydrogen bomb, and this came just days after the nation committed what is legally an act of war, sending a ballistic missile over the island nation of Japan.

And just hours after the detonation of this weapon, sources in the military intelligence community in South Korea and elsewhere indicated the likelihood that the Kim regime was ready to launch yet another ballistic missile weapon. And in this case, what you have is the combination of two separate technological achievements, both now apparently made by the communist dictatorship of North Korea. This means both a true thermonuclear weapon and a means of delivering it – that is a ballistic missile.

The third achievement, which would be necessary to make North Korea fully weaponized in terms of a thermonuclear ballistic device, would be miniaturizing the thermonuclear weapon and achieving a ballistic missile that could carry that weapon and successfully reenter the atmosphere before detonating.

We need to pause for a moment to reflect upon the fact that humanity has lived with the threat of nuclear weapons for now over 70 years. But since the conclusion of World War II, there has been no nuclear exchange, although it is clear that the world did come close, for example, in the early 1960s between United States and the Soviet Union in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

One of the reasons in retrospect that there was no outbreak of nuclear war during all of those decades is because for the most part nuclear weapons were in the hands and under the control of political grownups, most particularly of the superpowers of the United States, the Soviet Union and China.

Add to that the historic European powers also very historic very responsible and you come to understand why it was that even during the Cold War, when the USSR and the United States faced off with nuclear weapons and even as the Soviet Union installed some of those nuclear weapons so close to the United States and Cuba, there is no way that the Soviet government would’ve put the control of those weapons in the hands of the Cubans even in their ally Fidel Castro.

But since that time, the situation has changed, and it has changed with two particular nuclear threats noted by the United States. The first is Iran, and the second is North Korea. But in this case, as fanatical as the Shiite regime in Iran is now known to be, the regime of the Kim family in North Korea poses a far more unpredictable and volatile threat.

Now just to state the matter bluntly, Iran has never done anything like what has now been done repeatedly and expansively by North Korea. Writing for the New York Times, Motoko Rich and David E. Sanger point to the most elusive question of all, what does the Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, want?

They write: “Six years after Mr. Kim took power and began executing those who challenged his rule — sometimes with an antiaircraft gun — there is no issue that confounds analysts more than the motives of a 33-year-old dictator whose every move seems one part canny strategy, one part self-preservation, and one part nuclear narcissism.”

In the Financial Times of London, Gideon Rachman writes: “North Korea is such a closed society that even academic specialists struggle to interpret its behaviour. The mainstream view is that Mr Kim’s pursuit of advanced nuclear weapons is motivated by a search for security.”
He goes on to say he learned this lesson perhaps by seeing the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammer Gaddafi, but he says that doesn’t explain all the behavior evidenced by the North Korean dictator. He points to the risk that Mr. Kim is miscalculating by pressing the United States and its allies and by actually weaponizing its claims and doing so in a way that is extremely provocative. The provocation indicates that deterrence of his own threat does not appear to be Mr. Kim’s main or at least only concern.

From a Christian worldview perspective, this is a huge lesson in the fact that lessons small become lessons large. The necessity of stability, security and order in the smallest human community points to the fact that we face the very same needs on the biggest global level in the relationship between nations. Just as a rogue individual can create mayhem on the playground, a rogue nation can create absolute chaos and worse in terms of the international order. And when it comes to an issue like this, there is the very humbling reminder that a threat like this simply can’t be avoided. This is a foreign-policy challenge that cannot be simply wished away.

But this also points to the absolute danger represented by an autocratic dictatorial state driven by this kind of ideology in this case a very unreconstructed form of communism. And, of course, you add to that the worship of the regime within North Korea and the absolute paranoia of the entire society starting at the very top. All that is a very toxic brew. But add to that the fact that everyone seems to be asking exactly the same question, what exactly does this dictator want? That points to the fact that when you are dealing with the dictatorial autocratic form of government it really comes down to just one individual.

The biblical worldview and its doctrine of sin explains why this kind of power should never be invested in a single individual. And this case reminds us of the fact that that isn’t just a lesson in theology, it’s not just a lesson in civics or political science, in this case, it’s an absolute issue of life and death in the headlines coming at us day by day.

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Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, offers a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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