Crossing the Bridge Way Before Reaching It
Two parallel bridges stand over the Yalu river in the Chinese border city of Dandong, north east Manchuria, bridging not only a large body of water, but also a visible gap between civilization and desolation, between China and North Korea. A modern bridge bares the weight of a road and railway track leading from China into the hermit country, while a second bridge ends abruptly in the middle of the river, a monument of iron and cement leftover from the 1950 Korean War. The Americans bombed this bridge to disrupt Chinese reinforcements, forgetting that the crossing of nearly one million Chinese soldiers into the Korean peninsula was done over the frozen surface of this river, and not over bridges.
I stood upon that bridge in 2007. Dandong has no doubt changed considerably since, transforming together with the rest of China, while the only thing that has changed in North Korea is the supreme Kim Jong-un.
The short-term consequences of North Korea’s third nuclear experiment in seven years will not be war, despite the fact that America has a long list of threatened allies and interests (Japan, South Korea, economic stability, etc.). While some seem to suspect third-party involvement (i.e. Iran), I assume this act of folly is a local, regional and international show of force by the new kid on the block.
For Israel however, there are two serious long-term ramifications.
Firstly, the experiment proves that North Korea’s ability to produce nuclear weapons is very much still intact despite its dire economical state and political isolation. More so, experts are of the opinion that it involved a uranium-based device, and not plutonium, as in North Korea’s first two experiments. Uranium-based devices are more mobile, and can be more easily hidden from prying eyes. Marketing and smuggling these devices outside North Korea is now a much more serious threat than before.
Secondly, North Korea’s disregard of international scrutiny and pressure, even by China and Russia, has not put a stop to its nuclear program. On the contrary, enjoying the focus on Iran in the last few years, North Korea has continued and intensified its program totally undisturbed. Iran can only be encouraged by this experiment, for it demonstrates the ability to survive economic sanctions and international pressure. Israel has to be worried for exactly the same reasons.
Israel, together with allies and secret enemies of enemies, must vigilantly keep track of North Korean movements, within North Korea’s immediate vicinity and further to the west. To counter the Iranian program, Israel must keep in-line with the only power in the world capable of actually halting it.