North Korea has conducted a nuclear test. Again, for the third time. The news will surely rattle security officials around the world, many of whom have been holding out hope that Kim Jong Un would prove to be a less tractable leader. Those hopes, however, many have just been blown apart with the detonation of a small nuclear bomb. While North Korea is looking to strengthen its hand with this test the more likely result will be increasing alienation with the West and most importantly its main ally China.
The North Koreans are believed to have detonated a small nuclear device in the Punggye-ri area north of the capital city, Pyongyang. The test was detected by seismic readers across the globe. North Korea has claimed that it launched the test as a result of the United States and its “outrageous” efforts to block North Korea's ambitions to launch satellites into space. The United States has claimed that the satellite tests are merely a cover for testing weapons technology. The test resulted in an Earthquake measured at roughly 5.0 in magnitude.
This test is certain to the test the United State's patience with North Korea and will likely derail the small amounts of progress towards reestablishing negotiations in recent months. The USA has been unequivocally clear that it will not lift sanctions unless North Korea is willing to set aside its nuclear ambitions.
Ironically, this test may actually improve the position of the United States and its allies. North Korea has once again alienated its long time ally and life blood, China, which has strongly condemned the nuclear test. While North Korea seems bent on continuing its isolationist and provocative path the government in China has all but abandoned its “communist” ways and is openly embracing globalization.
While North Korea may see it in their interest to demonstrate its power, the Chinese are far more interested in integrating itself fully into the global landscape. Each time North Korea launches a nuclear test it alienates countries across Asia and the West. Meanwhile, the Chinese are trying to increase relations with their neighbors and the West.
North Korea is largely dependency on China for support as the Chinese are one of the few allies the North Koreans still have. The isolated nation relies on China for much of its food and product supplies and has also benefited from Chinese support in development military and other advanced technologies.
Now, North Korea and China appearing to be taking different geopolitical stances and setting long-term goals that would seem to be at odds with one another. This could erode Chinese support for North Korea and should the Chinese cut off aid and trade with North Korea the nation would almost certainly be forced back to the negotiating table.
Should the North Koreans lose the support of the Chinese they will almost certainly be forced to capitulate to Western demands or else risk a national collapse as the flow of aid will dry up almost completely. North Korea's increasing belligerence will most likely undercut their own weak position and could finally force the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Of course, North Korea could try to take the war route and pick a fight with its neighbor, South Korea, but this would almost certainly result in a quick and decisive defeat for North Korea as both South Korea and the United State's militaries are far superior. In the past North Korea could count on China to come to their rescue but in light of the aforementioned develops the Chinese most likely would not support North Korea in another way.
Most likely the recent nuclear test will only result in harsh verbal condemnations and perhaps a renewed round of sanctions. Still tensions will remain heightened in the coming months and should North Korea continue on its present course there is a genuine chance that China will finally reevaluate its long standing support of the impoverished and isolated nation. With China facing so much internal pressure to maintain economy growth they cannot afford to risk any economic fall out from North Korean belligerence.