Historical turning points are normally easier to identify in retrospect. But it will not require years to determine whether North Korea’s test of a nuclear explosive device qualifies as one. It does. The question is whether it proves to be a turn for the better or for the worse.
Some argue that little has changed as a result of the test. The world assumed for years that North Korea possesses enough nuclear material to make a half-dozen or more basic nuclear bombs. The test made explicit what was implicit.
But what was assumed is now known. So much has changed. North Korea has challenged the world; the question is how the world responds.
The stakes could hardly be higher. North Korea’s leaders have a history of aggressiveness, a demonstrated contempt for their people, and a record of selling just about anything (from drugs and counterfeit dollars to missile parts) to earn hard currency. The danger is that they might be tempted to use a nuclear weapon, act irresponsibly in the belief that such weapons shield them, or sell one to terrorists.