October 9, 2006 will become a day to remember. North Korea probably exploded a nuclear bomb on that day. Was it a test that failed? The future may provide answers, but the political fallout is clear and the impact substantial.
First, international pressure, led by the US, China, Russia, and Japan was not enough to prevent North Korea from taking this fateful step. A terrible dictatorship, a regime without a future and a dwarf in terms of power-politics defied the international giants. There is now justifiable outrage, and a call for sanctions is heard everywhere.
But what will be the effect of sanctions against a regime whose goal is survival through self-isolation – a regime that will have no qualms in ruthlessly sacrificing its people? Also, can China really permit strong sanctions against its neighbor, a regime fighting for survival, one equipped with nuclear arms and missiles, and a humanitarian disaster of the highest order among its population? Just how credible and effective can sanctions be?
Second, the Security Council now looks like a paper tiger because its authority was successfully challenged by a worn-out regime. This fact will be noted everywhere, particularly in Teheran. If the boundaries between nuclear haves and have-nots becomes more permeable, or even dissolves altogether, the entire multilateral security system could be called into question. On October 9, the gate leading down this path was thrown open.