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What You Need To Know About North Korea's Nuclear Test

North Korea flexed its nuclear power yesterday by claiming to conduct a nuclear test of a hydrogen bomb, announcing to the world that the autocratic nation isn't messing around. 

"We will not give up a nuclear program as long as the U.S. maintains its stance of aggression," the Korean Central Television announcer stated to cheers from the crowds in Pyongyang.


The real question analysts want to know: Did it really happen? It's difficult to tell behind the closed doors of the state. The reported test time does correlate with a significant "seismic event" detected, however, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, matching a similar one from a 2013 nuclear test. With so much of the North Korean regime dependent on maintaining a facade of strength and invulnerability, the announcement of the new hydrogen bomb could be a hoax intended to stir fear and patriotism in its own citizens. 

North Korea's warlike engagement pattern remains consistent. According to Foreign Affairs, "The 'Pyongyang Playbook' goes as follows: Offer a fake overture of peace; raise the stakes for your foes with a provocation; act unstable and threaten to escalate even further; and finally, call for talks and act reasonable." Pyongyang continues to focus on military might, blustering, and establishing its legitimacy among its own people. Raising the stakes with a new nuclear capability continues the cycle we've seen before. 

That doesn't mean officials aren't taking it seriously. If the claim is true, it would mark the fourth nuclear test since 2006 and a huge step forward in nuclear capability, according to the BBC, alarming many in the region and beyond. Condemned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban-ki-moon, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council took place mid-day Wednesday to decide how to respond to the situation. Analysts agree that the state has at least a dozen warheads, though the number may be as high as 20. This takes their nuclear program from a possibility to a very scary reality.

In the region, alliances remain complicated. China remains the only "friendly" nation to North Korea, but it opposes the nuclear tests and has the leverage as an ally to stem the creation of a nuclear peninsula. Analysts like Victor Cha, Georgetown Professor and former Director for Asian Affairs in the White House, point to China's unwillingness to enforce sanctions against the state, however, as a reason these tests continue. A successful test could signal stronger ties between the two nations than was originally thought. It's a tricky balance between pressure and influence, one that makes Western leaders uneasy, according to CNN.

Ultimately, a successful test showcases increased nuclear capabilities and could mark changing power relationships in the region, potentially influencing larger conflicts through sale of arms in Syria and other parts of the Middle East. It will take several days for experts to confirm what really happenned, but for now, we know one thing: North Korea has the world's attention.