The five stages of re­act­ing to a nuke test

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Josh Ro­gin Stage 5: Ac­cep­tance. A longer version of this col­umn is at den­ver­post. com/ opin­ion.

The Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea an­nounced Tues­day that it had suc­cess­fully tested an­other nu­clear bomb, its fourth since 2006, and in­de­pen­dent re­ports of man- made seis­mic ac­tiv­ity seem to con­firm the claim.

There’s no real North Korea pol­icy in place in­Wash­ing­ton; the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has pur­sued a strat­egy of “strate­gic pa­tience,” which es­sen­tially amounts to wait­ing for ei­ther North Korea or its bene­fac­tor China to vol­un­tar­ily do some­thing pro­duc­tive. So when North Korea forcesWash­ing­ton to pay at­ten­tion, even if it’s only for a few days, all the U. S. gov­ern­ment can do is grieve. And it hap­pens in all five stages. ( With apolo­gies to Elis­a­beth Kubler- Ross.)

Stage 1: De­nial. The U. S. gov­ern­ment’s first re­ac­tion to any North Korean nu­clear test or mis­sile launch is to ac­knowl­edge re­ports of the in­ci­dent but de­fer full com­ment un­til all the data comes in, which can take days.

The big­ger de­nial is the U. S. gov­ern­ment’s view of North Korea: State Depart­ment spokesman John Kirby said late Tues­day that “we will not ac­cept it as a nu­clear state.” North Korea has been a nu­clear state since 2006. Ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Science and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity, it could have enough nu­clear ma­te­rial for 79 bombs by 2020.

Stage 2: Anger. In the days fol­low­ing a North Korea provo­ca­tion, the U. S. will lead the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in a very pub­lic con­dem­na­tion of Py­ongyang’s ut­ter dis­re­gard for United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions, its break­ing of its own in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments such as the Septem­ber 2005 agree­ment to de­nu­cle­arize, and its flout­ing of in­ter­na­tional norms re­gard­ing safety and se­cu­rity in North­east Asia.

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates will direct anger at the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion for craft­ing an agree­ment in 1994 with Py­ongyang that crit­ics saw as a fail­ure.

Stage 3: Bar­gain­ing. Once the out­rage sub­sides a bit, the ex­pert com­mu­nity and the me­dia, col­lec­tively known as the chat­ter­ing class, will re­sume a fa­mil­iar dis­cus­sion about whether China can be per­suaded to in­ter­vene and solve the North Korea prob­lem. China will be bar­gain­ing as well, work­ing to pro­tect North Korea from harsh reprisals and other puni­tive mea­sures that might be ad­vo­cated by coun­tries like Ja­pan or South Korea. The ques­tion that comes up peren­ni­ally is what the U. S. can do to press Beijing to take a harder line to­ward Kim Jong Un. The an­swer al­ways comes back the same. China highly prizes North Korea sta­bil­ity and is un­likely to do any­thing too sub­stan­tial to tamp down the provo­ca­tions.

Stage 4: De­pres­sion. Un­til this re­cent test, there had been signs that North Korea was open­ing up, al­beit cau­tiously. There has been a new inter- Korean di­a­logue and fam­ily re­unions were re­cently al­lowed. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment had re­cently reached out to North Korea’s lead­er­ship af­ter a long cool­ing- off pe­riod fol­low­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of their main in­ter­locu­tor, Kim’s un­cle Jang Song Thaek. Even the Ja­panese had some new ini­tia­tives in­mind to work with North Korea. All of that will now be placed on in­def­i­nite hold. North Korea’s provo­ca­tions have be­come so rou­tine that af­ter the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity goes through the mo­tions, ev­ery­one even­tu­ally re­verts back to the sta­tus quo. North Korea will likely avoid any tough new sanc­tions, as it has in the past. Af­ter a couple of months, quiet meet­ings­may be held to re- es­tab­lish back- chan­nel dis­cus­sions through ex­perts and semi- of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives. This iswhat theU. S. did in 2013, the last timeNorth Korea tested a nuke.

North Korea’s lead­ers will con­tinue to test their bal­lis­tic mis­sile and nu­clear tech­nol­ogy; they have to in or­der to progress tech­no­log­i­cally and as­sert their rel­e­vance. Also, there’s not much theU. S. can or will do about it, but hope that Kim JongUn has enough in­ter­est in self- preser­va­tion that he con­tin­ues to per­pe­trate violence only against his own peo­ple.

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