North Korea’s detonation of a nuclear test, its third, just a few hours before President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, was an orchestrated insult. The reclusive country, led by the inscrutable Kim Jong Un, had already announced its nuclear ambitions in December, two days after the United Nations Security Council imposed broad sanctions in response to the country’s test launch of a long-range rocket. The strategy of containment and isolation while seeking to thwart North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is clearly faltering. But, unfortunately, it is still the best strategy available for the United States. China, on the other hand, may provide a way out.
For North Korea’s immature leader, who finds meaning in symbolic numbers and anniversaries, stepping on Obama’s speech was a way to rally his nation and reinforce his hold on its military. There was hope that Kim, a 29-year-old who took power after his father’s death last year, might have been a liberalizing force in the impoverished country. Instead, a dangerous sense of nationalistic pride has taken hold.