After the U.S. Geological Survey detected an unusual seismic event within its borders, North Korea has announced that it has a hydrogen bomb. But that’s questionable at best, and even if North Korea has finally figured out the hydrogen bomb, there’s nothing it can do with it.
The first issue is whether this bomb actually exists. North Korea is not noted for honesty, and the seismic event detected is about in line with the power of other underground nuclear tests North Korea has conducted. If they really had set off a hydrogen bomb, which is essentially two nukes for the price of one, there would be a more powerful reaction. Many authorities are profoundly skeptical North Korea isn’t straight up lying.
But let’s say North Korea does have the H-bomb. What, exactly, are they going to do with it?
We’ve already discussed the technical difficulties in building a nuclear weapon that isn’t a dangerous dud, and the logistics of actually getting one to your target. North Korea isn’t fundamentally different from ISIS in that respect: The pride of the North Korean missile fleet, the Taepodong-2, is as likely to blow up on the launch pad as it is to fire at all, and its most successful test had it sputter out after 42 seconds. True, you don’t have to get very far to drop a bomb on South Korea, but then what?
North Korea is surrounded, on all sides, by countries that really, really don’t want it to start firing nukes. China, North Korea’s most important ally, is getting sick of North Korea’s nuclear tests and general obnoxiousness. Russia is more friendly with North Korea, but not nearly friendly enough to take its side in a war. And if North Korea threatens Japan or South Korea with a nuke, they’ll be antagonizing the U.S.
Realistically, North Korea probably doesn’t have a hydrogen bomb. This is a country that struggles to feed itself. But if they have somehow built it, all they’ve done is anger their enemies and alienate their friends.