Sanctions. Condemnations. Threats of military action. A distinct lack of follow up.

It’s a song and dance we all know – in the days and weeks following a nuclear test by the DPRK, the international community mounts sanctions and a chorus of reprimands amounting to handcuffing someone who blew their hands off years ago experimenting with nuclear arms.

North Korea responded to the latest sanctions with its typical bluster, with the DPRK UN Ambassador Han Tae Song promising his country will bring to the US “the greatest pain it has ever experienced in its history.”

The sanctions, given the green light by the United Nations, impose the following:

  • Limits on imports of crude oil and oil products. China supplies most of North Korea’s crude oil;
  • A ban on textile exports, Pyongyang’s second-largest export worth more than US$700m a year;
  • A ban on new work visas for North Koreans overseas, which Washington estimates would undercut the DPRK’s income by US$500m in tax revenue annually

These measures aim to starve the hermit kingdom of its finances which, hopefully, will result in de-escalating its nuclear weapons programme.

With the debatably successful test of an ICBM over Japan on August 29 and what it claims to be a hydrogen bomb on September 3, the ironically named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has undeniably stepped up its game. Unfortunately, the game is zero sum.

The proverbial dick-measuring wasn’t taken lying down by South Korea or the US. Prior to the sanctions being drafted, joint live fire exercises were conducted to simulate airstrikes on DPRK launch sites.

US Defense Secretary, General James Mattis, urged the DPRK to cease and desist provocations that would “lead to the end of its regime and destruction of its people,” while President Donald Trump said US military action is not his first choice.

The measured rhetoric from President Trump contrasts with his previous statements about bringing “fire and fury like the world has never seen” to North Korea when it threatened the Pacific US territory of Guam.

South Korean president Moon Jae In had a somewhat weaker response, announcing hope for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula through diplomacy and peace. The words ring hollow given that he greenlit the placement of the THAAD anti-missile defense systems months before any of this, which the DPRK considered a provocation in itself. And on goes the circlejerk of national defense circle of life.

China, Russia and Japan also issued almost unanimous condemnations of the DPRK’s actions, but as far as this jaded South Korean can see, they offer nothing other than stern words that border on unkind. The six-party talks dissolved in abject failure even before Jong-Un was around to assume his father’s throne.

Like a cornered animal, the DPRK is out of options; backing down would compromise Kim’s reputation to his subjects, and to double down is asinine.

It would appear that the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions have been realized, and the recent successful test of ICBM delivery systems are indications that the hermit kingdom is not one to be dismissed as a petulent child throwing a tantrum.

The kid’s grown up, and nuclear-powered puberty can end rather badly.