Balance of Power: Kim's Missile Program May Be Unstoppable Now

Difficult to Walk Back Nuclear N. Korea, Says Cirincione

North Korea waited just days to defy new United Nations sanctions by sending a missile over Japan, where millions of people watching breakfast television saw their screens suddenly turn black aside from two ominous words in white: “Missile Launch.”

The provocation, which follows a slew of missile tests and North Korea’s largest nuclear detonation yet, prompted the U.S. to again call on China to pressure its ally and neighbor by cutting off its oil supply. Problem is, Kim Jong Un may cope even if that happens.

Energy analysts say North Korea could take lessons from history, including Nazi Germany and Japan during World War II. To overcome crude oil shortages, both converted coal to liquid fuel using technology now about 100 years old. South Africa used it too, during the 1980s oil embargo.

Even if North Korea can’t ramp up a coal-liquefaction program fast, it could probably cut oil consumption by ordering people to walk rather than drive.

That suggests China has even less leverage over Pyongyang than U.S. President Donald Trump claims, and further reduces the odds of it nudging Kim to talks. Meanwhile, another round of UN penalties risk being even more token in nature.

A foreign-exchange dealer in Tokyo works while tracking coverage of North Korea's missile launch. 
Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

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Photographer: Britta Pedersen/dpa
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