The North Korean chessboard: What next for the main players?

Over the weekend, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test, claiming it had detonated a thermonuclear bomb for the first time. The regime in Pyongyang has been signaling for months its intent to unveil such a weapon, and American experts are now coming to grips with what was once an “unthinkable” scenario — that North Korea may pose a credible nuclear threat to the U.S. mainland.

On Monday, that dawning reality led Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to describe North Korea as “a global threat.” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said during an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council that the North Korean regime was “begging for war.”

“We have kicked the can down the road long enough,” Haley said as other council members suggested additional sanctions on Pyongyang. “There is no more road left.” But here’s an attempt at gauging where the path ahead may take the actors involved in this geopolitical crisis.

The United States

The Trump administration’s approach, telegraphed for weeks by key figures such as Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, is to exert “maximum pressure” to force North Korea to the negotiating table. But this position has been undercut by President Trump, who fired off a series of bellicose tweets this weekend.

Trump not only raised the prospect of a potentially catastrophic regional trade war but also criticized the new liberal government in South Korea, which hopes for more productive engagement with its northern neighbor. How this helps matters is anyone’s guess.