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A general view of Kim Il Sung Square and Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang, North Korea.  - 

Whatever North Korea did or didn’t test – a White House spokesman said Wednesday that the blast wasn’t consistent with an H-bomb – geo-political nerves have been rattled.

The UN Security Council hastily condemned the North Korean test and pledged to pursue new sanctions – the fifth round since 2006.

North Korea is “the most isolated, the most sanctioned, the most cut-off nation on Earth,” President Obama has said.  

But there is still more the international community can do to target and isolate Pyongyang.

“The U.S., E.U., and UN imposed far stronger sanctions and targeted financial measures on Iran,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation. “Unilaterally, the U.S., has targeted more entities from Iran, Balkans, Cuba, [and] Zimbabwe than we have North Korea.”  

But without additional sanctions, North Korea’s economy is a “disaster,” said Klingner, due to its government’s policies.

“North Korea is the only country in world history to have suffered a famine despite being a literate, urbanized, industrialized society,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Even so, Lee says the North Korean regime lives extravagantly, funded by revenue “derived from primarily illicit activities, like the sale of drugs, illicit substances, counterfeit U.S. $100 bills, weapons and so forth.”

Additionally, the North Korean economy is kept afloat by its relationship with China, even while Beijing has condemned its nuclear testing.

“Virtually all of North Korea’s trade and investment is with China,” said Stephan Haggard, a professor at the graduate school of global policy and strategy at U.C. San Diego. “Our estimates are it could be as much as 80 percent.”

He says as long as that relationship continues, the regime will likely plod along and stay in power. 

Follow Tracey Samuelson at @tdsamuelson