North korea’s nuclear arsenal ambitions – dead or alive?

Attention is once again turning to the communist state’s nuclear arsenal, as reports suggest that it is still in development.

Officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea has long been the subject of international sanctions and major scrutiny over its violation of the basic human rights of its citizens. From silencing freedom of speech, restricting citizens from emigrating, to even imprisoning, exiling and executing critics, the pariah state remains very much isolated from the rest of the world.

Among these concerns is the development of its nuclear arsenal. One of only 9 countries in the world to operate such weapons, its alliance with China and Russia, who also use them, has long irked the Western world against whom they have long been opposed – a rivalry stemming back to the Korean War and the larger Cold War that dominated the 20th century.

A confidential report in August by an independent panel of experts revealed that North Korea had “probably developed miniaturised nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles”.

The report was submitted to the UN Security Council and stated that the DPRK was “continuing its nuclear program, including the production of highly enriched uranium and construction of an experimental light water reactor.”

Uranium is a type of heavy metal that has very high levels of concentrated energy. It is used to power light-water reactors, a type of nuclear reactor which can then produce nuclear weapons.

Given that a nuclear test has not been carried out since 2017, the news comes as a shock to the international community and confirms Japan’s fears of the regime posing a “serious and imminent threat” when electing not to buy a costly missile defence system from the US.

In a speech in July on the 67th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, Kim Jong-Un said, “With our reliable and effective self-defensive nuclear deterrent, there will be no more war on this earth, and our country’s safety and future will be secured forever”. The DPRK has always justified its possession of nuclear weapons as a purely defensive endeavour, and his speech just a few weeks ago seems to assert the same position. However, an unidentified country in the report postulated that North Korea “may seek to further develop miniaturisation in order to allow incorporation of technological improvements…or, potentially, to develop multiple warhead systems.”

This would seem to contradict earlier attempts made by Pyongyang to quell regional tensions – the most notable being the destruction of tunnels to its only nuclear site in Punggye-ri two years ago.

Since 2018 in what was one of the most significant events in international diplomacy, Donald Trump met Kim Jong-Un in a series of summits designed to encourage mutual co-operation and the general denuclearisation of the Korea Peninsula. The talks have since fallen through, and the surfacing of this report would indicate that the US-DPRK summits did not achieve their aims.

No one can know for sure as Pyongyang’s deep secrecy makes it difficult to predict Kim’s next move. However, the UN Security Council will likely convene and try to take further action. With China being both an ally of North Korea and a permanent member of the Security Council, a single veto against a proposed resolution against Pyongyang will crumble.

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