North Korea’s nuclear development activities have long been a source of international condemnation and nuclear war threats.
North Korea carried its first successful nuclear test in 2006, while its nuclear programme started in the Soviet era with the construction of its first nuclear reactor in Yongbyon back in 1965.
At the time US President Donald Trump also said: “Obviously North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly.”
Shows of force and provocative threats have been exchanged by the United States and North Korea since the US began joint military drills with South Korea on March 1.
Pyongyang suspects those military drills to be a rehearsal for an invasion or a “decapitation strike” against the North Korean leadership.
Analysis of North Korea’s government statements suggests that the leadership in Pyongyang sees in nuclear weapons the following benefits:
1. Guarantee security of the state
2. Economic development and prosperity
3. Necessary to gain respect and prestige in the international arena
On April 14, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister said : “We’ve got a powerful nuclear deterrent already in our hands, and we certainly will not keep our arms crossed in the face of a US pre-emptive strike”.
North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations Choe Myong-nam referred to the annual joint drills between the US and South Korea to justify his country’s nuclear pursuits: “It is because of these hostile activities on the part of the United States and South Korea that we strengthen our national defence capability, as well as pre-emptive strike capabilities with nuclear forces as a centrepiece.”
North Korea is publicly stating that it is going ahead with its nuclear weapons programme, while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on May 4 said it has “concrete information” that this is indeed the case, and points out that security risks would apply beyond the region.
New satellite images of the Punggye-ri site in North Korea have shown workers pumping out water at a tunnel believed to have been prepared for an upcoming nuclear test, US monitors said.
In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea , starting the three-year Korean War which ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty. This mean that North Korea is still technically at war with South Korea.
The US has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, while the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a 4km wide demilitarised zone stretching 250km along the border.
The US has been performing the annual Foal Eagle military drills with South Korea, imposed sanctions on North Korea and has deployed The Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles fired at South Korea.
From its side, North Korea has defiantly carried out missile test launches despite regional and US condemnation, and continues to develop its nuclear weapons capability.
On April 23, North Korean officials have also threated to launch a “great war of justice for national reunification” and to strike the US mainland in “full-out war … under the situation where the US hurts the DPRK by force of arms,” using the alternative name for North Korea.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) April 28, 2017
As of 2017, experts believe it it is still likely to take some years for it to indigenously perfect the capability to launch strikes with nuclear warheads on its neighbours.
North Korea has said it is capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, but its claims to be able to miniaturise a nuclear device have never been independently verified.
On April 29, North Korea launched an unsuccessful missile test, believed to be the fourth failed missile test since March.
North Korea has a rich source of fissile material, both plutonium from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and highly enriched uranium from other sites, US-based researchers claim .
North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility was built in 1965 with help from Soviet engineers.
The Soviet Union and China have denied supplying North Korea with nuclear weapons, or help them building them.
India and Pakistan have been accused of connections to North Korea’s nuclear programme.
— AJ Labs (@ajlabs) February 12, 2017
it was estimated that North Korea may have produced up to 20 nuclear bombs by the end of 2016, although the true nuclear capability of the isolated and secretive North Korean state could not be verified.
Meanwhile, North Korea asserts it will keep building up its nuclear arsenal in “quality and quantity”.
In September 2016, Siegfried Hecker from Johns Hopkins University in Washington toured North Korea’s main Yongbyon nuclear facility in 2010 and estimated that North Korea produced enough highly enriched uranium to make additional six nuclear bombs a year.
Experts and governments estimate plutonium production levels from telltale signs of reactor operation in satellite imagery.
Source: Al Jazeera News