Hostility continues to intensify on the Korean Peninsula as Kim Jong-un’s missile tests cause concern. This week, North Korea fired multiple missiles, including one which landed just outside South Korea’s territorial waters. On Friday, Seoul readied 80 fighter jets after detecting approximately 180 North Korean planes near the border between the countries, Pyongyang having ramped up tensions in recent months. Now many experts fear Kim will give the green light for a nuclear weapons test.
Dan Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, believes North Korea has been motivated to accelerate its nuclear weapons programme by the war in Ukraine.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle, he said: “North Korea has learned lessons from what we see happening in Ukraine. They can clearly see the utility and importance of having a nuclear weapons capability as Russia is using them in Ukraine as a deterrent to a NATO attack, but while they can be very effective in deterring enemies, nuclear weapons are not effective at all in compelling an enemy to do something.
“The North’s political objectives have been pretty consistent over time and they remain the same today. Fundamentally, North Korea says it is still fighting the revolution and will continue to do so until it has ‘final victory,’ which would be a united peninsula under North Korean control.”
Min Tae-eun, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, is one of many experts raising the alarm about North Korea testing a nuclear weapon in the near future.
He said: “When it comes down to it, the North’s nuclear threat is empty. If Kim ever gave the order to carry out a nuclear attack, it would be suicide. The only value those weapons have is as a deterrent to an attack, and I do not see any other country planning to attack North Korea.”
The US’ defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, agrees. This week, he warned that Kim’s regime would collapse if the Supreme Leader in Pyongyang decided to attack the US or its allies.
He said: “Any nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners, including the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime.”
This echoed comments made in a US National Defense Strategy report published last week.
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The report read: “Our strategy for North Korea recognises the threat posed by its nuclear, chemical, missile and conventional capabilities, and in particular the need to make clear to the Kim regime the dire consequences should it use nuclear weapons … there is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive.”
North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme got underway in the Eighties under the country’s founder and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung. Since then, Western allies have tried and failed on numerous occasions to convince Pyongyang to give up its weapons.
Former US President Donald Trump met with Kim three times while he was in office, but made no progress in nudging North Korea towards denuclearisation.
The country has conducted six nuclear weapons tests in its history. The first came in 2006, and the most recent in 2017. During the last test, the United States Geological Survey recorded an earthquake near the test site which reached 6.3 on the Richter Scale.