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North Korea – same old nuclear weapons threats – and how to break them

Atomic-Bomb-Smflag-N-KoreaWhy North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Threats Are Like Groundhog Day All Over Again An expert explains why we’ve been here before, and how to break the cycle.  World Reporter, The Huffington Post , 19 Sept 15 North Korean officials sent a defiant message to the world over their nuclear and missile programs this week, as the reclusive regime gears up to celebrate the ruling party’s 70th anniversary.

The head of Pyongyang’s space agency said on Monday it was preparing to send a new earth observation satellite into space on a long-range rocket. The U.S. has warned this would violate United Nations resolutions against Pyongyang conducting ballistic missile tests, because of the similarity of the technology involved. Meanwhile, analysts and South Korean officials are skeptical of the announcement, saying there is little sign that Pyongyang is readying a satellite launch.

A day later, the director of North Korea’s Atomic Energy Institute announced that the country’s main Nyongbyon nuclear complex was fully operational again and reiterated threats to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. The complex was closed in 2007 during six-party talks with the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. But the talks collapsed, and North Korea said in 2013 that it would resume nuclear enrichment. Tuesday’s announcement accords with recent analysis by 38 North, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins University, which concluded, based on satellite imagery, that North Korea is “expanding its capacity to mine and mill natural uranium.”

The WorldPost spoke to Chad O’Carroll, the founder of specialist news and media service NK News, about what’s behind the latest warning signs from Pyongyang.

Did North Korea’s announcements this week about the rocket launches and nuclear reactivation come out of the blue?

The statement about the satellite launch did not come out of the blue. North Korea has made at least two or three announcements this year about upcoming satellite launches, leading many analysts to suggest that there will likely be a satellite launch to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the ruling party. This has been a narrative building up to those events.

The nuclear announcement did not necessarily come out of the blue either. Pyongyang had already announced that they would reactivate the nuclear processing plant, and that’s been underway for a while. This week’s statement was potentially triggered by 38 North recently publishing satellite imagery that shows activity at the Nyongbyon nuclear complex. The North Korean media may be responding to that, amid the general build-up to the Oct. 10 anniversary.

What do we know about the current state of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and how concerned should the world be about them?

The technology for long-range ballistic missiles has not been fully mastered yet. It takes North Korea several weeks, if not months, to set up a satellite launch. So this is not much of a military threat because that’s a long window of time for the U.S. to take that threat out.

The real threat is two-fold: usage of short-range to medium-range ballistic missiles — which North Korea has a lot of and have been proven to work — and low-end applications of nuclear technology. The problem is that as long as the status quo continues, the better North Korea’s technology becomes. Five or six years ago, no one would have thought that in 2015 North Korea would be showcasing submarine technology to launch ballistic missiles………

We have seen that the way that world leaders are currently responding  to North Korea leads to Groundhog Day: complaints to the U.N., limited sanctions on North Korea, complaints from Pyongyang that it has been unfairly singled out, followed by further tensions and a new nuclear test, and then we’re back where we started.

Understandably, democratically elected leaders need to be seen to be responding to things, but having seen the cycle repeat itself so many times, it seems that there does need to be some fresh thinking. And there are only really two options on the table: one is military — and there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that — and the other is of a different diplomatic response. 

If you want to reduce the threat that North Korea’s weapons pose, the best solution is  some kind of settlement and diplomatic agreement. Unfortunately, everything seems very far away in that regard right now.

September 21, 2015 - Posted by | North Korea, weapons and war

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