North Korea issued new threats of nuclear and long-range missile testing on Thursday, including a claim that the isolated communist nation would seek to build strike capabilities against the United States of America.
Calling the U.S. its “arch-enemy,” the North Korean military issued a statement through state-run media announcing the threats, which they said were in retaliation for United Nations sanctions adopted on Tuesday.
“We do not hide that the various satellites and long-range rockets we will continue to launch, as well as the high-level nuclear test we will proceed with, are aimed at our arch-enemy, the United States,” the statement said. “Settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with word.”
North Korea has long had nuclear ambitions, and has attempted two nuclear tests to date. While neither tested weapon was as strong as the atomic bombs used by the United States against Japan in 1945, there is some evidence that North Korea may now have enough uranium to build a more powerful weapon.
North Korea also launched an unmanned satellite into orbit in December. While there were indications that the satellite was non-functional, the launch indicated that North Korea’s ballistic missile technology has reached a point where it may be possible for them to launch conventional intercontinental strikes. Fortunately, North Korea’s nuclear weapons are likely still too large to mount on a missile, but the combination of the nuclear testing and missile projects is unsettling, to say the least.
The satellite launch drew unanimous condemnation from the UN Security Council, including a vote for the resolution by China, which has long been the closest thing North Korea has to an ally.
North Korea has followed rocket launches with nuclear tests twice before, in 2006 and 2009.
North Korea remains in a technical state of war with the United States and South Korea. Though an armistice was signed in 1953, no peace treaty has ever been formally agreed to. Nearly 60 years after the armistace was signed, American troops remain stationed in South Korea to deter North Korea from resuming hostilities.
Exactly what North Korea hopes to accomplish with more saber-rattling is unclear. North Korea was desperately poor, even before sanctions were put in place to dissuade them from pursuing nuclear weapons. It is possible that North Korea could put together a nuclear weapon that could threaten America or South Korea, but even if they wanted to attack, they face less of a mutual assured destruction scenario than a self-assured destruction one. Use of a nuclear weapon by North Korea would be suicidal.
That said, the North Korean government does not operate in a particularly logical manner. Under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il, and now his grandson Kim Jong-un, North Korea has operated less as a traditional communist nation than as a cult of personality. Officially, its Juche theory of government extols the virtue of the common Korean worker, but in practice, it has developed into overwhelming hero-worship of the Kim family.
The country is extremely insular, and its government’s function is opaque even to experts in the region. While the North Korean aim of becoming a nuclear power may not seem to make much sense from a rational standpoint, the goal of symbolic power has been often shown to be more important to the North Korean government than almost any other consideration.
How the world will respond to the latest threat is unclear; North Korea is already under a massive sanctions regime, and it seems hard to image what, short of military action, could dissuade North Korea from proceeding. It seems likely that the world will have to simply hope that however unclear the motivations of the North Korean government, their instinct for self-preservation will at least keep them from using whatever weapons they may develop.
Image Credit: Michael Jesus Day