When Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011, following his father’ death, his authority to ever consolidate his rule was doubted. To day he is riding high and has proliferated the biggest nuclear threat recalling some episodes of the Cold War.
To understand what is in a threat let have a look on the most provocative actions of Kim Jong Un after taking the reins.
While South Korea was hosting world leaders at an international nuclear security summit of March 2012 in Seoul, Pyongyang moved a long-range rocket toward a launch pad. He also intended to carry out the test in mid-April to tag the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, the nation’s founder.
One month after, in response to the warnings from U.S. President Barack Obama, starting that his regime had nothing to gain through provocations, Pyongyang launched the rocket that has broken apart and fallen into the sea.
In August, upon his visit to the front-line military detachment behind the 2010 attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, Kim Jong Un reminded the troops of their duty to fight a “sacred war” against Seoul. At the same time, the North Korean leader made the veiled threat just ahead of an annual war games conducted of the Korean Peninsula by the United States and South Korea. The dictator called the joint Seoul-Washington military exercises a “war rehearsal” to invade.
Two months later,Pyongyang was claiming to have developed missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. In December, Kim announced plans to launch another long-range rocket in a renewed effort to send a satellite into space. The launch has been confronted to technical issues before being declared successful some days after.
In January, Pyongyang announced that it is planning a new nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches, all of which it said are part of a new phase of confrontation with the United States.
The threats come two days after the U.N. Security Council approved the broadening of sanctions in response to the rocket launch of December 2012 that apparently put a satellite in orbit.
On February 12, North Korea has carried out an underground nuclear bomb test that it has declared to be designed “to defend the country’s security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious hostile act of the U.S.” At the same time, the Korean Central News Agency; a governmental agency, replicated to the U.N. Security Council declaration for new sanctions:
“This nuclear test is our first measure, which displayed our maximum restraint. …If the U.S. continues with their hostility and complicates the situation, it would be inevitable to continuously conduct a stronger second or third measure.”
After the adoption of sanctions by the U.N Security Council, North Korea has threatened for the first time to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States and South Korea.
This threat is part of the episodes that started with North Korea threatening to scrap the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War. In the same line, it has cut off its direct phone links with South Korea at Panmunjom, the abandoned village sited on the border between the two countries.
On March 8, Pyongyang has doubled down the threat saying that it was going to nullify the joint declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. According to published reports, Pyongyang has nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that are ready to be fired.
On March 11, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, reported that North Korea’s army has declared invalid the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War, putting into action one of Pyongyang’s main threats.
How prominent is the North Korean Nuclear Test?
The 2013 test was a clear sign of Pyongyang’s ongoing defiance of the International Community. It has designed the test as an imminent response to the UN sanctions. The threat is likely to be significant if it is proven that North Korea has effectively “miniaturized” the device that can fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile. That could have serious consequences on US and North Korea’s neighboring countries. As it has been started by Pyongyang, the recent test had a much greater yield than the plutonium devices it detonated in 2006 and 2009.
Some analysts postulate that Pyongyang’s warnings of a “high-level” test could have been code for the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) rather than plutonium.
In all cases, both uranium and plutonium bombs would signify a huge technological achievement, seeing that the process of distilling natural uranium ore to the stuff suitable for bombs is extremely difficult.
In terms of dissuasion, the 2013 test was indeed larger in force than previous ones but monitors failed to detect radioactive isotopes, impeding efforts to fully assess the device. “Eight samples had been analysed but nothing found”, said the South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission in February 2013. The detection of some Isotopes-xenon gases would have helped in determining whether a plutonium or uranium-based device was used, an issue that still unclear until now.
In any way, considering the alert that has been triggered by the 2013 test, there is a reason to think that the threat was somehow credible. The US has even attempted to ease the fire by postponing a missile test scheduled to take place in California next week. This has been recently announced by the US defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel who has declared some days before that North Korea threats “pose real and clear danger”
Recent days have seen a rapid escalation of Pyongyang’s rantings against the US and its allies in the region, mainly South Korea. Analysts describe this as a possible attempt by Kim Jong-un, to shore up his internal power base.
The threats of war included the use of nuclear weapons and the moving, by North Korea, of medium-range missiles to positions where they could potentially strike South Korea, Japan and US bases in the Pacific.
On April 5, North Korea attempted to heighten fears of military conflict by telling embassies in Pyongyang, that it could not guarantee the safety of their staff in the event of war. In another sign that it is determined to increase the pressure, Pyongyang extended a ban preventing South Korean officials from entering the Kaesong industrial complex which it operates jointly with the South.
This Tuesday, North Korea has renewed the threat of “thermonuclear” war on the Korean peninsula and called foreigners on South Korean territory to consider leaving the country.
The coming 101st anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, on 15 April, raises anxieties, Pyongyang always try to achieve prominent nuclear exploits to celebrate this event.