Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Trouble with North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities

As the photo shows, on December 10, 2012 in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province, North Korea launched the rocket Unha-3, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 (Photo taken by the North Korean Central News Agency).
The article by Leanna Seetahal below focuses specifically on the threat posed by the North Korean government. Yet we must ask how much different is the North Korean government from the U.S. government in which around 21 percent of the U.S. budget is for military expenditure (Congressional Budget Office, 2008), and around 58 percent of the U.S. discretionary spending (17 percent of the U.S. budget) is for military expenditure as well (National Priorities Project, 2010) , the U.S. government under G.W. Bush, for example, invaded Iraq under false pretenses and around one million lives were lost, and the U.S. government continues to allow U.S. weapon sales to authoritarian regimes like the Bahraini and Saudi Kingdoms?

Clearly, North Korea due to its impoverished economic situation has significantly less to lose than the United States.

The Trouble with North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities

Since 2006, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (generally referred to as North Korea) has reportedly conducted two nuclear weapons tests. While experts believe that this country lacks the technology to develop nuclear warheads, it appears that the development of rockets to transport such warheads is well underway. In fact, North Korea had explicitly stated in 2006 that it had conducted nuclear tests and had subsequently in 2009 announced that it had developed nuclear weapons.

On December 12th, 2012, North Korea successfully launched the Unha-3 rocket. According to Martin Nesirky, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the rocket launch was “a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874, in which the Council demanded that the DPRK not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology.” Many government officials around the world, including representatives of China, North Korea’s closest ally, expressed regret over the launch by North Korea. U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor stated that the launch, “contravenes North Korea's international obligations, and undermines the global non-proliferation regime.”

In contradiction to this statement, however, North Korea is one of only five UN members which are not party to the UN’s Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, having acceded to it and then later withdrew. Neither is North Korea a party to other treaties which aim to control the use of nuclear weapons: the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

While North Korea claims that the 2012 launch was aimed at placing a satellite into orbit, ulterior motives seem plausible especially in light of past statements by Pyongyang government expressing its ambition of being capable of striking its “aggressors” at any distance. Moreover, according to experts, the technologies involved in launching a satellite and developing a long-range missile are similar.

If the satellite launched is like the one shown by the North Korean regime in April, the design would be very crude and the capabilities limited. Moreover, astronomers believe that the satellite itself appears to be dead. These facts lend to the view that the true goal of the launch was the furtherance in the development of long-range missile technology by North Korea.

North Korea is an impoverished state. 2011 estimates by the World Food Programme indicate that almost a quarter of North Koreans needed food aid and a third of children were chronically malnourished or stunted. However, instead of assisting its poor and malnourished population, this North Korean government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the rocket launch in December as well as on a failed launch in April. What makes matters worse is that the failed launch in April ended a deal in which the U.S. would provide North Korea with thousands of tons of food aid. Yet North Korea persists in defying the UN resolutions seemingly indifferent to the effects that the economic sanctions incurred will have on its populace. This lack of concern for the well-being of its own people begs the question, “Will this government have any qualms about the loss of life in other nations caused by nuclear attacks?” Not only is North Korea getting closer to being able to launch nuclear attacks, but it seems to be a regime that may not be balked by the multitude loss of lives which would undoubtedly result.

Reference Links:"

Ms. Leanna Seetahal, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Blogger and Researcher with a Background in Law.

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