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September 2, 2017
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Nuclear North Korea

Opinion

September 2, 2017

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As a student of the politics of nuclear non-proliferation, the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse causing the collapse of human civilisation on this planet has continued to haunt my mind for most of my adult life. My worst nightmare seems to be coming true.

The apprehension that millions of people would die within the first hour of a nuclear explosion have existed among the people since the early years of the cold-war period. But now the probability of a nuclear exchange is very high. On the one hand, we have North Korea’s Kim Jong-un threatening to fire nuclear-tipped missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam. On the other hand, we have an unpredictable and erratic American president with the sole authority to launch more than eight hundred nuclear weapons in less than 10 minutes.

North Korea continues to cause a massive headache for the global community as it quickens the pace of nuclear weapons and missile development. Unless the Kim regime takes serious steps to freeze its nuclear weapons program, there is a fair possibility that the Trump administration will give orders to attack North Korea before next summer. It has now become very clear that President Trump is not going to follow the Obama administration’s instincts for foreign-policy restraint. If North Korea keeps testing missiles, President Trump would be more than willing to risk a nuclear war that would kill millions of people on the Korean peninsula.

It would not be wrong to say that North Korea, a country of almost 25 million people, has emerged as a rogue nuclear state. The people of North Korea continue to obey an oppressive regime because they are caught in a web of misinformation and rumours spun by their paranoid leaders. North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-un, is definitely not the right person to have control of nuclear weapons in his hands. According to one estimate, a North Korean attack on Seoul would kill more than 100,000 people in the first two days. In case of a nuclear attack, up to two million casualties will be seen in the first two days. More importantly, would this nuclear war remain confined to East Asia? No one knows the answer for sure.

Since the early 1990s, North Korea has pursued its nuclear- and missile-proliferation activities. The global community has made multiple efforts to stop it, such as the 1994 Agreed Framework, the six-party talks initiated in August 2003, and a number of UN Security Council resolutions aiming to have Pyongyang abandon its nuclear programme. But the North Korea leaders have remained defiant. Beginning with the first nuclear test in 2006, North Korea has conducted a total of five nuclear tests. The country claimed that the January 2016 test used a thermonuclear device; however, due to a lack of evidence, many experts remain sceptical.

A 2016 white paper issued by Japan’s Ministry of Defence argues that, “considering that the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China succeeded in acquiring such technology by as early as the 1960s, as well as the technological maturity reached through North Korea’s previous four nuclear tests, among other factors, it is possible that North Korea has achieved the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons and has developed nuclear warheads.” This ability to field a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile would give the Kim regime immense ability to blackmail adversaries like South Korea and Japan into doing whatever it wants. This cannot be allowed at any cost because it would provide incentives to many other states to develop nuclear weapons and engage in nuclear blackmail games.

More alarmingly, North Korea is an impoverished nuclear-armed state, representing the most likely source for a terrorist-controlled nuclear weapon. What if the cash-strapped regime sells weapons or fissile material to terrorist organisations? According to some estimates, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has expanded to more than 50 weapons and will continue to grow the in coming years. Pyongyang has the capability to produce 6 kilograms of plutonium annually and is believed to have above 110 kg of plutonium by 2025. Assuming that the country produces only 1080 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) by 2025, the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal could be alarmingly high by 2025.

There are too many unknowns to make any prediction about the future. Will the latest round of sanctions against North Korea work? Will the North Korean leaders bridle their ambitions and put their nuclear and missile programmes up for negotiations? The prospects are not very bright. However, one thing is very clear: unless the North Korean issue is resolved diplomatically and peacefully, the world as we know it will change forever before the end of 2018.

Email:[email protected]

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