North Korea’s nuclear threats must be taken seriously
The presentation of a mockup video showing the country’s missiles destroying a city in America during a musical performance was more aggressive.
This video is Pyongyang’s most visceral statement yet. The timing of its telecast coincided with the arrival of US Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its fleet of warships in Korean waters.
US President Donald Trump, along with other American officials, told the media on April 8 that the Carl Vinson was instructed to move towards the Korean Peninsula. It was likely that the plan was to show American resolve when dealing with the nuclear crisis created by North Korea.
The subsequent revelations that the was heading south at the time for exercises with the Australian Navy showed a series of blunders of internal communication. The Carl Vinson’s arrival off Korean waters two weeks later has not changed the likelihood of a conflict between North Korea, the United States, and South Korea.
Soldiers guard an open-air grandstand with portraits of Kim Jong-il (L) and Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. Damir Sagolj/Reuters
The main question is whether North Korea has nuclear weapons it could use against the United States, South Korea, and Japan. North Korea is unlikely to have the capability of launching a nuclear-tipped ballistic intercontinental missile capable of destroying an American city.
North Korea’s scientists are still working on the technology needed to build missiles capable of traversing this distance and construct warheads able to survive reentry back into Earth’s atmosphere following space flight.
Years of Testing have allowed North Korea to inch closer to perfecting the science required to build and launch viable intercontinental nukes. This is why the United States opposes further testing. The Trump Administration seems to be serious in justifying preemptive strikes based on other nuclear and missile tests.
Previous tests are of immediate concern because they have allowed North Korea to build ballistic missiles with small warheads that can strike American bases located in South Korea and Japan. There are about 80,000 US soldiers in these bases.
The Approaching Catastrophe
North Korea could already have up to 20 nuclear warheads small enough to fit on its Nodong or Rodong-1 medium-range missiles, which can reach these bases. The Trump administration does not want to put American soldiers at risk by assuming North Korea has this capability.
This mistake could cost the lives of 80,000 American soldiers but also of countless South Koreans and Japanese. A North Korean nuclear attack that will likely lead to war will create a human, environmental, and economic disaster, which will cause a setback for the international community.
Everyone is concerned about this. It explains why the United States puts pressure on China as a North Korean ally to get it to stop its nuclear weapons program.
Suppose China and other countries do not stop North Korea from building nuclear weapons. In that case, the United States may feel under pressure to use military force in order to destroy any nuclear weapons or ballistic missile sites that it can find by satellite surveillance.
Kim Jong Un watches a drill to mark the 85th Anniversary of the Korean People’s Army, April 26, 2017. KCNA/Handout by Reuters
New Intelligence about North Korea’s Nuclear Threat may have also influenced the decision to divert Carl Vinson into waters near the Korean Peninsula. Sending an American naval fleet toward North Korea could trigger the nuclear attack that the Trump administration was trying to avoid.
The administration sent its naval vessels later than it had said two weeks earlier. This could have been done to gauge North Korea’s reaction without actually escalating things by bringing in American naval forces, which might trigger military action from Kim Jong-Un.
The situation is worrying.
Why would North Korea use nuclear weapons in the first instance against American bases in Northeast Asia? Remember that North and South Korea were technically at war from 1950 onwards (the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953, not peace). The United States chose as a way to offer military support to the South in order to protect it against any North Korean aggression.
North Korea has a large army, perhaps as many as one million soldiers. South Korea has about half of that. While the majority of South Korea’s male citizens are able to contribute to a reserve of several million soldiers, mobilizing them to respond in time to a crisis is a different question. Their role is often ignored in analyses.
The South had a greater chance to avoid defeat if war broke out, thanks to the American military personnel, their superior equipment, ships, and aircraft.