Hyun Hak-bong spoke to the news network from the North Korean embassy in Acton, West London. Not only did he address the issue of nuclear weapons, but also spoke out on his country’s human rights records, just days after the United Nations launched a new investigation into North Korea’s questionable practices, writes Alistair Bunkall for Sky News.
North Korea capable of nuclear strikes
In a series of pronouncements which could have worrying implications for global security, the ambassador appeared to put an end to years of speculation about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Although analysts thought the country was capable of producing warheads, it was not yet known whether it could miniaturize them and fix them to ballistic missiles.
Hak-bong claimed: “We are prepared. That is why I say if a sparkle of a fire is made on the Korean peninsula, it will lead to a nuclear war. We don’t say empty words. We mean what we mean. It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes.” He was then asked to clarify whether he meant that North Korea could now fire a nuclear missile, to which he responded: “Any time, any time, yes.”
Tensions rise due to military exercises
The interview coincided with the annual U.S./South Korean military exercises, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, which last a number of weeks and count on the involvement of hundreds of thousands of troops. The exercises take in land, sea and air capabilities.
According to the U.S., the exercises are purely defensive, but the government of North Korea believes that they are designed to prepare for an invasion. The exercises raise tensions on an annual basis, but so far have not caused a war. Hak-bong thinks he can see through U.S. intentions, claiming that America is “softening” North Korea in preparation for a “pre-emptive strike.”
With such a volatile northern neighbor, it is not difficult to envision the exercises in the south setting off a catastrophic chain of events. Last month, a report by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies predicted that North Korea could construct up to 100 nuclear weapons by 2020, causing deep concern among U.S. government officials.
The US special representative for North Korea Policy, Sung Kim, said: “Obviously we are deeply concerned about the fact that the North Koreans are continuing to advance their nuclear capabilities; we know that they are continuing to work on their nuclear program.”
According to the aforementioned report, the construction of many more missiles over the next 5 years represents a “worst case scenario” which would represent a significant increase in nuclear capabilities compared to the 16 missiles the country is believed to possess currently. The authors believe that Pyongyang is capable of miniaturizing nuclear warheads, and possesses missiles which are able to hit South Korea and Japan, as well as developing longer-range capabilities with a view to striking at the U.S..
Human rights record under investigation, again
Hyun Hak-bong took the opportunity to defend North Korea’s human rights record when pressed about allegations made by North Koreans living in the South Korean capital Seoul. The North Korean exiles claim that they were tortured and beaten in the North before escaping to the South.
During the interview Hak-bong claimed that the “allegations are based on fabricated stories by the defectors from the North.” He then spoke with incredible vitriol about the defectors, and the language that he employed does not give much confidence about the treatment of defectors. “Do you know the difference between human beings and animals? Human beings have a conscience and morality. If they do not have a conscience and a morality the are like nothing.”
“They’re animals. That is why we call the defectors animals. They are no better than animals. They’re human scum.”
Approximately 70% of those who have defected to South Korea since 1998 are women in their 30s, and the majority claim to have left due to economic troubles and a desire for more freedom. South Korean government data states that male defectors are more likely to have left due to threats to their life, ideological differences with the government and state persecution.
The latest investigation by the UN will look into reports that as many as 20,000 North Koreans were sent to Qatar to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
Military exercises are also escalating the situation between NATO and Russia, and with neither side willing to back down it is not difficult to envisage war erupting in Eastern Europe or in the Korean peninsula. We can but hope that we do not enter into an age of brinkmanship in which a misunderstanding could lead to nuclear war.