In one of the longest-running armed conflicts anywhere in the world, North Korea and South Korea have been at war for five decades. Moreover, there is no sign of a let up in the tensions between the two countries and the situation even threatens to spill over into a global war.
In fact, in an unusual speech at the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Tuesday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong claimed that his country had the resources to deter an “ever-increasing nuclear threat” by the U.S., up to and including a pre-emptive strike.
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Typical saber rattling from North Korea
Ri’s comments could almost be echoes of previous comments by North Korea about the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which the North denounces as a preparation for war against it.
Of note, North Korea test-launched two short-range missiles off its eastern coast on Monday, according to South Korean officials, a obvious response to the military exercises that resulted in a diplomatic protest from Japan
The missiles landed in the sea off southern Japan on Monday morning after traveling for over 300 miles, South Korea’s Defence Ministry reported.
Statement from North Korean foreign minister
Ri did not refer to the missile launch in his speech Tuesday, but he did say the joint military drills were “unprecedentedly provocative in nature and have an especially high possibility of sparking off a war”. He also commented that the Korean Peninsula was a “touch-and-go nuclear powder-keg”
“The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) cannot but bolster its nuclear deterrent capability to cope with the ever-increasing nuclear threat of the U.S. Now the DPRK has the power of deterring the U.S. and conducting a pre-emptive strike as well, if necessary,” Ri said in his speech at the Geneva forum.
However, he did strike a conciliatory note at the end of his speech, when he highlighted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had emphasized in his New Year’s address to the country that the North and South should come together in peace.
“The DPRK will not spare its sincere efforts to bring about great change in inter-Korean relations this year,” Ri noted.
North Korea’s nuclear arsenal
North Korea has conducted several nuclear tests, so it is a known nuclear power. That said, it’s not easy to determine just how much of a threat the North Korean nuclear arsenal presents to the rest of the world.
A recent report in ValueWalk highlighted that nuclear weapons technology experts were in agreement that Pyongyang’s nuclear program poses a serious international threat. The experts believe that North Korea probably has 10-16 nuclear weapons right now.
Taking advantage of satellite data, North Korean media reports and their knowledge of nuclear programs, nuclear proliferation experts Joel Wit and David Albright suggest three possible future scenarios. In their first scenario, the reclusive nation would be able double its nuclear stockpile to at least 20 weapons in the next five years.
The second and most likely scenario suggests Pyongyang can produce as many as 50 weapons over the next five years. Disturbingly, they may be able to develop smaller plutonium-based weapons that could be mounted on its ballistic missiles. In the third and worst case scenario, the stockpile of North Korean nukes would soar to 100 by 2020.