Kim Jong-un ‘in the mood to blow things up’

Japan: Siren sounds as North Korea fires missile overhead

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In recent months, North Korea has caused increasing concern with its missile testing. And on Wednesday, tensions with South Korea hit worrying new highs after Pyongyang fired a missile which landed just outside its neighbour’s territorial waters. Seoul launched missiles of its own in response. This comes a month after Kim Jong-un’s forces fired a missile over Japan for the first time since 2017, plunging into the Pacific Ocean. Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, condemned the test and branded it “violent behaviour.”

Various experts believe that recent events represent a concerning development. Not only is North Korea now a nuclear power, but the country is also unwilling to engage in diplomacy with other countries. This means that missile tests are likely to continue and become more and more ambitious.

Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on Asia from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told CNN last month that recent missile tests coming out of North Korea show Kim Jong-un is determined to accelerate his weapons programme

He said: “What it tells us is that the North Koreans are in no mood to talk, they are in the mood of testing and blowing things up. I think the North Koreans tried their end of diplomacy during the Trump administration and didn’t get what they wanted.”

When Donald Trump was the US President, he was able to convince Kim to engage in more extensive dialogue on the subject of denuclearisation. The two leaders met three times during Trump’s time in the White House, but ultimately no progress was made.

Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes that it is now too late for the US to convince North Korea to surrender its weapons.

He added: “Denuclearisation is now in the dustbin of history as a failed policy. There is simply no practical plan at this point, especially in the short term, to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table and proceed to denuclearisation.”

Not only is denuclearisation off the table, but Mr Lewis believes North Korea will only intensify its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

He said: “There’s a lot of things North Korea is going to do in the next few months. We are probably going to see a nuclear weapons test.”

North Korea fired one of its Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan last month. It has a range of 4500km, which means Pyongyang could strike the US island Guam if it used this weapon.

However, Kim’s forces have developed more powerful missiles with longer ranges. The Hwasong-14 has a range of 8000km-10,000km, which Pyongyang could use to target New York.

The Hwasong-17 is North Korea’s most developed intercontinental missile. It has a range of at least 15,000km and can carry multiple warheads, which means it is harder to intercept with defence systems.

As for nuclear weapons, the world is on high alert for any test in the near future. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Director General, Rafael Grossi, warned last week: “Everybody is holding [their] breath about this, because another nuclear test would be yet another confirmation of a programme which is moving full steam ahead, in a way that is incredibly, incredibly concerning.”

He added: “Further tests, of course, means that they are refining the preparations and the construction of their arsenal. So we are following this very, very closely. We hope it doesn’t happen, but indications, unfortunately, go in another direction.”

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North Korea hasn’t tested such a weapon since 2017. When it did detonate one at the Punggye-ri test site in the northeast of the country, the explosion generated between 100-370 kilotons of force. For context, one kiloton is equivalent of 1000 tons of TNT.

While experts say the US will not be able to dissuade Kim from building more weapons, Washington has nonetheless tried to warn North Korea against a nuclear test. Last week, the US, South Korea and Japan told North Korea that it would be met with an “unparalleled” response if a nuclear test is carried out.

South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister, Cho Hyun-dong, said: “We agreed that an unparalleled scale of response would be necessary if North Korea pushes ahead with a seventh nuclear test.”

The US’ Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, also warned: “We urge (North Korea) to refrain from further provocations. Anything that happens here, such as a North Korean nuclear test … has implications for the security of the entire world.”

In an apparent swipe at Russia and China, Ms Sherman continued: “We hope indeed that everyone on the Security Council would understand that any use of a nuclear weapon will change the world in incredible ways.”

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