At this moment, there are two factors that make North Korea more dangerous than before. First, its weapons are more destructive now. In December, the North launched a three-stage missile that inserted a satellite into orbit, thereby demonstrating it had mastered most of the technology needed to hit the continental U.S. with a ballistic missile.
North Korea should be able to land a warhead in the U.S. within three years, the time frame then Defense Secretary Robert Gates mentioned in 2011. In fact, the unveiling of Pyongyang’s new missile, the KN-08, appears to be the reason the Obama administration this March reversed its initial rejection of missile defense and agreed to deploy 14 additional interceptors in Alaska.
Moreover, since 2006 North Korea has been able to detonate nuclear devices. It won’t be long before its technicians can mate warheads with long-range missiles and threaten its neighbors — as well as the American homeland.
Second, turmoil in Pyongyang makes the North, the world’s most militant state, unstable. South Korean officials believe Kim Jong Un has consolidated his position at the top of the ruling group, but his belligerent behavior in March and April indicates he was still trying to prove to hardliners that he should rule as more than a figurehead.
The suspicious deaths and executions of senior officials from 2010 to late last year appear related to the succession from Kim Jong Il to his son, and they suggest that the boy despot — he may be as young as 29 — is still politically vulnerable, especially because there are indications that the purges early in his rule have triggered resentment in “cadre society.” Kim Jong Un’s moves were ruthless and dramatic — he even ordered one senior military officer to be executed with a mortar round “to leave no trace of him behind down to his hair” — but the excessive violence looks like it has caused young Kim more harm than good among the three hundred or so officials ruling the nation.
Americans in Washington may mark the 60th anniversary with prayers for peace and ignore the North’s tearing up of the armistice, but in Pyongyang, North Koreans are still glorifying war. An unstable ruling group holding the world’s most destructive weapons is bound to use violence again.
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