In a televised New Year’s address on Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that his isolated, nuclear-compatible country was on the verge of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Following nuclear tests in recent years, this would be the last step in enabling the small communist country to use nuclear weapons against a foreign power, such as the United States.
“Research and development of the cutting-edge tech weapons are actively progressing and strengthening our defense capabilities, including last stage preparation of tests for Intercontinental Ballistic rocket launch have been continuously succeeding,” Kim declared, according to CNN. The speech included the typical North Korean themes: bravado, self-congratulation, and attacks on the West and the United States.
Kim warned that “unless the US and its vassal forces stop nuclear threat and blackmail and unless they stop the war exercises which they stage right at our noses under the pretext of annual exercises, the DPRK would keep increasing the military capabilities for self-defense and preemptive striking capacity with a main emphasis on nuclear force,” according to the state news agency KCNA.
This past September, North Korea reportedly conducted its fifth — and largest — nuclear test, detected by the U.S. Geological Survey. North Korea said it conducted a “nuclear warhead explosion” in response to perceived U.S. hostility. “We sent out a message that if the enemies attack us, we can counterattack.”
Following this test, the U.S. military flew nuclear-capable supersonic bombers over South Korea in a show of force. When Kim denounced “war exercises which they stage right at our noses,” he might have been referring to this retaliation.
Pyongyang previously held nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2011, and last January. After the January test, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution in March condemning the North Korean tests. The country has been under UN sanctions since 2006, and those sanctions were tightened in December after the September test.
A successful ICBM test launch would mark a terrifying development for Pyongyang’s nuclear capability. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 km (3,418 miles), but some are designed to travel 10,000 km or farther, which would place the U.S. state of California (9,000 km away) in range, Reuters reported. North Korea’s unreliable Musudan ballistic missile, which succeeded in only one of eight attempted launches last year, is designed to reach about 3,000 km (1,860 miles), posing a threat to South Korea and Japan, and possible the U.S. territory of Guam.
In November, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff bridging the Bush and Obama administrations, warned that the most potentially explosive security issue facing the incoming Trump administration would be North Korea and its nuclear weapons.
Mullen said the Korean Peninsula would be “more likely than anyplace else in the world to potentially create an explosive outcome, particularly tied to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.”
Nevertheless, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs added that he was “encouraged, actually” by President-elect Donald Trump’s “turning to people” with adequate foreign policy experience for advice.
According to a senior U.S. intelligence official, Trump’s first request for a special classified intelligence briefing was for one focused on North Korea and its nuclear program. This issue has also been a major concern to retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security advisor and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
A high-profile North Korean who defected told the Yonhap News Agency that Kim is determined to develop nuclear weapons by the end of 2017 “at all costs.”
“Following the ruling party congress in May, Kim Jong-un made it a party policy to finish nuclear development within the earliest time possible,” declared Thae Yong-ho, formerly No. 2 at the North Korean Embassy in London.
With rising tensions between the U.S. and China, the last thing America needs is another flashpoint in the Far East. Let us hope Donald Trump is up to the task of combatting these trying times.