North Korea settles for imperfect nuclear threat
Published: 10:09 PM, 23 April 2018
Daily Bangladesh Desk
In declaring a unilateral freeze in missile testing, North Korea appears ready to settle for now with an imperfect nuclear arms capability, one good enough to stoke fear in the United States but which can’t promise to strike U.S. targets reliably, experts say.
North Korea said on Saturday it no longer needed to conduct nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests because it had reached its weapons development goals, even though U.S. officials and experts do not believe the North’s program is complete.
The declaration came ahead of talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Friday. Kim, whose economy is under pressure from international sanctions, is expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in late May or early June.
One big gap in the North’s weapons program, U.S. officials say, is that Pyongyang has not proven it has a reliable re-entry vehicle that can carry a nuclear warhead to a U.S. target on an ICBM without breaking up in the atmosphere.
Still, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who recently became the first serving U.S. official ever to meet Kim, estimated earlier this year that North Korea could need just a handful of months to become capable of staging a nuclear attack on the United States.
Cheong Seong-chang, senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said Kim’s decision to halt testing was a concession, of sorts, ahead of negotiations.
“Giving up ICBM testing while your technology isn’t yet complete means you are willing to give up at least that part of the missile program,” he said.
But other experts argued that Kim had conceded little, arguing that he could lift the testing freeze at any time and that his nuclear program had already achieved its main goal: demonstrating enough of a nuclear missile threat to be able to stoke uncertainty in the United States.
“They say it’s reliable enough, and you know what? They’re right,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
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