North Korea Threatens the US with Preemptive Nuclear Strike

Pyongyang is ready to carry out an attack against the US if they perceive a threat from the latter’s nuclear forces, warned Lee Yong Pil, a top North Korean official. In declarations to NBC News published on October 17, the same source also added that the country is ready to conduct more nuclear tests and refuses to ‘back down’.

Despite his claims that the country possesses the necessary technology to fire rockets capable of reaching the continental United States, that possibility is denied by US officials.

Such threats have been a staple of Kim Jong-un’s regime

These declarations come just two days after the US military detected an unsuccessful test launch of a North Korean intermediate ballistic missile, which had an estimate range of approximately 3200 kilometers.

This action was ‘strongly’ condemned by the UN Security Council, which has resolutions in place against the North Korea banning the use of any ballistic or nuclear technology. In a press release issued on October 17, the Security Council also reiterated the importance of a “peaceful, diplomatic, and political solution” to this issue.

US and South Korea team up

In October 19, top US and South Korean diplomats and defense officials met in Washington to discuss North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear threat. The two countries discussed plans for deployment of a ‘Terminal High Altitude Area Defense’ a defense system designed to destroy ballistic missiles without causing a detonation. This measure has been vehemently contested by China and North Korea. After talks were concluded, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that any use of nuclear weapons on the US or its allies would be met with “an effective and overwhelming response.”

The US and South Korea have been currently carrying out joint naval exercises off the Korean Peninsula and arranged a training exercise targeting North Korea’s nuclear facilities that will take place in late October. These ‘increasingly aggressive’ drills are pointed by Lee as the reason behind North Korea’s stance. For the second time in only 5 days, on October 20 North Korea launched its second intermediate-range ballistic missile, with very similar results.

North Korea’s missile launches

Known commonly as Musudan, this type of missile was launched successfully by North Korea for the first time in June, although recent results show that the country has yet to perfect it. With a range of over 3200 kilometers, the Musudan could reach South Korea, Japan, or the US’ military bases in Guam. Due to the fact that this missile is road-mobile, it is difficult to target in a preemptive strike, since it can be transported across the country and hidden underground.

The South Korean government has estimated North Korea’s nuclear spending to be between $1.1 to $3.2 billion a year, despite its official economy being valued in 2014 at only $28.4 billion, according to South Korea’s central bank. Free labor and domestic technology are the strategies used to cut costs. It is also likely that North Korea’s nuclear program is ‘cutting corners’ on safety with the same goal in mind.

Budget reorientation

In any case, despite being the target of a decade-long sanctions regime, the country has been able to obtain significant advances in the nuclear and missile areas, as well as a modest economic growth. This can be explained by the fact that the North Korea’s military sector’s budget is being reoriented from the conventional to the nuclear sector, lowering expenditures. Additionally, the State changed the structure of its economy, becoming more market-oriented and technological advanced, and its external sources of revenue have not changed significantly – China and North Korea seem to have resumed ‘business as usual’, and new business channels have been created.

Since the beginning of 2016, North Korea has carried out its fourth and fifth nuclear tests and is believed to have enough fissile material for about 20 atomic bombs by the end of the year. On the aftermath of the last test, a Pyongyang spokesperson declared that North Korea demanded the US to recognize the country as a “legitimate nuclear-weapons state,” and that threats of additional sanctions were “laughable.”

Nuclear Explosion, Photo by National Nuclear Security Administration / Public domain

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

David Ferreira

Research Assistant at CEI-IUL. Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, specialisation in International Relations (ISCTE-IUL).

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