How did North Korea end up with nuclear weapons?

On August the 24th, North Korea launched a submarine-launched missile that flew 500 km (311 miles) towards Japan, a show of improving technological capability for the isolated country that has conducted a series of missile launches in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Now, North Korea’s nuclear programme has been a source of great concern for the international community for more than 20 years, however the frequency of missile tests and launches has increased exponentially over the years. This year alone (till August) North Korea has tested over 5 different types of missiles. So why is North Korea proactively testing missiles? How and why did North Korea get Nuclear weapons anyway? To find the answer, a deeper analysis is required.

North Korea had been suspected of maintaining a clandestine nuclear development programme since the early 1980s, when it constructed a nuclear reactor in Yonbyon. However, North Korea first announced its intention to test nuclear weapons in 1993, after the historic Six-Party talks failed. The United States, South Korea and Japan demanded a complete stop to all nuclear activities by North Korea, while Russia and China took a more lenient stance. Consequently the United Nations’ Security Council adopted resolution UNSCR 0825/1993, formally approving a regime of sanctions against North Korea. All U.N. members were urged not to trade with North Korea, thus effectively halting the growth of North Korean economy. North Korea was gripped by a humanitarian crisis with increasing poverty and skyrocketing inflation. Thus the only path left for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, to prevent a popular revolt was to adopt an isolationist policy, effectively cut off North Korea from the world and complain that the West is responsible for all of North Korea’s woes.

By 1995, North Korea was spending over 50% its GDP on defense and nuclear research. Dr. AQ Khan, a Pakistani nuclear physicist, leaked blueprints of Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon thus greatly boosting North Korea’s nuclear weapon development programme. At the same time North Korea’s foreign trade declined by nearly 65%, resulting in recession, further adding to the people’s woes. Finally, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, declaring that it will not hesitate to use its nuclear weapons if threatened by the United States, South Korea or Japan. Since then, the United States and its allies have attempted to engage North Korea in negotiations to end the program. These talks have yielded little, except for the steep economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations. However, Kim Jong-un, the current leader of the country has hardened his stance on North Korea’s nuclear programme and has refused to reactivate the Six-Party talks.

North Korea has conducted four underground nuclear tests so far, and each one has taken it closer to what decades of international talks have tried to prevent a working nuclear weapon in the hands of one of the world’s most unpredictable states. Over the years, the yield of the nuclear weapons North Korea has been testing has improved. Just look at the graph below to get the idea:

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So, the trend is clear. Nuclear weapons and missile tests by North Korea will definitely increase in the future both quantitatively and qualitatively, as North Korea gets increasingly desperate. And with a lunatic like Kim Jong-un at the helm, who knows what to expect in the future?




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