According to a confidential U.N. report obtained by Reuters and submitted to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee on August 3rd, 2020, several countries believe that North Korea is continuing with its program to develop nuclear weapons. As reported by Reuters, North Korea has “probably developed miniaturized nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles.” The report was carried out by an independent panel of experts monitoring U.N. sanctions and stated that multiple countries (who were not identified) had reason to believe that North Korea’s previous six nuclear tests may have helped it develop miniaturized nuclear devices.
The U.N. report states that “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is continuing its nuclear program, including the production of highly enriched uranium and construction of an experimental light water reactor. A Member State assessed that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is continuing production of nuclear weapons.”
The last known nuclear test conducted by North Korea was in September 2017, and North Korea has been subject to U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs since 2006. In May of 2018, North Korea followed through on its pledge to demolish tunnels at its main nuclear test site, a move that North Korea claims demonstrated its commitment to end any nuclear testing. However, experts were not allowed to witness the destruction of the nuclear test site. Additionally, the U.N. report states that only tunnel entrances were known to have been demolished and there is no indication that the entire site itself was destroyed. One country that contributed to the report assessed that North Korea could rebuild the infrastructure needed for a nuclear test site within three months.
The issue of North Korea’s nuclear program is not new. In 2003, the U.S. declared that North Korea had nuclear weapons after the country had withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) earlier that same year. Following North Korea’s announcement that it had successfully tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, the U.N. imposed a broad array of sanctions. In the subsequent years, there were multiple instances where North Korea claimed to be dismantling its nuclear program, but it was later found that their nuclear program was still functioning. These scenarios have led to the imposition of more sanctions on North Korea over time by both the U.N. and individual countries. In recent years North Korea’s continued nuclear testing has threatened to escalate a situation between itself and the U.S. In 2015, high ranking North Korean official Park Yong Chol said that the nation has the capability to strike the U.S. mainland with missiles and that they would do so if the U.S. “forced their hand.” North Korea also stated that it was examining an operational plan to strike areas around the U.S. territory of Guam in 2017.
If the U.N. report is correct in stating that North Korea is continuing with its nuclear program and development of miniaturized nuclear devices, there is potential for existing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea to escalate. The implications of any potential conflict are immense, particularly involving nuclear weapons as the result could decimate entire populations. The U.N. should continue to monitor North Korea for its nuclear testing activity and place additional pressure through increased sanctions. Further investigations, by the U.N. or an independent body, into North Korea’s nuclear weapon development may also be appropriate in order to gain clarity on the situation. It is of utmost importance that North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is scrutinized and contained to avoid any possibility of an eventual catastrophic nuclear war.
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