The Growing Threat: North Korea’s Militarization and Nuclear Ambitions

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North Korea is one of the most militarized countries in the world. On Wednesday, North Korea performed its first flight test of a new cruise missile as it extended its military capabilities in the face of heightening tensions with the United States and its neighbours. The news in state media came a day after South Korea’s military expressed it detected the North firing several cruise missiles into waters off its western coast. 

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency stated that the Pulhwasal-3-31 missile is still growing and that the launch did not threaten neighbours. It described the missile as “strategic,” implying an intent to arm them with nuclear weapons. It has been reported that the missiles flew a more concise distance than previous North Korean cruise missile launches, which seems that the North was trying to enhance the performance of existing systems.

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North Korea continues to grow its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile agendas in defiance of international sanctions. Long regarded as a threat to regional peace, there are increasing fears that these new capabilities mean that North Korea’s aggressive military stance could now pose a threat to global security. 

North Korea is endeavouring to highlight its diversifying arsenal of nuclear-capable weapons to expand pressure on rivals. On the other hand, U.S. and South Korean officials have blamed North Korea for providing artillery shells, missiles and other stockpiles to Russia for its war in Ukraine, possibly in dealings for economic assistance and military technology.

Those weapons potentially pose a grave threat to South Korea, Japan and overall regional security. They are developed to be more challenging to detect by radar, and North Korea proclaims they are nuclear-capable and their range is up to 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles), a distance that would incorporate U.S. military bases in Japan.

Uncertainties in the region have increased in recent months as Kim persists in accelerating his weapons growth and makes provocative threats of nuclear conflict with the US and its Asian allies. There are worries that Kim could dial up pressure in an election year in the U.S. and South Korea. Further, Kim’s weapons drive has put additional strain on a broken economy, disabled by decades of mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear initiatives. North Korea could be seeking to diminish South Korea’s voice in the regional nuclear standoff and ultimately force direct dealings with Washington as it looks to evolve its nuclear status.

It has been noted that North Korea’s ‘military first’ philosophy—also comprehended as Songun—specified the military as the most critical institution in North Korean society and “a mechanism to solve social, economic, and political problems”. The aggressive military stance embodied by that philosophy and the advancements made by North Korea in nuclear weapons and missile capacities in recent years under the regime of President Kim Jong-un has arguably pushed it from a regional threat to peace and stability to an international one.

Since 2006, the United Nations Security Council has passed several resolutions sanctioning North Korea for creating nuclear weapons and related activities, delivering what has been described as one of the most comprehensive multilateral sanctions regimes in history. The United States and other countries and international bodies, including the European Union and the UK, have also inflicted separate sanctions. 

Despite the economic effect of the sanctions, North Korea’s campaign towards advanced weapons technology has persisted. This has led to inquiry whether sanctions will ever provide an adequate deterrent to North Korea’s aggressive military posture or the growth of advanced weapons technologies.

The aggressive posture of North Korea could present the most significant threat to the existing deterrence strategy employed by the US and Global Security. North Korea’s irresponsible action must be met with a swift, united, and robust international reaction, particularly by the United Nations Security Council. UNSC members must follow through on their pledges and call on all UN member states to implement relevant UNSCRs fully and effectively. 

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