Ed Jones – AFP/Getty Images

By Stewart Benson

In a recent rush of threats and warnings, North Korea, under leadership of Kim Jong-un, is accelerating its nuclear enrichment and missile weapons programs, specifically targeting both the United States and its neighbor, South Korea. Seen as a response to recently approved international sanctions drafted by the United Nations, North Korea now has a mission statement for its ballistic missile program: a nuclear test of higher level will target the United States, the “sworn enemy” of the Korean people. While American intelligence agencies are skeptical of how capable North Korea is of delivering a nuclear payload to the United States, recent missile tests by the isolated country indicates their missile technology has come a long way in recent months. The recent test of a satellite launch proved that North Korea has the ability to send missiles thousands of miles, possibly even reaching Hawaii. However, a strike towards the Continental U.S. is said to be still three to four years away. The North’s specific warnings against the U.S. also mentioned a plan for a third underground nuclear test. While in direct violation of the United Nation’s Security Council resolution, the test would be the first under North Korea’s new leader and a chance for the Obama administration to see how sophisticated their nuclear program has become.

At a time of immense insecurity in the region, these new threats by North Korea might be an indicator of the United State’s recent focus only on Iran’s nuclear program, a situation where the U.S. may have lost some diplomatic leverage. Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu butting heads several months ago, along with construction of new nuclear enrichment sites in Iran, placed American intelligence analysts solely focused on Iran. The past several years also saw nuclear talks with the North go sour, giving North Korea the opportunity to go ahead with the tests without much trouble. Perhaps adding to the acceleration of their tests, China has seemingly left North Korea alone, approving the Security Council’s resolution condemning the North’s satellite launch. However, China still maintains economic and diplomatic ties with the North, and has stated that instability within North Korea is more of a threat than further nuclear and missile testing.

Recently sworn in Secretary of State John Kerry has the opportunity to approach North Korea with perhaps more focus and energy than recently departed Secretary Hillary Clinton. There is little doubt that U.S. foreign policy will take more direct action against North Korea; the severity and specificity of the new threats are a real cause for concern. It should be interesting to see how diplomatic policy with the North will change under Kerry, and if China will become more involved with the sophistication of North Korea’s weapons programs is substantial. With Israel recently targeting a Syrian chemical weapons depot, it might be possible that the U.S. and its allies could target North Korean facilities. How China will react to direct strikes will most likely be negative, but that is a reality that could take place if international sanctions continue to fail. 

This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.

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