A nuclear strike is highly unlikely—but conventional war could break outby Cristina Varriale / September 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on Saturday, the largest ever by the dynastic regime by some order of magnitude. The country has claimed that it was a successful test of a thermonuclear weapon, or hydrogen bomb, a type of weapon more advanced than those used in previous tests. Although verifying the exact nature of the device is difficult outside of North Korea, the size of explosion certainly marks advancements in the regime’s capabilities.
This specific development is not completely out of the blue and alone does not increase the likelihood of war. Yet the US administration’s mismanagement of the crisis does drive the level of anxiety over North Korea’s nuclear tests upward.
North Korea has been steadily developing its nuclear and missile programmes for many years. But this year has seen an acceleration: the country’s first tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the development of new solid-fuel missile engines, and the testing of new intermediate range capabilities. All make North Korea’s nuclear capability more credible. The ability to produce a thermonuclear weapon follows this trajectory.
Yet advancements in capability do not equate to imminent use. The North Korean nuclear and missile programme is driven by the security concern that other countries, primarily the US, want to topple the regime that Kim Jong-un is trying to preserve. It is designed to establish a deterrent against this threat, a signal that Pyongyang can protect its interests.
It is not North Korea’s intention to launch a bolt-from-the-blue attack. This would lead to an overwhelming US military response that would see the end of the Kim regime, the exact outcome Pyongyang is trying to avoid.
“The rhetoric from the White House has been deeply irresponsible”
But concern regarding conventional military escalation is increasing. The current US administration appears to be considering the option of military force as a response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests—and has not sincerely attempted to diffuse tensions. In fact, often it seems to do the opposite.
The rhetoric from the White House has been deeply irresponsible. Following the test of an ICBM, Trump tweeted that any threat to the US or its allies will be met with “fire and fury,” and that the US nuclear arsenal…