Don’t ignore the nuclear threat from North Korea

If the Cuban Missile Crisis has taught the world anything, it’s that we can’t ignore the dangerous potential capabilities of nuclear weapons no matter the situation. Since the end of the Cold War the immediate threat of a nuclear holocaust has been greatly diminished but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

With North Korea ramping up the frequency of its nuclear weapon tests as of late, the possibility that they could have a functional ballistic missile capable of striking and destroying a civilian or military target seems increasingly possible. Sanctions against North Korea doesn’t seem to be deterring them from advancing their nuclear weapons program.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was open to be signed in 1968 and in effect since 1970, aims to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and technology simply through compliance and acceptance of the treaty. Though viewed as widely successful by virtue of the number of signatories and their compliance, it has failed to keep the riskiest nuclear capable nations, namely North Korea, from advancing their nuclear weapons program. North Korea officially withdrew from the treaty by 2003 but by then North Korea had already violated the treaty through research and gathering of nuclear material and technology. Since then numerous nuclear detonations have been conducted by North Korea as well as testing of Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

Treaties and sanctions have proven unsuccessful in containing North Korea’s nuclear weapon capabilities. So what is the viability of an armed conflict? On the 17th, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated during a press conference that “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action then that option is on the table.”

The United States has always expressed solidarity with South Korea towards threats from the North and the possibility of war has always been on the table, but seldom in a scenario when the U.S. attacks North Korea instead of the other way around. While Tillerson does not directly suggest North Korea will be attacked if they continue development of their nuclear weapons program, the practice of deterrence by the U.S. presents an interesting situation.

North Korea announced on Sunday that they have successfully tested a new high-thrust engine representing a new leap forward in their ballistic missile program. The ICBM component to the North Korean nuclear weapons program is very important because it allows them to threaten nations such as the U.S. by being able to strike anywhere such as New York or the White House. The successful test is also important because it occurred while Rex Tillerson is in China talking about issues like North Korea.

It remains to be seen what the next step is for North Korea but further development of their nuclear weapons program poses danger not just to the U.S. but also the entire international community.

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