The troubling New Year’s Day speech by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has been met by voices out of South Korea that push the possibility of World War 3 closer to reality with each passing day. Officials out of Seoul are saying that, should Pyongyang attempt to make good on provocative threats made against their southern neighbor and the United States, South Korea will “preemptively respond” both unilaterally and “in international collaboration” against any “provocations.”
The Daily Star reported this week that South Korea’s foreign affairs minister, Yung Byung-se, has answered North Korea’s aggressive posturing for the nascent year, a continuation of its policies toward South Korea and the U.S. for decades, with equally tough talk. He said North Korea might be more provocative than ever. And his country would not stand idle if Pyongyang became antagonistic.
“This year will be a period when military provocations involving North Korea could become considerably greater. South Korea’s diplomatic and security ministries will preemptively respond to and – in the event of any provocations – will engage in international collaboration to cope in a strong and resolute manner.”
The foreign affairs minister’s words came after Kim Jong-un, the chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), stated in a speech on January 1 that his country has “reached the final stage” in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. As CBS News reported, Kim did not state outright that North Korea would conduct a missile test in the near future, but given that the young dictator will celebrate his 33rd birthday on January 8 and last year conducted a nuclear test on January 6, there is reason to believe that a new test for the ICBM could be imminent.
In his annual address, Kim also threatened to continue enhancing North Korea’s military capabilities unless the U.S. agreed to halt its military exercises with its rival, South Korea. This is seen as unlikely, especially given the comments made by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, remarks that some see as needlessly provocative on their own.
On January 2, Trump took to Twitter to mock Pyongyang’s missile technology. He posted, “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”
North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
It was speculated by South Korean security experts back in November, according to a post-U.S. election article in the Daily Star, that Kim Jong-un just might launch an ICBM and detonate another nuclear device to coincide with the inauguration of the new American president. It is believed that North Korea detonated at least two nuclear weapons in 2016. Even though United Nations resolutions have been passed expressly forbidding the practice, not to mention condemning North Korea’s actual detonations, it would appear that officials in Pyongyang have no intentions of complying.
The questionable use of taunting as statecraft aside, the president-elect then felt the need to further disparage China, a favorite target during his campaign. Accusing China of “one-sided” trading with the U.S., Trump accused China (via Twitter) of standing aloof with regard to North Korea.
China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
This has prompted Twitter users, like Matt Peterson, to take the time and implore Donald Trump to not start World War 3 — or even a conventional war that might involve the use of nuclear weapons.
@realDonaldTrump I've said it before, I'll say it again. Don't start a nuclear war.— Matt Peterson (@mattbpete) January 2, 2017
But is that a real possibility, where events on the Korean Peninsula could escalate into a nuclear war, or, worse yet, World War 3? According to Rand Corporation think tank senior defense analyst Bruce Bennett (per CNN), Kim Jong-un “might be considered the world’s most dangerous man.” Add to this the words of Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the U.S. military’s Pacific Command, who said in mid-December, “Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong Un is a recipe for disaster.”
The North Korean nuclear warhead tested in September was estimated as having the explosive power of a 10-kiloton atomic bomb (the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II had a yield of 15 kilotons) and was said by Pyongyang officials as having the capacity of being fitted to a ballistic missile. However, as Rand Corporation analysis of North Korea’s delivery systems tests indicates, the missiles and rockets launched have yet to reach the stage of being a global threat.
So are fears of a possibly imminent World War 3 warranted with regard to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program? That depends on how far along in the “final stage” of its ICBMs development the North Koreans are. And it depends on two other important factors, as CNN noted.
“North Korean leader Kim Jong-un heads into 2017 with two things that loom ominous for the rest of the world — he’s tested a nuclear weapon, and no one really knows how willing he’d be to use one in anger” — which likely does absolutely nothing to assuage fears of an impending World War 3.
[Featured Image by Anton Watman/Shutterstock]