North Korea's nuke expansion is 'one of most immediate threats to US as Kim Jong-un is driving wedge between allies’

NORTH Korea's nuclear ambitions remain a serious "threat" to the US and part of Kim Jong-un's strategy is to "drive a wedge" between Washington and its allies, according to an expert.

The recently-disclosed Joint Nuclear Operations 2020 report revealed Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions pose "the most immediate and dire proliferation threat to international security and stability".


Edward Howell, an expert on US-North Korean relations at Oxford University, said North Korea remains a threat to US security as the country tries to create tensions between Washington and its allies.

He told The Sun: "The Biden administration has made it clear that the nuclear program of North Korea is posing a clear threat to regional security in East Asia.

"Most importantly, it is part of North Korea's strategy of driving a wedge between the US and its allies.

"The Biden Administration is very much focused on strong alliance systems, particularly with Japan and South Korea."

The rogue state paraded a new intercontinental ballistic missile last October and analysts suggest it may be one of the largest mobile liquid-fueled missiles ever developed, according to the Council of Foreign Relations.

And, experts think the Hwasong-15 ICMB, which was tested in November 2017, has a potential maximum range of 13,000km – meaning it could reach the US mainland.

Mr Howell estimates that North Korea’s production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium means it has the capacity to build between 12-40 nuclear warheads.

And, he thinks that the country can produce between 180-800kg of highly enriched uranium.

The academic warned that North Korea has been "very clear to show the international community only what it wants the international community to see".

The complete denuclearization of North Korea looks extremely unrealistic and unlikely for now."

In comparison, data shows that the US inventory is in the region of 6,000 nuclear warheads but not all are operational.

Howell said it was important to recognize the "value" of nuclear weapons to North Korea rather than focus too much on the specific number.

The expert refused to speculate whether there will be a war or an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula but said Pyongyang appears to show "very little intention" of abandoning its nuclear program.

He called on nations, including the US, to seek alternative solutions – adding "the complete denuclearization of North Korea looks extremely unrealistic and unlikely for now."

Dr Jeffrey Lewis, of Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies, once said: "We're going to have to live with North Korea's ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons."

Mr Howell said Pyongyang's nuclear stock helps provide "domestic legitimacy" to Kim.

'PREPARING FOR CONFLICT'

It comes as Biden is pursuing a strategy of "stern deterrence and diplomacy" as he wrestles with the ongoing threat on the Korean Peninsula.

Last month, Kim Jong-un reportedly said he is preparing for a "military confrontation" with the US.

He said the country "should be ready for both dialogue and, in particular, confrontation with America", according to state media.

It was his first message since Biden’s inauguration as he critiqued the White House’s stance and outlined his “counteraction” toward the US.

Kim also vowed to "sharply and promptly react to the fast-changing situation on taking control of the situation on the Korean peninsula," Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

Biden's approach marks a shift from former president Donald Trump who held summits in Singapore and Hanoi, and met Chairman Kim in the demilitarized zone in June 2019.

At the time, Trump was the first sitting US president to set foot in North Korea.

Mr Howell said: "Trump's approach was certainly unprecedented and went beyond what previous presidents' had done.

"He took the road not taken by trying to engage with North Korea on a top-down level."

He said the Republican's approach "did not bear any fruit at all in terms of outcome" as denuclearization didn't happen.



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