In July 2017, North Korea successfully tested two of its first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile(s)(ICBM), the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, and in September 2017, it conducted a test of what it claimed was a thermonuclear weapon. North Korea possesses a large and increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile program, and has been conducting frequent missile test launches, heightening the East Asian tensions. Since 2017, it has been successfully testing its ICBMs, which some experts believe gives North Korea the capability to deliver a nuclear payload anywhere in the United States.
North Korea initiated its ballistic missile program in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it acquired Soviet scud-type missiles from Egypt and reverse-engineered them. In the early 1990s, with assistance from Iran and several other countries, it began producing the Nodong Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs). It has developed and tested a number of new missiles since Kim Jong-un’s ascension to leadership in 2011, such as the intermediate-range Hwasong-12 and the extended range (ER) Scud. In addition to its land-based ballistic missiles, North Korea has successfully tested a submarine launched ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-1 and also has a Space Launch Vehicle, the Unha, which uses the technologies closely related to its ballistic missiles and in that context, it should be kept in mind that North Korea is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions date back to the Korean War in the 1950s, but came to the attention of the international community in 1992, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered that its nuclear activities were more extensive than declared. The revelations led North Korea to withdraw from the IAEA in 1994. In an effort to prevent North Korean withdrawal from the NPT( Non Proliferation Treaty), the United States and North Korea negotiated the Agreed Framework, in which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear activities and give access to IAEA inspectors in exchange for the U.S.-supplied light water reactors and energy assistance. The Agreed Framework broke down in 2002 and North Korea unilaterally withdrew from the NPT in January 2003, prompting China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States to engage North Korea in the Six-Party Talks in a further attempt to a diplomatic solution to the country’s nuclear program. There were various attempts to agree disarmament deals with North Korea, but none of this has ultimately deterred Pyongyang.
In 2005, North Korea agreed to a landmark deal to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for economic aid and political concessions. In 2008, it destroyed the cooling tower at Yongbyon as part of the ‘disarmament-for-aid’ deal. But implementing the deal proved to be difficult and the talks stalled in 2009. The U.S. never believed Pyongyang was fully disclosing all of its nuclear facilities - a suspicion, bolstered when North Korea unveiled a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon, purportedly for electricity generation, to a US scientist, Siegfried Hecker in 2010.
In 2012, North Korea announced that it would suspend nuclear activities and place a moratorium on missile tests in exchange for the U.S. food aid. But this came to nothing when Pyongyang tried to launch a rocket in April that same year. Then in March 2013, after a war of words with the U.S. and with new U.N. sanctions over the third nuclear test, Pyongyang vowed to restart all facilities at Yongbyon. By 2015, their normal operations appeared to have resumed.
Later on, the 2016 tests brought international condemnation, including from China – North Korea's main trading partner, and only ally.
In 2017, the U.N. agreed a new sanctions package in response to the tests. In August, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with "fire and fury" should the country not abandon its threats against the U.S.
No serious diplomatic initiatives were taken to denuclearize North Korea until 2018.
At the June 2018 U.S.-North Korean summit in Singapore, Kim Jong Un “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Although North Korea’s definition of “denuclearization” seems ambiguous as no detailed discussion or agreement on a method or timetable for dismantling its nuclear weapons has been reached.
A confidential report recently commissioned by the U.N. Security Council says that North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programmes, violating the U.N. sanctions. Recently, NBC quoted five unidentified U.S. officials saying that in recent months, North Korea had stepped up the production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, and even produces weapons with useable plutonium and enriched uranium, for which, one of the U.S. government estimate suggests that the country may be producing enough nuclear material each year for 12 additional nuclear weapons.
The network cited U.S. officials as saying that the intelligence assessment concludes that North Korea has more than one secret nuclear site in addition to its known nuclear fuel production facility at Yongbyon. "There is absolute unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.," NBC quoted one official as saying. The CIA declined to comment on the NBC report. The State Department said it could not confirm it and did not comment on matters of intelligence. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California's Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said that it had long been understood that North Korea had at least one undeclared facility to enrich nuclear fuel other than Yongbyon. "This assessment says there is more than one secret site. That means there are at least three, if not more sites," he said. According to Lewis, the report also implied that the U.S. intelligence report suggests that North Korea did not intend to disclose one or more of the enrichment sites. He further added, "Together, these two things would imply that North Korea intended to disclose some sites as part of the denuclearization process, while retaining others.”
Ahead of the Trump-Kim summit , North Korea rejected unilaterally abandoning an arsenal which it has called an essential deterrent against US aggression.
The six-month report by independent experts monitoring the implementation of U.N. sanctions was submitted to the Security Council of North Korea sanctions committee last week(source: The Reuters). "North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continued to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018," the experts wrote in the 149-page report, which also says that Pyongyang has resorted to a "massive increase" of illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil products and has been trying to sell weapons abroad. Last week, U.S. officials said Pyongyang appeared to be building new ballistic missiles despite recent warming ties with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration and pledges to denuclearize.
Unnamed U.S. officials told The Washington Post that spy satellites had spotted continuing activity at a site that has produced ballistic missiles before. The confidential report by a panel of independent experts was submitted to the UN Security Council as per information.
North Korea has so far not commented on the reports and findings, yet it can not be said for sure whether the Trump-Kim deal will bring out changes for the greater good or will history repeat itself due to long and undying platonic grudges. Let's be hopeful for the best.
Banaras Hindu University