North Korea Warns AUKUS Deal Will Bring On A Dangerous Arms Race

North Korea is adopting a stringent position on the recent AUKUS security deal in which the United States and Great Britain will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. Pyongyang has stated that it believes the deal holds the potential to spark a nuclear arms race and destabilize the balance of power in the Western Pacific. “These are extremely undesirable and dangerous acts which will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and trigger off a chain of nuclear arms race,” a North Korean foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by state media. “It is quite natural that neighboring countries including China condemned these actions as irresponsible ones of destroying the peace and stability of the region and the international nuclear nonproliferation system and of catalyzing the arms race.”  

North Korea does not have nuclear-powered submarines and its inventory of platforms capable of delivering nuclear warheads is open to speculation. Therefore, the North really doesn’t have a dog in this race. So, why would it take the time to come out in opposition to the AUKUS deal if it has very little to do with Pyongyang? The answer to that is simple: Regional prestige. North Korea views itself as a major player in Asian geopolitics. In reality, the warnings by the North are little more than grandstanding and a ham-handed attempt to attract more attention to recent ballistic missile and alleged cruise missile tests. This latest round of weapons tests by North Korea attracted little attention from the United States, much to Pyongyang’s disappointment. Kim Jong Un’s regime is undoubtedly hoping its words will succeed where its missile launches failed.

As for the AUKUS deal, its plain to see that China is its intended target, not North Korea.

North Korean Weapons Test Might Be Looming

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are now in Asia for discussions with their South Korean and Japanese opposites. US/South Korea military exercises are now underway in South Korea, and Pyongyang has resumed its cryptic rhetoric. The stage appears set for North Korea to conduct a weapons test to check the waters, so to speak, and to serve as a reminder to the US about what the future could hold if economic sanctions are not lifted. Ove the past 15 years or so, North Korea has traditionally conducted weapons tests and other types of provocative actions in the early days of new US and South Korean administrations. In light of the events mentioned above, and the fact that the Biden administration is only two months old, a weapons test by North Korea now would not come as a surprise.

On Monday, Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong released a rather cryptic statement. “We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off [gun] powder smell in our land. If it [the U.S.] wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.” The statement is the first official North Korean reaction since Joe Biden took office. The Biden administration’s attempts to resume talks with North Korea have so far been unsuccessful. Pyongyang has been radio silent, so to speak. However, with senior US administration officials now in the region to discuss, among other topics, North Korea, Kim Jong Un might decide this is a convenient time to stage a weapons test. A move which will serve to inform the Biden administration that more work is needed before discussions between the two nations can pick up again.

North Korean Weapons Test Raises Questions and Concerns

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A North Korean weapons test earlier this weekend has raised questions and concerns about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s intentions regarding denuclearization, and the rut which US-North Korean negotiations appear to be caught in at the moment. Initial reports suggesting ballistic missiles were part of the test firing turned out to be false. South Korean military officials have confirmed that several multiple launch rocket projectiles were fired, including a new tactical guided weapon. Kim was on hand to witness the test, his presence suggesting it was intended to be seen as more than just a simple test firing.

Since Hanoi, negotiations on denuclearization have shown no progress. North Korea has renewed demands that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be excluded from negotiations. In late April, Kim made his first official trip to Russia, attempting to expand his international profile while at the same time sending a message to Washington. The US does not want to see North Korea and Russia growing closer and invariably opening the door for Vladimir Putin to disrupt negotiations.

The Trump administration continues to believe a denuclearization deal can be reached. This morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported President Trump’s position and reminded the world that this weekend’s North Korean weapons test did not pose a threat to South Korea, Japan, or the United States. The door is still open for North Korea, yet its apparent the Trump administration is not willing to wait indefinitely, and will not ease the strict economic sanctions currently in place.

North Korea is facing another growing problem. A food shortage is gripping the country following the worst harvest in over a decade. The current crisis is not approaching famine territory yet, however, in a matter of months this could change. It will be interesting to see how the deteriorating food situation will affect negotiations with the United States in the coming weeks. There’s a strong possibility that Washington’s patience could begin to wane if no progress is made soon.

 

Author’s Note: The next entry in the South China Sea series will come next Monday instead of tomorrow. Apologies for the abrupt change but the series will resume next week.