North Korea’s Nuclear Tests

In a speech delivered on January 1st of this year, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea called for improved relations with the South. Barely 20 days later, Kim Jong-un announced the North was planning a third nuclear test, letting South Korea know that if it placed any sanctions on the North, this would be nothing short of a declaration of war. Clearly, something is up in North Korea. Just a few weeks after calling for more peace, it has riled up the international community by threatening nuclear tests, including ones on America.

Kim Jong-un as he declares volatile nuclear tests in his New Year’s address. Consequences are yet to be determined. Source:petersnoopy

This sudden change in North Korea could be sign of an internal power struggle, where Kim Jong-un is being forced to change his foreign policy to appease military leaders in the country. In July 2012, for example, many suspected the removal of military chief Ri Yong-ho was a sign of a power struggle between Kim Jong-un and the military. Yong-ho’s removal was heralded as a sign that Jong-un is trying to show the military that he is in charge. However, the more recent change in North Korea’s policy seems to indicate that the military might be gaining the upper hand. It seems they may be forcing Kim Jong-un to maintain a hawkish foreign policy. This would make sense, after all, considering that a militant and hostile North Korea ensures that these military leaders keep their jobs. That might be why Kim Jong-un recently announced another round of nuclear tests – when North Korea’s military is strong and threatening, those military leaders can feel secure about their positions.

Aside from America, another important part of this equation is the sudden change in the North’s policy to the South. After revealing its plans for tests, many Western countries went ahead with another round of sanctions on North Korea, to the surprise of few. However, South Korea is yet to do so, because the North has promised that such sanctions would be a declaration of war. Perhaps this is a sign that the South is trying its own best to maintain positive relations. On the other hand, it may just be that the South wants to avert the possibility of all-out, possibly nuclear, conflict with the North, for that would be far more damaging to South Korea considering the poor condition the North is currently in.

Overall, the change in North Korea may be indicative of a power struggle. On the other hand, the South’s appeasement may be a sign that it actually wants to improve relations in the long term.


Anonymous, BBC, “North Korea warning follows nuclear threat,” 2013.

Jack Kim, NBC, “North Korea: Sanctions by South would be ‘declaration of war,’” 2013.

Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, “North Korean Leader Makes Overture to South,” 2013.

Justin McCurry, The Guardian, “North Korean military chief is removed in possible sign of power struggle,” 2012.


One Comment

  1. Nice article. I wonder if they’ve made any progress on delivery methods (main challenge is miniaturizing the weapons). As long as they don’t have the capability of deploying their nukes, they’re little more of a threat than fireworks. It’s only a matter of time before they gain that capability, though. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once they do. Maybe a coup d’état?

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