The current North Korea crisis shows no sign of abating. The regime’s recent announcement that it is resuming production at the Yongbyon nuclear facility demonstrates Pyongyang’s persistent ambitions towards a nuclear capability. The plant, capable of making weapons grade plutonium, was partly demolished in 2008 as a symbolic gesture towards cooperation. The atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula, while usually hostile, has worsened considerably since then. Although the Soviet era facility is unlikely to become operational in the immediate future, its announced reactivation is certainly a worrying development.
North Korea’s bid to revive inactive parts of its nuclear program is just the latest in a series of recent incidents that has made the country’s strained relationship with almost everyone even worse. Following illegal missile tests and a third nuclear detonation earlier this year, the United Nations denounced the Pyongyang regime’s actions and further strengthened the sanctions against it. Even China, the regime’s long time supporter, seems to grow tired of its unpredictable neighbor and have taken steps towards enforcing sanctions, further isolating the country.
Heightening tensions further, the regime is as usual upset by the annual military drill being conducted between the United States and South Korea, claiming it to be a direct threat towards North Korea. American nuclear capable bombers have done training flights in South Korean airspace, a show of force Pyongyang has been unable to ignore. The regime has responded with threats, making grand claims about unlikely nuclear capabilities and the intention to use them against its enemies.
The regime has also revoked the 1953 armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean War. Although the regime has announced the annulment of the armistice multiple times before, its threats are not taken lightly. The United States have deployed additional military equipment to the region, sending two F-22 stealth fighter jets and the USS McCain, an Aegis-class guided-missile destroyer intended for missile defense.
Despite the regime’s aggressive rhetoric, signs are it may simply be posturing, aware of the devastating consequences a conflict would have. Jay Carney, a White House spokesman stated in an April 1 press briefing that “we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces.” This lack of correlation between North Korean threats and actions may definitely be a good thing, considering the potential for escalation. Carney also discussed the US deployments and exercises in the area, that are intended “…to reassure our allies, demonstrate our resolve to the North, and reduce pressure on Seoul to take unilateral action.”