North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is preparing to soon carry out an atomic test as it continues to develop a tactical nuclear weapon, according to U.S. and South Korean officials, who laid out concerns about Pyongyang’s unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests, as well as its first atomic test in five years.
A nuclear test would signal that Kim has managed to grow his weapons program through the Trump and Biden administrations and despite the COVID-19 pandemic. “We think they’re ready to go. Kim just has to give the thumbs up,” a senior U.S. State Department official told CBS News. A tactical nuclear device is designed to potentially be used on a battlefield.
South Korean intelligence assesses that North Korea may conduct the test on the cusp of the upcoming Nov. 8 U.S. midterm elections. On Wednesday, South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong said that the response by the U.S. and regional allies to a seventh nuclear test by Pyongyang would be “unparalleled,” but did not offer any specifics.
The U.S. is less certain of that timeframe but is preparing responses to a potential test. “Our options are military responses, additional sanctions” and “growing our list of like-minded countries all over the world,” the senior State Department official told CBS News.
Potential military responses are likely to include more exercises in the region. A Pentagon report issued on Thursday stated: “The Department will continue to deter attacks through forward posture; integrated air and missile defense; close coordination and interoperability with our ROK (Republic of Korea) Ally; nuclear deterrence; resilience initiatives; and the potential for direct cost imposition approaches that come from globally deployable Joint Forces.”
But creating a united front against North Korea is complicated, particularly since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine sparked international outrage among Western allies and prompted Russia and China to flex their unity. Earlier this month, the two nations blocked an attempt by the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) to condemn North Korea for shooting a missile over Japan.
“China and Russia are determined to shield North Korea,” the senior State Department official said. “So I think North Korea’s space to play is much bigger than it ever was.” The U.S. has sent messages to Chinese leadership, urging it to dissuade Kim and pointing out that it is not in Beijing’s interest to have tactical nuclear weapons in its backyard. Previously, in 2017, both China and Russia joined the unanimous backing of the UNSC to sanction Pyongyang for testing a massive hydrogen bomb in what was its sixth nuclear test. (SOURCE)