Douglas Alexander: ‘North Korea may have nuclear arsenal’

Douglas Alexander. Picture: Robert Perry
Douglas Alexander. Picture: Robert Perry
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For many of us, the aggressive posturing from North Korea’s nuclear armed autocrat is a cause for deep concern.

But predicting accurately what North Korea plans to do next is notoriously difficult; today more so than ever.

Decades of economic and political stagnation have created a country radically at odds with the world around it, isolated and dangerously unpredictable.

Even by its own standards, North Korea’s recent actions are truly shocking.

Declaring a state of war with South Korea, threatening America with nuclear attack and now anticipating the withdrawal of protection from foreign diplomats in the capital.

Each of these actions alone is unprecedented, taken together they are extraordinary.

But despite the regimes claims to posses long range nuclear warheads, varying assessments exist of North Korea’s capacity to launch a pre-emptive strike, with some suggesting it may only have a missile range of 800 miles.

Here in Scotland, David Cameron last week suggested that North Korea’s claims might have validity.

Yet Pyongyang is thought by many observers to be some years away from possessing the technology to make a reality of its rhetoric of launching a strike on America, or having Europe within range.

But even with uncertainty about North Korea’s capabilities, a situation as tense as this means the capacity for miscalculation or misjudgement is significant. It is a time for careful words and wise heads.

North Korea does undoubtedly pose a threat to its neighbours, in particular to South Korea and Japan.

Both countries have reiterated their willingness to de-escalate the current tensions, but in return for firm guarantees from Pyongyang on halting its nuclear programme - which have failed to emerge.

So the action taken by President Obama of working to end this stand-off peacefully, whilst making clear America’s support for its allies makes sense.

It sends a clear message to North Korea, that the international community is monitoring their rhetoric and actions closely.

The decision by China to back a further round of sanctions against North Korea after the latest nuclear test was also a welcome step.

Secretary of State Kerry will be in Beijing shortly to press the case for further efforts by China to urge the DPRK to back down.

The British Government has rightly said that North Korea must meet their obligations under international law. In the days and months ahead it will need to monitor the situation closely, and ensure the safety of British embassy staff and their families who are based in North Korea and the region.

Sadly the frightening reality for the people of North Korea, is that Kim Jong Un is just the latest in a line of bellicose and impetuous North Korean leaders, all of whom place their own power above the interests of their people.

North Korea today may have a nuclear weapons arsenal, but it’s people are on their knees.

Famine, political repression, and self imposed isolation all threaten the durability of the North Korea regime.

History suggests the one certainty about autocrats who perpetually mistreat their people is that they hasten their own demise. The key question that today endures is what terror the North Korean state will be able to inflict in the meantime.