North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his country’s army are engaging in a dangerous game of verbal brinkmanship with the United States and South Korea. While North Korea’s war of words previously consisted of symbolic acts of defiance, recent moves suggest that the country may push the issue further by restarting their Yongbyon nuclear plant and cutting off South Korean entry into the Kaesong Industrial Complex near the North and South boundary line. Whether part of a deliberate and sophisticated strategy or a simple escalation of exaggeration and recklessness, North Korea’s leader is bringing the Korean peninsula to a point of great tension, with the United States, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United Nations directly engaged in response.
Tensions between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea spiked dramatically following the successful December 12, 2012, long-range rocket test by the North Koreans. While the North Koreans claimed they tested the rocket to put a weather satellite into orbit, the clear dual-use military purpose raised alarm bells not only in Washington, D.C., and Seoul, but across the world as well. On January 22, 2013, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2087, which instituted further sanctions on the North Korean ballistic-missile program.
North Korea tested another nuclear device in response to the resolution, just as it had in 2006 and 2009 following the passage of Security Council resolutions in those years, On February 12, 2013, seismic activity was detected in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province, near the border with China. North Korean state media soon claimed a third successful nuclear test, with the South Korean Ministry of National Defense saying the blast was in the range of 6 to 9 kilotons. Notably, North Korea is the only country to test a nuclear weapon since 1999; both Pakistan and India conducted two tests each in 1998 but unilaterally declared moratoriums afterward.
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