Evidence suggests that the North Korean regime is preparing for its sixth nuclear test. It is believed that Kim Jong Un sees nuclear weapons as essential to the survival of his dictatorship.
The parallel pursuit of economic and nuclear development as the major strategic goal of the Party was announced during the Central Committee meeting held in March, 2013. After witnessing the downfall of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Kim Jong Un’s resolve to pursue nuclear development has likely increased.
Nuclear weapons are seen by the regime as an important domestic propaganda tool and a way to deter external military intervention in the country.
For this reason, Kim Il Sung initiated nuclear development in the 1970s, and Kim Jong Il continued the endeavor, even throughout the period of mass starvation in the mid 1990s when millions died of hunger.
It is highly unlikely that Kim Jong Un will give up on nuclear development no matter how severely the international community imposes sanctions against the country. In other words, the North Korean regime will continue to conduct nuclear tests and seek to miniaturize its warheads regardless of the threat of a preemptive strike. According to the regime’s own statements, the country will not abandon its nuclear ambitions unless its objectives–a peace treaty with the US, suspension of US-South Korea joint military exercises, and withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula– are realized.
But the North Korean people themselves represent a significant variable within the bigger picture. If nuclear development, which has served to strengthen internal consolidation, becomes an element of regime instability, Kim Jong Un will have no choice but to re-evaluate his strategy.
Ordinary North Koreans are reportedly commenting on the senselessness of developing nuclear weapons, mainly due to the country’s economic stagnation, as well as the influx of external information.
Until the US withdrew its strategic nuclear weapons from Korea in the early 1990s, the regime told the population that the US was planning to attack the North. Another point often emphasized during political lectures targeting residents was that “there is no clear victory or defeat in a nuclear war.”
North Korea’s change of tack to double down on nuclear development thus caused confusion, prompting some cadres and residents alike to wonder, “Why continue building them, then?”
The people of North Korea are becoming increasingly hostile toward the Kim family’s obsession with nuclear weapons, as it harms the country’s economic development and the people’s livelihoods.