This past Wednesday, North Korea launched two missiles from a train-based launch pad. South Korea responded three hours later by launching its own missile from a submarine. Both launches were parts of weapons tests, yet both of these actions have raised tensions in the Korean peninsula. Any hopes for diplomatic talks have been eliminated for the foreseeable future. Pyongyang claimed its missile was launched as a response to the ending of a treaty between the US and South Korea which limited the size and payload of South Korean missiles. These missile launches are not the complete extent of Kim Jong Un’s latest display of nuclear capability.
Satellite images acquired by the commercial image company Maxar show that there is new construction underway in North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility. The site was previously dormant, but the renewed activity suggests that North Korea intends on increasing its uranium enrichment activities to build more nuclear weapons. This expansion is consistent with previous efforts to add more space to the facility. This additional space could serve to house more centrifuges which could increase enriched uranium production by about 25%. This is not surprising to some since North Korea’s actions are consistent with the report from the International Atomic Energy Agency which claims that a nuclear reactor had been restarted in the facility after last being active in December 2018. The report also stated that the continuation of the North Korean nuclear program is in clear violation of UN security council resolutions.
The Biden administration has also received criticism for not taking a stronger stance against North Korea. There has been little communication between the two nations since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of communication and outside supervision is exacerbated by the complete shutdown of the country’s borders during the pandemic by the Kim regime. This closure of borders has been disastrous for the nation’s economy since it is highly dependent on China. Kin Jong Un is now reportedly dealing with food shortages in his country. It is unlikely that the regime will give up its nuclear weapons anytime soon. Currently the Biden administration has made efforts to reach out to Pyongyang but has received no reply since North Korea believes the US will not move forwards from the agreements that were made with the Trump administration in 2018.