In a surprise announcement from North Korea, Kim Jong-Un has said that they will cease all further development of their nuclear missile capability and close the nuclear test site. He said:
“From 21 April, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.” He added that the reason behind the decision was that North Korea’s “capabilities had been verified”.
This is being greeted with enthusiasm by many governments and agencies around the world and is being seen as a victory for the hard-line approach of the US and other nations over the last year or two. In particular, some in the US say it fully vindicates Mr Trump’s hard-nosed strategy – albeit this has softened in recent weeks to the point that he is planning to meet Kim Jong-un in June this year.
Behind the noise there is a somewhat more sinister possible explanation for the announcement. North Korea has been working hard to achieve a level of military capability that it believes has forced the rest of the world to talk to them again after being cold-shouldered for so long. Internally, Kim can portray this as a great diplomatic success and try to reduce the effect of sanctions on his long-suffering people.
However, the message clearly indicates that they have reached a point where they now believe they have the ability to produce long-range missiles with a nuclear tip and that they do not need to test them. Kim stated that it was no longer necessary to conduct missile tests because “nuclear weaponisation” had been achieved. “The northern nuclear test site has completed its mission.” As far as TMT is aware, Kim has at no point stated categorically that actual production of the various missiles will not now go ahead.
This is a very different message to that being hailed as a victory for common-sense and peace, and one that will not have been missed by North Korea watchers. If anything, it sends a potential warning to attendees at the forthcoming meetings that they had better go to those talks prepared to do a deal and make concessions. If not, then there might in future be little advance warning of the deployment of the weapons that Kim seems to be offering, for now at least, to put back in his toy-chest.