Russian help to ability to hit US – truth about North Koreas nuclear arsenal

On October 9, 2006, North Korea demonstrated its first nuclear weapon, shattering the 1994 “agreed framework” that limited the country’s nuclear ambitions and dramatically changing the balance of power in the region.

For the past 15 years, the secretive nation has slowly made progress towards the development of a nuclear warhead small enough to be used in a missile and an intercontinental delivery system that could strike targets in the US.

And Kim Jong-un’s scientists seem to be getting secret help from sanction-busting missile designers in Russia or Ukraine.

While North Korea’s primary goal is to conquer its neighbour in the south, continued American backing for Seoul has made invasion impossible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sworn to expand his country's nuclear arsenal, insisting that the deterrent is necessary to deter American aggression.

In January, at a huge military parade to mark mark the end of the ruling party's eighth congress, four huge new submarine-launched Pukguksong-5 missiles were shown for the first time.

State news agency KCNA reported that “the world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missiles, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces”.

The Pukguksong-5 has not officially been tested as yet and its exact range and destructive potential remain unknown.

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However, North Korea’s hugely powerful land-based Hwasong-14 missile was demonstrated in 2017. It was thought to be the country’s first truly intercontinental weapon, with reported range of over 6,000 miles, putting New York within striking range.

Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies says North Korea’s progress in missile-building is suspiciously fast and the Hwasong-14 could be adapted from a Ukrainian design.

“It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine, probably illicitly,” he told the New York Times. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.”

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Oleg Turchynov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, denied Elleman's claims and said the allegations were “most likely provoked by Russian secret services to cover their own crimes”.

Commenting on North Korea’s ultra-accurate Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, which can target any location in South Korea to within just a few yards, a Japanese security official told Nikkei Asia: "The accuracy of North Korea's missiles improved all at once.That wouldn't have been possible without Russia's help."

Whether they are being helped from outside or not, the North Koreans are undeniably making rapid progress.

The Hwasong-14’s bigger brother, the Hwasong-15, test-launched just two months after the 14, is capable of flying even further.

Tests show the liquid-fuelled two-stage can reach an altitude of almost 2,800 miles – many times higher than the International Space Station. The Hwasong-15 could potentially hit any city in the US.

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In August this year, the UN atomic agency said North Korea appeared to have restarted a reactor which could produce weapons-grade plutonium, describing it as a "deeply troubling" development.

And last month saw the test of another new North Korean weapons system, the Hwasong-8 hypersonic weapon. A Pyongyang press release described it as a "strategic weapon", which is a clear implication that it’s capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

North Korean state news agency KCNA said the weapon, which can be kept fuelled and fired at very short notice, had increased the nation's “capabilities for self-defence in every way”.

North Korea almost certainly has an arsenal of powerful nuclear warheads, and has shown that it has the potential to deliver those weapons almost anywhere on Earth.

In June 2020, North Korean foreign minister Ri Son-gwon said that prospects for peace between North and South Korea, and the US had "faded away into a dark nightmare".

Whether North Korea’s nuclear weapons are ever used in anger depends largely on Kim Jong-un’s relationship with the US President.

While former US leader Donald Trump said he "fell in love" with Kim, Biden has described the North Korean leader as "a murderous dictator" and "a thug."

With the risk of a military face-off between the US and China over Taiwan, could Kim Jong-un use the ensuing chaos to make his long-awaited move on South Korea?

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