The North Korea crisis in 300 words

Credit AP
        TENSE TIME President Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy discuss Soviet military tensions in 1962

Credit AP TENSE TIME President Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy discuss Soviet military tensions in 1962

Although a nuclear conflict involving North Korea and the U.S. would be smaller, given Pyongyang's limited arsenal, many people would still die and ecological damage would severely affect global public health for years. Bombs land on places believed to hide long-range missiles deep below the earth. In March this year, Matthias Eken, a researcher of attitudes towards nuclear weapons, wrote in The Conversation that their destructive power "has been vastly exaggerated" and that one should avoid overusing "doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic language". Nuclear deterrence theory especially is a "slippery intellectual construct", to quote a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, that can lead to false intellectual complacency ( e.g., "Mutually Assured Destruction").

We also must take seriously that North Korea has perhaps stretched its supply of plutonium by integrating some high-enriched uranium into each bomb and developing all-uranium designs.

But as Mr. Gardiner's scenarios have shown, the USA ability to quickly and decisively win a war is questionable - and North Korea's capacity to draw blood from any attacker makes it a more formidable adversary than numbers alone might suggest. If the analysts are right, North Korea is a belligerent, nuclear foe the USA must confront diplomatically, and in a worst-case scenario, militarily.

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"Now we live in a time where people attack unity and promote nuclear weapons ... while acting like they know how to deter war", he said. South Korea is a major supplier of liquid crystal for electronic devices and TVs. North Korea is one of the most isolated nations on Earth, and it wasn't clear whether the previous leader, Kim Jong Il, was insane like a fox or a real madman.

A "United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy". As The New York Times notes, this type of missile has a range of 3,000 miles, which puts Guam in range.

The loss of life in that conflict would be monumental. Plus, three of the biggest shipbuilders are in South Korea. But there's little doubt everyone aware of the war will never be the same. "If that potentially means Seoul is extremely heavily damaged, missile strikes possibly on Japan - and North Korea is a smoking hole in the ground - then clearly that's not a victory that suits anyone's long-term interests", said Euan Graham, who tracks east Asian security issues as director of the international-security program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. It's clearer now under his son, Kim Jong Un, that North Korea does have a strategy - to bully the world into respecting and fearing his government.

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Siegfried Hecker, an expert on the country's nuclear program who toured Pyongyang's main nuclear facility in 2010, reported on 38North.org in September 2016 that North Korea had enough material to have 20 bombs by the end of 2016. North Korea initially signed the treaty, but pulled out in 2003. "I think it's an unacceptable risk and our options are limited", he told reporters in Jacksonville on Wednesday.

A second danger that arises for analysts when they dig too deeply into social-science models based on established social-science theories and maxims is that we become too sure of our ability to predict the behavior of an opponent.

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