Expert: North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal May Grow up to 40 Bombs by 2020

Photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows launching of the Hwasong-15 missile, capable of reaching all parts of the U.S.
KCNA VIA KNS/AFP

An expert from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks military development around the world, told South Korean reporters on Monday the communist regime in North Korea may have as many as 40 nuclear weapons by the end of the year.

The research institute estimated that Pyongyang controlled between 20 and 30 nuclear weapons by the end of 2018.

Dictator Kim Jong-un has attempted, through several meetings with President Donald Trump and other world leaders, to portray his regime as being increasingly less interested in nuclear development and more interested in attracting tourism and foreign investment to keep Kim’s luxury lifestyle viable. North Korea is under one of history’s strictest global sanctions regime as a result of nuclear weapons testing in 2017, which even its closest ally, China, opposed.

Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping most recently visited Pyongyang in June, vowing support for the communist regime there based on “shared ideals, beliefs, and goals.” Kim reportedly urged Xi to invest more heavily in the North Korean economy in exchange for loyalty on the world stage.

China has yet to move at the U.N. Security Council level to lift sanctions on North Korea, though its regime has called American sanctions on rogue states “human rights violations.”

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported on Tuesday that the SIPRI had evidence that, despite Kim’s claims that his regime wishes to move on from nuclear weapons development, North Korea was still enriching nuclear fuel and building warheads. SIPRI researcher Dan Smith provided the estimate of up to 40 North Korean nuclear weapons to reporters in Seoul, suggesting that one reason talks with Washington have stalled is because North Korea does not consider its nuclear development to run afoul of its own calls for “denuclearization.”

“The definition of denuclearization is a big thing to be worked out,” he told reporters.

Kim has held multiple talks with Trump personally, and sent envoys to Washington to continue those conversations, in which both sides have agreed that “denuclearization” must occur on the Korean peninsula. American officials define denuclearization as the end of North Korea’s illegal nuclear weapons program. North Korea defines denuclearization as the removal of the American military from the Korean peninsula, noting that America is a formal nuclear power and thus its evacuation fits the definition of “denuclearization.”

Prior to a scheduled summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. State Department special representative on North Korea, admitted to reporters, “we do not have a specific and agreed definition of what final, fully verified denuclearisation or comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation – whatever your preferred term of art – is.”

The talks in Vietnam collapsed; Trump walked out halfway through a scheduled two-day negotiation complaining that the North Koreans were demanding too many concessions while offering nothing. The North Koreans refuted this claim. Subsequent reports revealed that among the demands Kim made to Trump was a visit from “famous basketball players” to Pyongyang.

SIPRI’s findings defy the North Korean regime’s repeated claims that it wants to focus on economic development over military belligerence. As recently as Tuesday, Rodong Sinmun, the North Korean government newspaper, emphasized the importance of economic development, setting aside the need for a robust military to destroy the free world.

“It is the fixed determination and will of the Party to build up national economic power in the shortest span of time and successfully attain the goals set by us by giving fullest play to the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance, the mode of struggle peculiar to the Korean revolutionaries and their stamina of creation,” an article in the newspaper read. “The revolutionary spirit of self-reliance and the fighting traits are, indeed, our asset more precious than billions of money and wealth and a sure guarantee for the development and prosperity of the DPRK.”

On Monday, as Smith revealed the new estimates regarding North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, the foreign ministry published a statement bizarrely applauding America for seeking a new round of talks with Pyongyang.

“It is fortunate that the U.S. has repeatedly expressed its stand to tackle an issue through dialogue and negotiations,” the statement, attributable to the director-general of the foreign ministry’s U.S. Affairs Office, read. “I hope that the working-level negotiations expected to be held in a few weeks will be a good meeting between the DPRK [North Korea] and the U.S.”

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the director-general continued. “Whether the DPRK-U.S. negotiations will be a window for chance or an occasion to precipitate crisis is entirely up to the U.S.”

The statement did not define “denuclearization.”

The remarks are in anticipation of a return to the negotiating table for the two countries, which have been technically at war for over half a century. Both Washington and Pyongyang agreed to “working-level negotiations” on “denuclearization,” potentially to build up to a higher-level summit. A date and time for the new negotiations has not been made public.

The talks will occur despite North Korea’s foreign ministry demanding Trump fire Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to resume talks. Trump ignored the demand and the North Koreans have come back to the negotiating table.

“We have already given ample explanation enough to be understood by the U.S. side and we have also given it enough time out of maximum patience. We are ready for both dialogue and stand-off,” North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said in late August, warning that “nothing decent can be expected” if Pompeo participates.

“All things into which Pompeo thrusts himself go wrong and end up in failure,” Ri lamented, calling Pompeo a “troublemaker” and “diehard toxin.”

The talks appear to be possible because Kim has both abandoned ambitions to remove Pompeo and halted nuclear testing indefinitely since 2017 and limited weapons testing to short-range missiles, which pose a serious threat to American allies like South Korea and Japan but cannot reach any part of the United States or its territories. President Trump has dismissed the short-range missiles as not violating sanctions.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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