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September 26 commemorates the fourth anniversary of International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. In 2013, a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution declared September 26 a day for “enhancing public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination, in order to mobilize international efforts towards achieving the common goal of a weapon.”
Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the United Nations’ oldest goals. In fact, the topic of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946 was establishing a commission to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy. Over the years, nuclear disarmament has remained an urgent objective of the United Nations, from the signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to the General Assembly’s Special Sessions on disarmament. Yet today, over half of the world’s population resides in countries that possess nuclear weapons or belong to nuclear alliances.
Over the past few weeks, the international community has been on edge as North Korea accelerates its development of a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The nation began working to create functional nuclear weapons at the close of World War II, under former Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung. These aspirations took shape under his son, Kim Jong Il, who launched the first nuclear test in 2006. Since then, North Korea says it has conducted four other successful nuclear tests: in 2009, 2013 and in January and September 2016, all at an underground test site in the northeastern region of the country.
Along with nuclear development, North Korea has consistently worked on the development of ballistic missiles, with an end goal of constructing an ICBM capable of landing a nuclear warhead on US soil. One of North Korea’s ballistic missiles, the Musudan was tested eight times in 2016 and is thought to be capable of making its way to the US territory of Guam.
Things heated up July 4 when North Korea launched a ballistic missile that was judged by the US to be of ICBM range. Private analysts estimate that if the missile had been launched on a normal trajectory, it may have been able to reach parts of Alaska. In response to the launch, US and South Korean forces fired “deep strike” precision missiles into South Korean territorial waters as a show of force. The South Korean government also made a rare proposition to its Northern counterpart, hoping to open up new military talks with their longtime rival. The offer was never accepted.
Less than a month later, North Korea orchestrated a second ICBM flight test. The missile was launched on a lofted trajectory, which limited the distance it was able to travel and it landed in the waters off the coast of Japan. Data collected by various US sensors indicates that on a normal trajectory, the missile would theoretically be capable of traveling at least 5,500 kilometers, the minimum distance needed to be classified by the U.S. as an ICBM.
North Korea executed its most provocative missile test Aug. 29, launching a ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Japanese government advised citizens on the island to take precautions as North Korea’s military position significantly escalated.
The White House released a statement in response to the latest missile test: “The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear: this regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behavior.”
Monday, Sept. 11, the United Nations Security Council unanimously intensified sanctions against North Korea, including a ban on the country’s textile exports and a cap on imports of crude oil. In order to win China and Russia’s support of the sanctions, the US had to water down the initial draft resolution, which proposed a ban on all oil imports to the country and a freeze on all international financial assets of the government and its leader, Kim Jong Un.
North Korea did not take kindly to the sanctions resolution.
While addressing the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, North Korea’s Ambassador Han Tae Song said: “My delegation condemns in the strongest terms and categorically rejects the latest illegal and unlawful UN Security Council resolution.”
Han further stated that “forthcoming measures” from North Korea “will make the US suffer the greatest pain” it has ever experienced.