North Korea Has Nukes and an Unpredictable Leader
North Korea isn't part of the official agenda at the two-day nuclear security summit hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington that begins today, but it is the most volatile security risk that can potentially reverse all the progress he has made on nuclear security in Northeast Asia.
North Korea is the only Asian country known to have tested nuclear devices in this century, and it claims to have nuclear bombs small enough to be loaded onto ballistic missiles that can reach as far as the continental U.S. This has created fears in neighboring South Korea and Japan that they are the most realistic targets of North Korea's nuclear weapons and that they should beef up their military capabilities to tackle the threat of annihilation.
Neither U.S. ally says it is interested in producing weapons-grade plutonium to create its own nuclear bombs for deterrence. Their officials have made it clear in the lead-up to the nuclear summit that they will not endorse growing calls at home and abroad that they should build their own bombs to ease reliance on the American nuclear umbrella.
Still, should North Korea go ahead with more tests as its leader Kim Jong Un pledges, it could embolden nuclear advocates further in South Korea and Japan and increase doubts about U.S. controls on nuclear development in the two countries. A nuclear arms race is no near-term risk in Northeast Asia, but a potential topic of concern that highlights the importance and urgency of weaning Kim off his nuclear ambitions. It illustrates why there's more to the summit this week than its official agenda: a good excuse for the leaders of the world to come together so they can talk about their true fears.
This Bloomberg QuickTake video explains North Korea's nuclear situation.