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New Satellite Launch, Nuclear Test, And More Uncertainty About What North Korea’s Up To

North Korean flags
Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s been a tumultuous week in North Korea.

Last weekend North Korea launched its second-ever satellite and conducted a new nuclear test. There are growing concerns in South Korea and the U.S. that the secretive country could develop more significant nuclear capabilities and the technology to turn that into a powerful weapon.

“Also, it appears there are some reports that they have executed one of their top military commanders, and interestingly enough, they are calling a Committee Congress in May,” said Rebecca Cruise, the assistant dean of the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “This is kind of the Workers' Party getting together to solidify the leader's power over the country. This is the first time that they've done this since 1980, so this is significant.”

The U.S. took notice, sending President Obama legislation imposing tougher sanctions on Pyongyang, and spending $50 million on communication into the isolated nation.

On Tuesday, the U.S. national intelligence director James Clapper told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea was a more worrisome nuclear threat than Iran, according to The New York Times’ Mark Landler:

“Pyongyang continues to produce fissile material and develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile,” Mr. Clapper said. “It is also committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that’s capable of posing a direct threat to the United States, although the system has not been flight tested.” In his testimony, Mr. Clapper put North Korea at the top of his list of nuclear- and proliferation-related threats. American intelligence agencies say that North Korea has expanded its uranium-enrichment facility at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon and restarted a plutonium production reactor. North Korea “could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months,” Mr. Clapper said.

Cruise says the anxiety all centers around the fact that the U.S. knows next to nothing about North Korea’s activities and intentions.

“The nuclear testing that went on earlier in January, there's some indication that it was an earthquake, and then we heard it was testing, and then it was an earthquake, and so we simply don't know,” Cruise said. “And media reports are very vague. So yes, it's a concern because we don't know what they're capable of doing were they to have the weapons.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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