One of the highest-ranking members of the North Korean regime to defect has seemed to confirm the West’s greatest fears – that the Kim regime would use nuclear weapons at the first sign of an imminent threat.
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Thae Yong Ho, the former North Korean deputy ambassador to Britain, said Kim Jong Un was “desperate in maintaining his rule by relying on his [development of] nuclear weapons and ICBM,” referring to an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the US.
Thae added that once Kim “sees that there is any kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, then he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM.”
While North Korea does not yet have an ICBM that could realistically reach the US, Thae’s statement comes as the US has openly mulled the prospect of military action against the country, and North Korea experts unanimously tell Business Insider that the nation’s nuclear and missile programs have increased in speed and scope, with the country working toward a finished ICBM.
In an interview published in the Financial Times on Sunday, US President Donald Trump looked to China to mitigate the burgeoning crisis between North Korea and South Korea, Japan, and the US, saying “China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” adding, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
- Reuters/KCNA KCNA
While experts conclude that the US has the means to unilaterally decapitate the Kim regime, the operation if carried out today would most likely provoke a counterattack with conventional artillery and, as Thae suggested, nuclear strikes. South Korea and Japan would be at the greatest risk from a North Korean nuclear attack, and such an operation could easily cost millions of lives, including citizens of those countries and US troops stationed in Asia.
Thae’s testimony fits with what experts have told Business Insider: The focus of North Korea’s nuclear program has shifted from a bargaining chip – something it could trade away for concessions from the international community – to an insurance policy.
Thae stressed that “Kim Jong Un is a person who did not even hesitate to kill his uncle and a few weeks ago, even his half-brother … So, he is a man who can do anything to remove [anyone in] his way.”
Trump is due to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week, and he has made clear his intentions to talk about North Korea.