When Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il died in 2011, his dynastic inheritance of the presidential role came backed by North Korea’s atomic weapons programme, whose scientists had managed test detonations in 2006 and 2009, incurring UN Security Council-mandated sanctions.
The new supreme leader soon disillusioned anyone who expected a more pragmatic or conciliatory approach to dealings with the rest of the world. He pursued nuclear bomb-making efforts and at the same time the development of ballistic missile technology which Pyongyang had started in 1998.
A moratorium on the uranium enrichment programme was announced early in 2012 but in December the North Koreans launched a satellite into orbit on the expendable Unha-3 carrier rocket. The Security Council slapped on new sanctions, considering this a violation of a ban on North Korean missile testing.
A February 2013 third detonation at North Korea’s only known nuclear test site Punggye-ri showed how far the internationally isolated military state was prepared to ignore that. According to the United States Geological Survey the test registered as a 5.1 magnitude earthquake.
In May 2015 the North Koreans claimed to have successfully fired their first ballistic missile from a submarine. Sceptics cast doubt on this, but if it is true it would mean a worrying boost in Pyongyang’s delivery range. On top of that, it claims to have the capacity to mount mini-atomic weapons in its missile warheads.
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