The North Korean government this week re-emphasised plans to escalate its national, nuclear defence capability – sixty-two years after the first day of the Korean War.

Following a recent, joint decision by France and the US to conduct military drills in the region, officials in Pyongyang have re-asserted plans to develop nuclear defence measures to tackle what they view as international attempts to provoke and threaten the DPRK’s national, military interests.

In a statement they said, “The DPRK will further bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense as long as the US, the world’s biggest nuclear weapons state, persists in its hostile policy towards the DPRK”.

Of particular concern to the North Korean government was the use of live ammunition in an area where a North Korean flag was flying. The flag was not damaged, but its symbolic importance has nevertheless prompted many with Pyongyang to view the recent military exercise as strategically positioned and intentionally provocative. “It is an extremely grave military action and politically motivated provocation” reads the same statement, “to fire live bullets and shells at the flag of a sovereign state without a declaration of war”.

The statement will surprise few who are aware of the historical ubiquity of similar statements from the North Korean government following similar international ‘provocations’. Nevertheless, the language contained in it is indicative of a national strategy to gain leverage wherever possible to justify the development of a nuclear defence capability, with possible offensive potential.

The IAEA were invited to return the North Korea in March, 2012, but have since released a statement suggesting that a return visit is not possible at this time. “Since an attempt by the DPRK to launch a ‘satellite’, the agency has been carefully monitoring the situation,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said (referring to the failed test-launch of a long-range missile in April). “Through recent contacts with the DPRK” he said, “it has become clear that there is no immediate prospect of an agency mission taking place.”

The only realistic, short-term and internationally legal assesment of North Korea’s nuclear capability will emerge from a revisit by the IAEA. In the meantime we might do well the read the statement from North Korea with a proverbial pinch of salt and as essentially rhetorical.

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