With tentative diplomatic talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un expected to take place in the coming months, many in the United States have voice concerns that Kim has no intention on following through with denuclearization, regardless of what South Korean officials may claim he’s said. There is, of course, good reason for that skepticism, as North Korea has not only set a historical precedent for not following through on promises to end their nuclear pursuits, they’ve also made a habit of grandiose lying on the geopolitical stage.
Even officials from other Pacific nations have voiced their concerns about North Korea’s history of misleading guarantees and broken promises when it comes to their nuclear weapons programs.
While talking about nuclear abandonment several times, it turned out that North Korea didn’t halt its nuclear development in the past,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said recently. “We need to carefully assess if this North and South dialogue will really lead to the abandonment of nuclear and missile development.”
If the statements that come out of Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime can’t be trusted, perhaps actions can be, however. According to satellite imagery taken in mid-March, it would appear that the tunnel excavation effort underway at beneath North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site has declined dramatically, as has the amount of personnel seemingly working there.
Following the successful test of what is believed to be North Korea’s first ever dual stage nuclear weapon, or a hydrogen bomb, last September, concerns rose about the stability of the mountain Punggye-ri resides under. Those concerns seemed to have been founded, as soon thereafter a series of tunnel collapses near the site’s north portal were believed to have claimed the lives of as many as 200 people, many of whom were there attempting to dig the first victims out of the rubble.
Since then, excavations have been ongoing in the complex’s west portal, where it appeared the regime was working to develop a new testing area following the damage to the northern portion of the test site. Progress continued at this new area, with support staff clearly operating within the site’s command center and large piles of soil appearing as the area was excavated. However, since March 2nd, the number of people working at the site has dropped off significantly and no further progresses appears to have been made on the west portal of the tunnel complex, begging the question: has North Korea stopped working on establishing a test site for further nuclear detonations?
It’s possible that concerns about the site’s structural stability may have forced Kim’s regime to give up on the test site altogether, forcing the regime to halt progress on the new tunnels in favor of a new complex to be developed elsewhere within the nation. It is, however, also possible that the effort to develop a new testing complex may simply be too expensive to pursue in the nation’s current economic climate, stifled by international sanctions as it is.
Finally, there remains the possibility that Kim Jong Un may have ordered a temporary halt to the nuclear testing endeavor as a show of good faith. That would be in keeping with statements related to the United States by South Korea’s president Moon Jae In.
The North expressed its willingness to hold a heartfelt dialogue with the United States on the issues of denuclearization and normalizing relations with the United States,” A statement from South Korea’s presidential Blue House said. “It made it clear that while dialogue is continuing, it will not attempt any strategic provocations, such as nuclear and ballistic missile tests.”
Whether the halt in construction at North Korea’s nuclear test site was brought about by a lack of resources, a sincere effort toward peace, or as a a bit of geopolitical theater is yet to be determined – but one thing is certain: a war that once seemed inevitable is now beginning to seem, at the very least, to be postponable.
For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned,” President Trump said. “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”
Image courtesy of North Korea’s KCNA