The North Korean merry-go-round keeps on spinning. The website 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, reports that the DPRK has resumed construction of a nuclear reactor that, once completed, can provide plutonium for nuclear weapons. While it may take another one or two years before the reactor is operational, it is a clear statement of intent from an isolated regime attempting to recover from a series of humiliating incidents.
The move to resume construction on the reactor comes as little surprise to most Korean analysts — though it makes White House crowing over diplomatic ‘triumphs’ earlier this year look even worse. Kim Jong-un’s leadership is still in its infancy, and after the dramatic failure of a recent missile launch—not to mention the fake missiles North Korea wheeled out to celebrate the hundredth birthday of Kim Il-Sung—it isn’t surprising that Pyongyang is doubling down on its nuclear program. Kim needs to firm up his credentials at home, and building a few more nukes projects strength and captures Washington’s attention.
Unfortunately, there’s little the U.S. can do in this situation. The paranoia and insecurity of the North—a hallmark of the regime regardless of which member of the Kim family is in charge—is in high gear with the young Kim only months into his leadership. As long as Pyongyang retains its Chinese patron, it will continue to engage in this kind of nuclear brinkmanship, both for domestic purposes and to extract concessions the next time it sits down with the U.S. to talk turkey.