NORTH Korea announced earlier this week that it has successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-14. If that report is true, then that hermit state now possesses the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD), as its state media boasted, “… to any part of the world.”
Much news about North Korea has been about its program to develop nuclear weapons and make them small enough to fit into warheads. Fortunately, it has suffered setbacks. But the North Koreans are feared to already have chemical and biological weapons. Kim Jong Nam, brother of the present North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was assassinated in Malaysia using a VX nerve agent. That has been banned by the United Nations as a WMD. Worse, that attack was not the first of its kind to be attributed to North Koreans, as we have mentioned in a previous editorial. Such reports reinforce suspicions that the regime indeed has biological weapons.
Of course, North Korea already has the capability to kill millions with conventional weapons. If fighting breaks out in the Korean peninsula, the North could attack Seoul and other cities in the South with artillery fire. But now with Hwasong-14 and its other missiles, North Korea could strike other countries, including those in this region. Even if North Korea argues that its missiles and WMD are for self-defense, the threat remains. Deadly weapons, especially those of the biological kind, require technology and strict protocols to manage. While it may be questionable whether North Korea has the tools and safety systems, it is undeniable that an accidental leak could have the same deadly outcome as an intentional attack.
Such an accident may have already happened, although admittedly few corroborated reports make it out of North Korea. But several foreign businessmen and officials who travel to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang have reported that an undetermined disease has broken out around the border area with China. That mysterious outbreak could be related to North Korea’s biological warfare research.
Authorities in Pyongyang have instituted emergency preventive measures in the north—including quarantines, road blocks and public health campaigns—in an effort to keep the disease from spreading further. They seem to be particularly concerned about keeping the disease from reaching Pyongyang or crossing the border into China. At least one North Korean is confirmed to have been quarantined in a city hospital along with numerous other patients exhibiting symptoms of the mysterious disease. Travel restrictions to Pyongyang were put in place and quarantine checkpoints between the northern region and the capital were set up.
Particularly worrisome is the fact that an outbreak seems to have occurred near one of North Korea’s secret biological weapons research and storage facilities. That may explain why Pyongyang is attempting to quash news of the outbreak and spin it as nothing more than a normal, periodic occurrence of avian flu. However, given the outbreak’s apparent point of origin, Pyongyang’s uncharacteristically swift response, and the regime’s well-documented but officially unacknowledged biological weapons programs, this outbreak appears to be much more worrying than the natural occurrence of bird flu, itself an easily transmissible virus.
North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons program is a dangerous and unpredictable threat not only to its neighbors but also the world. For instance, the Chinese province of Jilin sits directly across the border and is at serious risk of this disease spreading. Who knows if current treatments or procedures would be sufficient to counter a weaponized version of this disease?
Imagine if such a weapon were to be used in an attack, even if it were a defensive reaction to outside threats. Death would strike at not only the intended target area but also to wherever the wind might blow the deadly plume. Even from a distance, the announcement about the Hwasong-14 missile bring with it the stuff that makes nightmares.