Mere days after President Donald Trump's combative and at-times inflammatory address before the United Nations General Assembly ― in which he said North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was on a "suicide mission," and threatened to "totally destroy" the nuclear-armed state ― North Korea got its say. Specifically, if you've ever wondered why North Korea has nuclear weapons, a top official gave the isolated country's official explanation to the U.N. on Saturday afternoon.
Speaking before the general assembly, North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho argued that the reason North Korea has nuclear weapons is because they're a necessary counter to the United States, its rhetorical provocations, and its threats of military action. He specifically cited Trump's remarks to the general assembly this week, as well as his reportedly improvised comment in August that the U.S. would unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea. Here's what he said, per translation.
What else could be a bigger threat than the violent remarks such as pouring fire and fury, total destruction, coming from the top authority of the world's biggest nuclear power. The very reason the DPRK had to possess nuclear weapons is because of the U.S. and it had to develop and strengthen its nuclear force to the current level to cope with the U.S.
While it may sound absurd to American ears ― and North Korea is an incredibly repressive and despotic country, and can't exactly claim a moral high ground ― there is an argument to be made that U.S. foreign and military policy over the last 20 years has demonstrated the importance of nuclear weapons capabilities to hostile regimes.
That's because the U.S. has shown a semi-regular willingness to invade hostile foreign countries and depose their regimes ― in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya ― with the common denominator being that none of them were armed with nukes.
As such, regardless of what you think of the North Korean leadership ― and given that it operates a series of secret concentration camps reportedly rife with starvation, torture, and public executions, sympathy is pretty much out of the question ― as an expression of rational self-interest, North Korea's nuclear program makes sense. As the Cold War demonstrated for decades, and as the last several years of tensions between the U.S. and the North Korean regime have shown, possession of nuclear weapons has proven to be a potent trump card.
It's worth noting that despite the fire-breathing rhetoric from North Korean officials, their tone hasn't really changed much over the last several years. Although the escalating pace of its nuclear tests have added an undercurrent of alarm and urgency, North Korea has been threatening to destroy the U.S. for decades, often with extravagant and graphic language ― talking about annihilating America with a "sea of fire," for example.
What's different now is that the U.S. has a president who seems eager to reciprocate that kind of rhetoric. In the past, U.S. presidents have harshly condemned North Korea, such as when former president George W. Bush declared it part of an "axis of evil." But no president has employed the same sorts of apocalyptic language North Korea loves to pump out, and that's cause for concern.
Notably, according to the Los Angeles Times, Trump's advisers urged him not to personally attack Kim Jong Un during his U.N. address, advice that was clearly ignored. It remains to be seen what happens next in the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea, but as it stands now, tensions are clearly continuing to escalate. Which could prove to be a very dangerous game for two nuclear-armed countries to play.