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    The 2018 Winter Olympics in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang will be remembered not only for the Games, but also for the historical rapprochement between North and South Korea. Sputnik discussed this and North Korea's missile and nuclear program with Joseph Cheng, Professor of Political science at the City University of Hong Kong.

    Sputnik: Why do the US and the international community so vehemently oppose North Korea's wish to have nuclear weapons? The United States alone has 6,800 warheads, Pakistan and India posses nuclear weapons, and they're not even signatories to the non-proliferation treaty; Israel, a very close ally of the United States, is also said to have nuclear weapons; why then is Washington so preoccupied with the North's nuclear program?

    Joseph Cheng: The United States is still very, very concerned with the issue of nuclear proliferation and its basic position is still against any proliferation. With regard to North Korea, the special concern, of course, is that if North Korea develops nuclear weapons this may well provoke South Korea and maybe Japan, and perhaps even Taiwan to develop their own nuclear weapons. We also know that Japan earlier had plans to develop nuclear weapons, and South Korea and Taiwan also had made such attempts many years ago, but they were, of course, forcibly stopped by the United States. So given the strategic situation of North Korea, the real concern, of course, is that the allies of the United States may well be forced to develop their own nuclear weapons.

    This will much weaken American control over Japan and South Korea, which are very, very dependent on the United States for its nuclear umbrella protection. To some extent, one can say that even Russia and China share this concern of nuclear proliferation in general and in the Korean peninsula, because for example, if Iran develops nuclear weapons then Saudi Arabia will do so, and other Gulf states will be tempted to do so. So to a considerable extent, even China and Russia share this concern of nuclear proliferation, including that on the Korean peninsula. 

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 3, 2017
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 3, 2017

    Sputnik: There have been various estimates of North Korea's nuclear program, some experts say Pyongyang's missiles are capable of reaching the US mainland, while some say the danger of North Korea's nuclear program is over-estimated; what's your opinion on the matter?

    Joseph Cheng: As far as the nuclear capabilities of North Korea are concerned, it has been making progress and the progress probably has exceeded the expectations of the international community. I certainly do not claim to have intelligence information, but it is believed that North Korea may well posses up to 20 warheads already and it certainly has the delivery capabilities in terms of short-range, medium-range and perhaps even intermediate-range missiles, so North Korea should have no problem in delivering nuclear weapons to South Korea, the American bases in South Korea and Japan, and perhaps to Guam and Hawaii. The most recent long-range rocket tests on the part of North Korea seem to suggest it has the capability of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles able to reach the west coast of the United States, whether or not this capability already exists is not is questionable, but in terms of future developments it is certainly believed that perhaps in 3 — 5 years, North Korea should have the capability of delivering nuclear weapons to the entire United States, so it's a bit like China's nuclear capability in the 70's, that kind of thing.

    For more information listen to this edition of Weekend Special with Joseph Cheng.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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