Earlier this week, North Korea set off its latest nuclear test, defying United Nations resolutions in a move President Obama called “highly provocative” as he promised swift action from international allies and the U.N. Security Council. The latest nuclear test was the country’s most powerful to date and was North Korea’s response to “American hostility” which was quickly condemned by the international community, including the country’s only ally, China.

North Korea is one of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world, with ongoing drought and famine plaguing its population of nearly 24.5 million. The communist regime has continued to build up a large military and allocated resources to further its nuclear program, with attempts at showing military power including launching ballistic missiles, sending satellites into space and two prior nuclear tests. Marcus Noland, with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, concludes that “the development of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems is the central political goal of this regime.”

Famous for its secretive and oppressive government and numerous human rights offenses, it is estimated that nearly 2.5 million citizens have died since the continuous famine starting in the 1990s. Rural communities are still plagued by starvation and a serious food shortage – conditions that the government continually downplays to international agencies. Andrew Natsios, author of The Great North Korean Famine, states “the quid pro quo of food aid for scaling back the nuclear program has become a pattern in the authoritarian state, which then reneges on the deal.” Natsios also asserts that the current food shortage and severe poverty are affecting an entire generation of North Koreans, with no end in sight. Citing evidence of severe malnutrition, the average North Korean soldier is 10 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart.

Despite the deplorable conditions, North Korea has continued to aggressively increase military and nuclear programs, having the “third-largest land army in Asia,” while an estimated 8.7 million people remain destitute and in need of food aid.

The United States and other international powers are encouraging new sanctions at the U.N. Security Council that will slow North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile development, but the consequences of North Korea’s defiance of U.N. resolutions and defiance of its usual Chinese allies for much-needed food-aid are still unclear.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: CBC News; US News