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North Korea Says It Has Small Nuclear Weapon

People watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with superimposed letters that read: "North Korea has made nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles" at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March
North Korea Claims to Have a Small Nuclear Weapon
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Wednesday his country has developed nuclear weapons of a size small enough for a ballistic missile.

This is the first time the North Korean leader has made such a claim.

The state Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Wednesday that Kim met with nuclear scientists and technicians. It said they discussed "research conducted to tip various types of tactical and strategic ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads."

The agency also published photographs that appeared to show the North Korean leader visiting a factory where the warheads were made.

The authenticity of the photos could not be independently confirmed. A number of military experts have said they question the North Korean claim.

A picture showing North Korea's rocket launch in February. The launch was one reason the U.N. place new sanctions on North Korea.
A picture showing North Korea's rocket launch in February. The launch was one reason the U.N. place new sanctions on North Korea.

U.S. military leaders have said in the past that North Korea has the right connections and technology to develop a small nuclear device. However, the country has yet to demonstrate that ability.

The claim comes as North Korea faces intense international pressure because of its recent nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea’s public diplomacy, or lack of it, has only increased the pressure. Last week, North Korea answered new United Nations sanctions by firing projectiles into the sea. Kim also threatened to carry out a nuclear strike against South Korea and the United States.

History of confrontational words

Brian Myers studies North Korean propaganda. He wrote the 2010 book, “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters.”

He said the North’s confrontational public relations campaigns go back to the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung. He came to power with the help of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

​Myers is an associate professor of International Studies at Dongseo University in South Korea. He said North Korea uses threats and warlike language as a way to get the U.S. government to react.

"This rhetoric is the North's way of saying to Washington, ‘You guys better keep us on the front burner because we are just as ready to fight and die as your enemies in the Middle East are.’”

In recent years, North Korea's language has become stronger and more bellicose. Myers says that is partly because more information from overseas is entering the North.

"In the old days, the regime could make very peaceful noises to the outside world and make very bellicose racist noises in what I call megaphone propaganda, the sort of thing that North Koreans get in their farms and factories.

But now, as more and more North Koreans access outside sources of information, as you just said, the regime is under much and more pressure to speak in one voice. And that means making much the same warlike and often racist noises in export propaganda that it has always made on the home front."

Myers says North Korea's warlike statements are meant to increase a sense of national pride. Outside the country, they are designed to increase anti-American feelings in South Korea and other countries.

This use of language may be counterproductive. However, Myers believes this rhetoric reflects the uncompromising position of the North Korean leadership.

"Those are ultranationalists, who are genuinely outraged by the presence of American troops in South Korea, who remain genuinely committed to reunifying the peninsula. And this is the problem with ultranationalists everywhere, is that it's very difficult for them to put themselves in the shoes of other nations, of other races, and has great difficulty presenting itself in a sophisticated way to them.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

VOA’s Brian Padden in Seoul reported on this story for Mario Ritter adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

ballistic missile – n. a missile designed to travel long distances to deliver explosives

projectile – n. something launched as a weapon

confrontational adj. challenging or opposing someone in a strong or threatening way

bellicoseadj. warlike, ready to argue or fight

regime – n. a system of government

authenticity – n. the quality of being truthful

pride – n. a feeling of self-respect, a feeling of importance

rhetoric n. language used to influence people