CCTV captures Kim Jong-nam before his death in 2017
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Earlier this year, Kim Jong-un said he was going to build an “invincible military” in the face of threats from South Korea and the USA. But now, close to the tenth anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, North and South Korea have agreed “in principle” on a formal end to nearly 70 years of conflict.
An unstable armistice has been in place since the 1950 to 1953 war ended, but the South Korean President said the North, South, USA and China has agreed in principle to a peace declaration.
But despite the apparent agreement, Kim Jong-un seems hellbent on driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul, when he accused the US in October of being the “root cause” of instability.
Pyongyang is under multiple international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which have made rapid progress under Kim.
The leader’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has defined his ten years in power but has led him to become more isolated than ever.
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North Korea may be better armed than ever before, but its reliance on neighbouring ally China due to a shattered economy has left the leader in a political bind.
During the 10 years since his death, his son has expanded invasive surveillance and repression of North Koreans, denied people their freedom of movement within the country and across borders, and responded to the coronavirus crisis with heightened food insecurity that is starving his country’s population.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons could stand in the way of a breakthrough peace deal, as the nuclear arms have already brought the country to the brink of war with the US and caused Russia and China to approve strict UN sanctions.
The USA is refusing to apply sanction relief until some of the weapons are surrendered.
How big is North Korea’s military?
North Korea has a comparatively huge military compared to its population of around 25 million people, with 1.88 million serving.
It is one of the largest standing armies in the world and is more than double the size of South Korea’s army.
Pyongyang is estimated to have more than 6,000 tanks and 10,000 armoured vehicles, as well as 83 submarines.
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In terms of airpower, the isolated country has some 949 jets, including fighters, transport, trainers, and helicopters.
In recent years, North Korea has tested several missiles that demonstrate its rapid technological advances.
In October 2020, Pyongyang revealed its new ballistic missile, which is currently unnamed but is thought to be able to reach as far as the west coast of the USA.
Another submarine ballistic missile, which the country declared as the “world’s most powerful weapon”, has not been formally identified by US intelligence.
There have also been concerns over the years that North Korea could have a biological weapons programme – but little is known about what this constitutes or how advanced it could be.
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