North Korea’s small but potent nuclear arsenal is a source of serious concern if a power struggle breaks out between party leaders and plotting generals following Kim Jong-il’s death, analysts have suggested.
Pyongyang’s nuclear programme is likely to be a key asset for the new regime seeking to consolidate its domestic support and assert itself internationally. But it could also play a role in any succession struggle, if Kim’s third son and untested heir Kim Jong-un fails to assert his political authority.
It isn’t entirely clear whose finger is on North Korea’s nuclear trigger. In 2008 when Kim Jong-il fell ill and was indisposed, a shadowy committee of military and party leaders took operational control.
North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for around eight nuclear weapons. It has also recently begun enriching uranium, giving it a second source for warhead production. North Korea’s relatively small number of nuclear warheads is still a threat, some analysts believe.