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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

North Korea could develop missiles capable of reaching Britain

MPs warn that Pyongyang has stepped up nuclear testing in the past 24 months

North Korea has significantly stepped up its nuclear testing over the past 24 months, a report from British MPs warns. (Korean Central News Agency / Korea News Service via AP)
North Korea has significantly stepped up its nuclear testing over the past 24 months, a report from British MPs warns. (Korean Central News Agency / Korea News Service via AP)

North Korea will almost certainly develop ballistic missiles capable of reaching Britain within six to 18 months, MPs have warned.

But the report from the Commons’ Defence Select Committee added that a strike of that sort is “highly unlikely”.

“The Ministry of Defence does not consider that the UK will be a target of North Korean nuclear missiles, as its regime does not believe the UK to be a threat,” they wrote. Instead, the US and South Korea are said to be the main focus of North Korea’s military threats.

The report, entitled Rash or Rational?: North Korea and The Threat It Poses, argues that the country has significantly stepped up its nuclear testing over the past 24 months.

The country has carried out six nuclear tests and is feared to have a ballistic missile capable of striking the US.

MPs began gathering evidence for their report in September, around the time when Pyongyang was celebrating the "perfect success" of its sixth test with a hydrogen bomb.

“With its current rate of development, it is possible that North Korea can already strike the United Kingdom with an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially able to carry and deliver a nuclear warhead,” the report says. “Within the next six to 18 months, it is almost certain to be able to achieve this capability.”

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However, tensions on the peninsula have showed increasing signs of easing in recent months after the North proposed summits with the South and their "imperialist enemy" the US. A meeting between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump is pencilled in to take place before the end of May.

The MPs described Mr Kim as "ruthless but rational". They also suggested he could be "dissuaded from the use of nuclear weapons, by means of a policy of deterrence and containment".

However, they warned that despite the recent diplomatic thaw, North Korea is unlikely to abandon its weapon programme.

“If there were a conflict in the region, the UK would have no legal obligation to provide military assistance. Yet, in the event of North Korean aggression against South Korea and/or against the United States, it is unlikely we would stand aside,” they wrote.

The report added that North Korea could launch a cyber-attack against Britain.

“It is far more likely that the UK will continue to suffer from reckless North Korean cyber-attacks,” the report said, referring to the WannaCry attack last summer which targeted hospitals, banks and companies globally.

“North Korea has shown an utter lack of concern about who gets hurt by such attacks. Similarly, there is a definite danger that North Korea would have few if any qualms about promoting nuclear proliferation to other states or even non-state actors.”