North Korea's nuclear programme: what does Kim Jong-un really want?

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The bomb North Korea tested over the weekend is by far the biggest device exploded by Kim Jong-un’s regime yet.

The rogue state boasts it can now fit a warhead on a ballistic missile and there are credible reports of further tests of missiles that can strike continents far away, including America, Australia and Europe.

We are faced today with three interlocked questions. In descending order they are: how likely is nuclear war? What does Kim really want? And, the practical question: what can or should be done in the short term?

The answer to the first question is that there is high risk of a nuclear exchange — but on past recent performance from all players, it will be by accident rather than design. 

What does Kim want? From the latest tests and the boast that they are all part of a series of military improvements, there can be no mistake that North Korea’s strategy is offensive. All pretence that this is defensive is now stripped away.

Trickiest of all is what can and should be done? Most of the work has been carried out behind the scenes, and with much greater awareness and adroitness than has been shown, particularly by China, the one power that has leverage over Pyongyang.

So far Beijing seems to say it will do nothing to put the regime at risk of overthrow.

More important is Donald Trump’s warning to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea that any acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea smacks of appeasement and is unacceptable.

It is unacceptable because the basis of Kim’s cartoon version of Machiavelli is his unpredictability.  

A cartoon Machiavelli with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles is a risk too far for all. That is the message Mr Trump has to get through to China, and China must act.

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