North Korean soldier with anthrax antibodies sparks fear that Kim Jong-un is preparing for chemical warfare
Some estimates suggest that North Korea has stockpiled as much as 5,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. If tensions do reach a breaking point, these weapons could lead to the loss of life of millions.
According to reports this past Tuesday, one of the four soldiers who defected from North Korea to South Korea was found to have anthrax antibodies in his system, sparking fears that Kim Jong-un's regime is developing weapons capable of biological warfare. The harrowing development was put forward by UPI, who cited South Korea's local Channel A with the information.
An unnamed South Korean intelligence official confirmed the report and said that the man, who had either been exposed to or vaccinated for anthrax, had developed a resistance to the deadly disease. The disease, caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, presents its symptoms in the form of blisters on the skin, fever and chills, shortness of breath, chest pains, and shock. Airborne infection of the disease is the most deadly, and it can kill 80% of those exposed to the bacterium within a short span of 24 hours unless they are vaccinated or given antibiotics.
Unfortunately, South Korea is yet to develop the vaccine, with Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo saying that the vaccine is only expected to be ready by the end of 2019 and no sooner. With the Winter Olympics coming up in 2018, this latest development has caused concerns amongst the public, with officials forced to deny that President Moon Jae-in and other top officials had been vaccinated against the biological weapon.
However, presidential spokesman Park Soo-Hyun did confirm that the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention procured 1,000 doses of anthrax vaccines to be given to biochemical counterterrorism agents and civilians in the case of a contingency. But it was then clarified that these had been ordered in the stead of the previous government led by former President Park Geun-Hye after an incident in 2015.
Kim Jong-un and North Korea came under suspicion of developing biological weapons after the rogue state revealed the work of the Pyongyang Biological Technology Research Institute in 2015. Run by the Korean People's Army Unit 810, the regime claims the facility specializes in pesticide research, but analysts and experts say that the presence of dual-equipment on the site suggests a much more sinister motive.
At the time, Melissa Hanham, a North Korea expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies wrote: "Analysis of the images reveals that the facility - the Pyongyang Biotechnical Institute - can produce regular, military-sized batches of biological weapons, specifically anthrax."
She then said that "the North Korean assertion that the plant is intended to produce insecticides is an old and well-used cover for a biological weapons program," adding that the publication of the North Korean leader's tour of the institution "may have been intended as a veiled threat to South Korea and the United States."
Indeed, some estimates suggest that North Korea has a considerable chemical weapon stockpile of up to 2,500 to 5,000 metric tons; ranking third, only behind the United States and Russia. An ominous June report from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists warned that the country could hit Seoul with a 'sea of sarin,' a possibility made terrifying when you consider that the city is the country's largest and most densely populated region. Seoul's 600 sq km area, with an estimated 10 million people, is home to 1/5th of the entire country's population and any chemical attack on it would result in an egregious loss of human life.
A report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun earlier in the month, which cited intelligence sources in Seoul, claims that the North Korean regime has been conducting heat and pressure resistance tests in a bid to see whether the anthrax germs can survive the intense heat of over 7,000-degree-Celcius an intercontinental ballistic missile encounters when it re-enters Earth's atmosphere.
According to the US's National Security Strategy released earlier this month, North Korea "has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons" including research into "chemical and biological weapons which could be delivered by missile."
Kim Jong-un's administration came under further scrutiny earlier this year when his half-brother Kim Jong Nam was assassinated by two women in broad daylight using nerve agent VX at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. While rumors say they were acting on behalf of the North Korean government, the women's lawyers have said they thought they were taking part in a prank TV show.
North Korea has, of course, indignantly denied all these allegations, with the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that these claims were 'groundless,' instead accusing the US of 'cooking up untruths.' The statement read: "As a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), North Korea maintains its consistent stand to oppose development, manufacture, stockpiling and possession of biological weapons."
It also pointed towards the US's claims that Iraq possessed biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction before the war in 2003, which were later proven to be 'dead wrong.' The regime fears that the US will use a similar excuse to wage war against it.
However, the BWC only prohibits the use of chemical weapons in warfare, it does not prevent a state from either producing or possessing them. It's also paramount to note that the country is one of just six countries to not have signed or acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which "requires each state party to declare and destroy all the chemical weapons (CW) and CW production facilities it possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, as well as any CW it abandoned on the territory of another state."
With North Korea carrying out repeated missile tests, it is managing to isolate even its closest allies. The latest round of sanctions imposed on the country by the United Nations in response to its latest missile test was backed by both Russia and China.
It will limit 90% of petroleum exports to North Korea and demand North Koreans working abroad for Kim's regime return home. Furthermore, 16 North Korean officials, mostly in the banking sector, were added to the sanctions blacklist along with the ministry that manages the logistics of its armed forces.
The foreign ministry has termed the latest round of sanctions as 'an act of war,' with a ministry statement reading: "The United States, completely terrified at our accomplishment of the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, is getting more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country."
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