North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on Saturday, state media reported Monday, raising concerns over who will now control of the most reclusive state in the world, and especially its nuclear weapons.
North Korea has the fourth largest army in the world with a large network of military facilities spread across the country. North Korea was party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but withdrew in 2003, citing the failure of the U.S. to fulfill its end of the Agreed Framework.
Though there is little verifiable evidence, North Korea is considered a limited nuclear power having conducted only two nuclear tests; the last one was in May 2009. It had carried out the first test in 2006. The country is considered to have the capability to enrich uranium. According to reports, North Korea is in possession of 50 kilograms of separated plutonium, which would be sufficient for six nuclear weapons.
Several presumed nuclear facilities, including light and heavy water reactors, are operated in North Korea. Most of the plutonium-using installations are in the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which is the major nuclear facility. It is not yet certain whether North Korea had been able to weaponize its plutonium or not.
The country also possesses many short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering conventional or, potentially, nuclear warheads. The point to be noted is that its missiles, which include the short-range SCUDs, have the range to target most of South Korea. It also has medium-range missiles, which include the Musadan and Nodong, with the range to target Japan as well as several U.S. bases, including Guam.
Kim Jong-il's death definitely raises questions over the future of North Korea's relations with South Korea and the international community as a whole. Kim Jong-il’s third son and anointed successor, Kim Jong-un, presumably is taking his father’s place as the leader of the country. Definitely, the country’s nuclear weapons programme will be an issue of grave concern for the maintenance of world peace.