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THE US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been swap­ping in­sults and threats for a while now, but what’s be­hind it all? And is it all just talk or is there a very real risk of nu­clear war? What’s go­ing on, then?

North Korea has an­gered the world by car­ry­ing out il­le­gal tests of nu­clear weapons. The na­tion has also tested mis­siles that could reach as far as the US, although it’s not clear how well the tech­nol­ogy works. North Korea doesn’t have any weapons that could reach the UK.

Amer­i­can leader Don­ald Trump has said that the world is sit­ting by in­stead of pun­ish­ing North Korea.

Kim Jong-un and Trump have been threat­en­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion, but they have also both re­sorted to name-call­ing. Kim has called Trump “men­tally de­ranged”, while Trump has de­scribed his op­po­nent as a “mad­man”.

What does North Korea want?

North Korea’s op­po­nents, such as Amer­ica, South Korea and Ja­pan, are wor­ried be­cause they think that North Korea is be­ing ag­gres­sive and may launch weapons to­wards them.

But know­ing what Kim Jong-un re­ally wants is very dif­fi­cult, as North Korea is one of the most se­cre­tive coun­tries in the world (see right). One the­ory is that Kim would be able to get away with much more – in­clud­ing a po­ten­tial in­va­sion of South Korea – if he had nu­clear weapons. That’s be­cause coun­tries like the US would be scared to de­fend South Korea if there was the pos­si­bil­ity of a nu­clear at­tack against them.

It’s also pos­si­ble that Kim wants North Korea to be re­spected by the rest of the world, and thinks that hav­ing nu­clear weapons would give him that re­spect.

Is there likely to be a nu­clear war?

In a word, no. It’s 72 years since the US dropped two nu­clear bombs on Ja­pan at the end of World War 2, and they are still the only ones ever used in war. The US has so many nu­clear weapons that it could de­stroy ev­ery city in North Korea, and Kim and his ad­vis­ers are well aware of that. The war of words will al­most cer­tainly go on for a long time, but that’s about as far as any­one re­ally ex­pects things to go.

Who has nu­clear weapons?

Of­fi­cially, the US, Rus­sia, China, the UK and France. How­ever, In­dia and Pak­istan both have nu­clear weapons and Is­rael is widely be­lieved to have them.

The Treaty On The Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Of Nu­clear Weapons (NPT) has been signed by al­most ev­ery coun­try in the world and is sup­posed to stop coun­tries from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons. North Korea pulled out of it in 2003.

What do we know about North Korea?

The short an­swer is: not much. Few me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions and tourists are al­lowed in, and can only go to cer­tain places. It’s even dif­fi­cult for North Kore­ans to know what’s go­ing on, as they can only watch or lis­ten to gov­ern­ment-con­trolled TV and ra­dio, and can’t use the in­ter­net. Peo­ple are pun­ished harshly for watch­ing any unau­tho­rised for­eign films or shows.

North Korea is an in­cred­i­bly poor coun­try, and a fam­ily would con­sider them­selves to be quite well off if they owned a bi­cy­cle. Although the food sit­u­a­tion has im­proved since a famine in the ’90s killed half a mil­lion peo­ple, many peo­ple still do not get enough nu­tri­ents. Health­care and san­i­ta­tion are very poor, mean­ing many chil­dren get di­ar­rhoea and miss school.

The most re­cent UN re­port into hu­man rights in the coun­try found “wide­spread” abuses of rights, in­clud­ing an “al­most com­plete de­nial of the right to free­dom of thought”. There is also no free­dom of move­ment, so peo­ple can’t travel freely within North Korea and al­most no­body is al­lowed to go abroad.

Pun­ish­ments are harsh for even very mild crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment. There are up to 120,000 peo­ple in po­lit­i­cal prison camps, and pris­on­ers are of­ten ex­e­cuted for mi­nor of­fences.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

Th­ese West­ern tourists were forced to bow to the stat­ues of for­mer lead­ers Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il (Kim Jong-un’s grandad and dad) in Pyongyang, the North Korean cap­i­tal

North Korean stu­dents take part in a protest against the US and Don­ald Trump

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