It’s been known for quite a few years that the North Korean regime has been building nuclear weapons, and attempts by the United States and other Western countries to curtail or eliminate that capability has been a focus of much of their diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang.
Exactly how much nuclear capability North Korea has is mostly unknown. But a new report states that the Kim regime will have a large number of such weapons within a few years.
The Asan Institute for Policy Studies, along with the Rand Corporation, has released a new report called “Countering the Risks of North Korean Nuclear Weapons,” which looks at how many such weapons the North Koreans have.
“It is believed that North Korea possesses the missile borne nuclear capability, which was achieved through the steady advancement in nuclear weapons capability since the first nuclear test in 2006. It is estimated North Korea has acquired 30-36kg of plutonium and between 175kg (min) and 645 kg (max) of enriched uranium as of 2019,” according to a list of “main points” put out Tuesday by the authors of the studies. “Based on these numbers, it is estimated that the total number of North Korea’s nuclear weapons by 2027 would be between 151 and 242, in addition to tens of mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).”
The reasons why North Korea continues to develop the weapons include ensuring the survival of the Kim regime and providing a deadly weapon with which to possibly pursue unification of the Koreas under North Korea’s leadership. Finally, Pyongyang has kept developing its nuclear weapons program in order to “challenge the U.S. dominance and avoid overdependence on China by becoming a regional great power.”
The report also states that North Korea could use its capability for more aggressive behavior than it has traditionally exhibited, beyond deterrence.
“To this day, North Korea’s nuclear strategy has been focused on deterrence by retaliation as well as decoupling of the ROK-U.S. and U.S.-Japan alliances. But with further advances in nuclear capability, North Korea will be able to employ the nuclear threats and attacks in much more coercive and diverse ways, such as pre-emptive nuclear strikes,” the report says. “The first possibility is the employment of nuclear weapons for blackmail, coercion, and deterrence. A representative example is a scenario in which North Korea threatens to use nuclear weapons when the ROK and the United States try to respond to North Korea’s incursions into the Northern Limit Line or the North Korean takeover of the ROK islands in the Yellow Sea.”
The report goes on to recommend an aggressive posture towards North Korea by both the United States and South Korea.
“The ROK-U.S. alliance should be ready to defeat North Korea. The allies should destroy and neutralize North Korea’s nuclear and missile bases, facilities, and command and communication facilities to prevent it from using nuclear tipped missiles. This can be achieved by enhancing counter-leadership and counterforce targeting, as well as the alliance’s capability to intercept and destroy North Korean nuclear weapons.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.