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North Korea’s Nuclear Declaration ‘No Surprise’: Former White House Official Allison Hooker

We spoke to a top former U.S. government official who has direct experience in dealing with Pyongyang at the highest levels from the White House to give us her assessment of North Korea’s latest nuclear threat.

North Korean ICBM
North Korea ICBM. Image Credit: DPRK State Media.

North Korea last week – and once again – declared itself a nuclear weapons state and reserved the right to use those weapons in various preemptive ways if it felt the need.

Indeed, Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons doctrine amounts to one nightmarish fact: it will use nuclear weapons when and how it wants to and won’t give them up under any circumstances.

Not exactly a shocker, as the DPRK has made somewhat similar statements in the past, but still chilling nonetheless and clearly not something the Biden administration can ignore – even though it wants to, considering tensions in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Of course, South Korea has now responded, explaining it will double down on its own conventional military power and missile defenses and increase U.S.-ROK joint alliance capabilities.

While for sure the right call to make on Seoul’s part, that means, of course, some outlandish North Korean response. And there is always the looming threat of a North Korean nuclear test, which seems could happen at any moment.

While it did not make it in time for my North Korea nuclear weapons symposium last week (11 different experts sounded off), we were able to speak to Allison Hooker, a former member of the Obama and Trumps Administration National Security Council and respected North Korea expert. Hooker last served as Deputy Assistant to President Trump and a Senior Director on the National Security Council for Asia.

Hooker had this to say to 19FortyFive on North Korea’s recent nuclear declarations:

“North Korea’s declaration last week that it has codified the right to “automatically” use preemptive nuclear strikes to protect itself, making its nuclear status “irreversible” comes as no surprise, given that Pyongyang’s goal has been – for nearly thirty years – to gain recognition as a nuclear weapons state. 

Certainly, the lesson of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which like Libya, was made vulnerable by giving up its nuclear weapons has also reinforced Kim Jong Un’s determination to cement its status. 

For Kim, this is the perfect time to make such a move, with the world distracted by more urgent crises – COVID, the Russia-Ukraine war, China’s rumblings around Taiwan, and [the absence of strong US leadership on the issue], Kim must believe there is very little that stands in the way of achieving the regime’s decades old dream. 

In 2022 alone, North Korea has conducted a record number of missile tests and is reportedly prepared to conduct its 7th nuclear test at a time of Kim’s choosing, while continuing to produce fissile material at its plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities – both of which were restarted within the last 12 months. Not to mention recent reports that Pyongyang is selling ammunition to Moscow to aid in the war on Ukraine. Each of these would be a headline-dominating crisis just a few short years ago.  

What can be done to constrain North Korea? 

Although the UN Security Council remains hamstrung by the war in Ukraine—as demonstrated by its flimsy response this spring to Pyongyang’s first ICBM test since 2017, implementation of existing sanctions remains a potentially powerful tool. But it will take allies, partners and like-minded countries turning attention and effort back to the issue in a focused way to make an impact. 

North Korea

North Korea Ballistic Missile Test. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Meanwhile, the time-proven concept of “peace through strength” is also a key to holding in check North Korea’s ambitions. Along these lines, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol has done much to strengthen his country’s military posture in the four months since inauguration – including through resuming large joint exercises with the U.S., restarting extended deterrence talks with Washington, and re-engaging in trilateral security dialogue with the U.S. and Japan. He’s on the right track. 

It is time our like-minded partners and allies dust off their North Korea policies and get back to work on this issue before Kim takes the spotlight from Putin and Xi.” 

Expert Biography: Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and Pacific Forum. Kazianis has also worked as a defense journalist, serving as Editor-In-Chief of the Diplomat and Executive Editor of The National Interest. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree focusing on International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization.

Written By

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. He served on the Russia task force for U.S. Presidental Candidate Senator Ted Cruz, and in a similar task force in the John Hay Initiative. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree focusing on International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. 403Forbidden

    September 13, 2022 at 8:13 pm

    North Korea has made the right decisions and now must stick VERY FIRMLY to its historic correct stand.

    US has (throughout its brief existence) demonstrated total & complete ruthlessness in dealing with weak nations.

    How’s Washington going to deal with a nation that possesses dangerously deadly nukes and associated delivery systems.

    Would be same as trying to grab a fer-de-lance or an adult cottonmouth with your bare hands.

    Even real capable experts like famed snake handlers such as Steve Irwin or Jeff corwin wouldn’t try such act.

    All now Pyongyang needs to do to scare uncle Sam is barter with Russia its vast stocks of conventional ammo for rs-24 blueprints.

    How’s Biden and other democrat warmongers going to do.

    Start ww3 in east Asia ?

  2. pagar

    September 13, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    US white house officials (former and current ones) must learn how to leave other people alone. Don’t try to be their lifelong nanny. Ya not qualified.

    Now back to real business. Azerbaijan has been conducting aggro on Armenia but everybody’s keeping mum.

    IT IS TIME FOR SOMEONE TO HOLLER AT UNSC to send a team of peacekeepers there at their border.

    Trouble is Azerbaijan is ally of turkiye and turkiye is a sworn brother-in-arms of America, the great great grand super Genghis of our era.

    This everyone is keeping quiet on that trouble meaning USA gives green light to azeris to do what they like. Cheers for more wars and hooray for blood & gore !!!

  3. Tokyo Woes

    September 15, 2022 at 7:51 pm

    someone once said: “US has (throughout its brief existence) demonstrated total & complete ruthlessness in dealing with weak nations.”

    a silly notion, but considering, typical.

    in the case of NK, would that have been true, then this would be so much ash & no longer a subject of ‘idle’ conjecture.

    so, at least, it would be prudent for the us to gin up to this risible reputation & squash nk like the insect it is.

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