The Buzz

This is North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Strategy

Understanding Pyongyang’s nuclear strategy is critical in understanding its capability development and force posture, but it does not directly answer how it supports its strategic interests. One possibility is to compel negotiations to alter the military status quo on the Peninsula, including the removal of some of the more advanced US assets in South Korea in exchange for North Korea’s restraint. Another goal would be to augment Pyongyang’s international status and reputation as a nuclear power dealing directly with the United States which has shown receptivity towards bilateral engagements.

The priority should not be how to get the process of denuclearisation back on track with sanctions and military preparedness, because they will not deter Pyongyang’s nuclear developments. Instead, there needs to be a coordinated effort to influence what type of nuclear power North Korea becomes, which includes establishing a new strategic status quo in the region that reflects this reality.

As China’s security and status in the region has been compromised by North Korea, this endeavor will mean it is the critical player in deterring North Korean aggression by stating clearly it will not support Pyongyang or any US proclivities to strike Pyongyang.

North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear capabilities have rightfully caused concern within the international community about its current and future intentions. But it is not unrealistic that Pyongyang could adopt a less vitriolic, pre-emptive tone for a more traditional deterrence strategy as it acquires a more mature and secure nuclear arsenal.

It is also unlikely North Korea will be able use its nuclear weapons for anything other than deterrence as all the other nuclear powers with vastly different nuclear strategies have not been able to do so.

Adam P. MacDonald is an independent researcher based in Halifax, Canada.

This first appeared in East Asia Forum here.