“Putting this in a North Korean perspective, they see themselves as facing the world’s largest single military and nuclear power in a potential conflict. The pursuit of nuclear weapons, then, is intended as a deterrent, to counter their weaker military position,” Baker explained.
North Korea’s primary aspiration is “to stop a buildup of U.S. forces around them and protect North Korea from the fate of Iraq,” Pollack told TheDCNF. The aim is primarily nuclear deterrence.
Were North Korea to use a nuclear weapon, it would most likely be in the event of a conflict, if a conflict appeared imminent, or if some external factor posed an immediate threat to the country’s survival. How each side perceives these conditions varies, making it difficult to determine which actions might push the Pyongyang over the edge.
“It is not clear, for example, if they consider a limited strike against their nuclear or missile facilities as an imminent threat, or if they would initially respond with conventional systems,” Baker explained, “Though given the military disparity, even a limited strike could be seen as the beginning of a more concerned military effort, leaving the North needing to use its WMDs quickly or risk having its capability knocked out.”
Despite North Korean threats, the probability that North Korea would choose to launch a nuclear strike is relatively low, but at the end of the day, Kim Jong-un, while not irrational or crazy as some suspect, is very much a two-dimensional thinker who might decide to do the unthinkable if push came to shove.
The North Korean nuclear threat is one that has puzzled world leaders for decades, and the North’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and nuclear weaponry is growing with each passing day. “There are, at the moment, no constraints that would prevent North Korea from expanding its arsenal,” Lewis explained, “We might not like the North Koreans, but they’ve pretty much found a way to make sure we have to deal with them.”
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