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Experts: North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons, Missiles Make It Less Secure

A man watches a TV showing a file image of a North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.
A man watches a TV showing a file image of a North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019.

Contrary to Pyongyang’s belief that nuclear weapons and missile programs safeguard its security and ensure its survival, experts said they make the country less safe because they leave it prone to U.S. military targets.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “thinks that nuclear weapons are the guarantee of his regime survival,” said Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp. research center. “In reality, they’re the guarantee of his regime destruction.”

Although Kim promised he will commit to denuclearization since he began engaging with the U.S. in 2018, North Korea has not shown a serious willingness to reach a deal agreeing to forgo nuclear weapons.

Experts said North Korea’s reluctance to reach a denuclearization deal stems from its dogmatic view of nuclear weapons as essential for its security.

Evans Revere, a former State Department official who had negotiated with North Korea extensively, said, “I am convinced that North Koreans believe nuclear weapons guarantee their security."

“And as long as that is the case, there is no chance that Pyongyang will give them up," he added.


Rather than committing itself toward reaching a viable denuclearization deal with Washington, Pyongyang has been stalling while blaming Washington for refusing to make concessions.

North Korea said on Monday it is not interested in having another summit with the U.S. in an apparent response to President Donald Trump’s Sunday tweet urging Kim to “act quickly” to “get a deal done.”

North Korean Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan said, “We are no longer interested in such talks that bring nothing to us,” in a statement carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).“As we have got nothing in return, we will no longer gift the U.S. president with something he can boast of.”

Progress on denuclearization talks has been stalled since the Hanoi Summit held in February failed when Trump denied Kim’s request for sanctions relief in exchange for partial denuclearization. Trump, instead, asked Kim to fully denuclearize before any lifting of sanctions can be granted.

After months of stalled negotiations, working-level talks were held in Stockholm in October, but the talks ended quickly without a deal reached when North Korea walked away from the negotiating table.

Revere said North Korea had used negotiations in the past as a cover-up to further develop its nuclear weapons.

“Even when negotiations seemed to be moving in a positive direction, such as in 1994 and 2005, we now know that the North Koreans are determined not to give up their nuclear weapons and used the negotiations to cover their continued pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Revere said.

While North Korea has been engaged with the U.S. this year, it demonstrated it has been developing advanced missile technologies through a series of missile tests it conducted since May.

Missile launches

Amid a flurry of missile launches in August, Pyongyang said it “will never barter the strategic security of the country” even for the sanctions relief it has been seeking since the Hanoi Summit, apparently referring to nuclear weapons when it said the security of the country.

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said, “Kim Jong Un, like his father and other North Korean leaders view nuclear weapons as the ultimate deterrent against the U.S.” He continued, “That’s why they have poured so much of their scarce resources into their missile and nuclear programs over the past four decades.”

According to experts, Pyongyang adheres to the doctrine of nuclear security because it does not think the U.S. will launch an attack against a country that has nuclear weapons to retaliate.

“The North Koreans have long believed that nuclear weapons are an insurance policy against an attack or invasion by the United States,” Revere said. “They have convinced themselves, with good reason, that the United States will not attack a country that has the ability to respond to a U.S. attack with nuclear weapons.”

Thomas Countryman, former acting undersecretary of arms control and international security at the State Department, said, “The DPRK has developed nuclear weapons because it believes this is the ultimate effective deterrent against what it sees as a risk of U.S.-ROK attacks on the DPRK.”

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name in English, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The ROK is an acronym for South Korea’s official English name, the Republic of Korea.

Furthermore, Pyongyang thinks even if it were to launch an attack against South Korea targeting American troops stationed there, the U.S. will not retaliate against North Korea or defend South Korea, Bennett, of Rand Corp., said.

This view, he said, comes from Choi Ju Hwal, a high-ranking military official of the North Korean army who defected to South Korea in 1995 and testified to the U.S. Congress in 1997.

In the testimony Choi said, “Some Americans believe that even if North Korea possessed the ability to strike the United States, it would never dare to because of the devastating consequences.”

Choi continued that North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father, “believes that if North Korea creates more than 20,000 American casualties in the region, the U.S. will roll back and the North Korea will win the war.” Kim Jon Il ruled North Korea from 1994 until 2011.

Bennett said, “I worry that we have not tried to convince Kim Jong Un that that’s a wrong view because an even more senior military defector much more recently has told me that that view continues within the North Korean regime.” ((ACT 2))

'Alliance of convenience'

Bennett said Pyongyang holds this view because it believes the alliance of the U.S. and South Korea is “an alliance of convenience” rather than “an alliance of commitment."

“If indeed, [North Korea] were to kill 20,000 Americans, which is more than 10 times the number of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor, I think you get an idea of what the Americans are likely to do to [North Korea],” Bennett said, pointing out the U.S. policy toward North Korea in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.

The U.S. policy, according to the review, is to end the regime if North Korea were to use nuclear attacks against the U.S. or its allies.

“Our deterrent strategy for North Korea makes clear that any North Korean nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of that regime,” the review said. “There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive.”

It also said the U.S. will target North Korea military forces hidden underground and in natural terrains “at risk.”

Manning, of the Atlantic Council, said, “Any North Korean use of nuclear weapons would be suicidal, as would a major conventional attack on the ROK.” He continued, “Any nuclear use would mean their demise.”

Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA, said, “Once North Korea uses forces in large measure against Seoul, the U.S. would likely take steps to end the North Korean regime.”