Nuclear Capable North Korea – Are the Risks Becoming Uncontrollable?

Most experts have converged on the belief that North Korea (DPRK) now has (a) the ability to produce nuclear warheads, (b) the ability to produce carrier systems (medium and long-range rockets), and, (c) the willingness – under certain circumstances, to use these weapons. No one is delighted by this, not even also China, which always carefully weighs the options of a DPRK collapsing- due to serious sanctions or a military strike against having the nukes available. In Asia, there are conflicting assessments, as there are in Western capitals.

The options include:

— accepting the DPRK as a member of the nuclear club, even without the safeguards of formal restraint;

— sending a clear signal, such as crippling sanctions and/or a nuclear strike;

— muddling through, in the manner of the last 15 years of policy, with the result we described above.

What’s your take?

-Klaus Segbers

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Nuclear Capable North Korea – Are the Risks Becoming Uncontrollable?
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Nuclear Capable North Korea – Are the Risks Becoming Uncontrollable?
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Now that North Korea has successfully tested their long range ballistic missiles and detonated a hydrogen bomb, it is gradually being accepted by experts that North Korea has become nuclear capable. Are the risks becoming uncontrollable?
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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 2 months ago

    At first there is no 100% proofs that DPRK has a long range and not a medium range ballistic missile and the quality of the warhead that enables it to be delivered intercontinentally. Even if this is so, we must admit that DPRK is progressing at quick pace and can have these capabilities in the near future. That makes viable a Russian and Chinese proposal to discuss the situation on a 6-party round-table. The next question if DPRK will agree to discuss, what may be an exchange of concessions to make a Korean peninsula a nuclear-free zone at the same time giving DPRK a guarantee against an American preemptive strike or an external attempt to change the regime.

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  2. Stefan Engert 2 months ago

    North Korea`s (NK) desire for nuclear weapons is the most dangerous (traditional) security challenge in the Asian region. The situation has escalated in a way that a military intervention – even a preemptive nuclear strike – seems to have become the most likely option and something that is increasingly presented as a policy “without any alternative”. It is not that the US has not used other conflict management tools to solve the conflict. Yet, as long as China does not fully commit itself to the sanctions regime, this option remains ineffective – at least until now. What is also clear is that Pyongyang will not give up on its nukes as it views the program as the ultimate safeguard against a possible US intervention (regime security) – the Iraqi example of 2003 is telling in that respect. And this is where we go round in circles. India, Pakistan and Israel also developed nuclear capabilities “illegally”; so what’s the problem with NK? Compared to the other cases mentioned above, it is only a problem if one assumes that NK is a predatory state and that Pyongyang will meet its aggressive words with deeds e.g. by attacking the US, South Korea and / or Japan. As long as this is not de facto the case, I suggest increasing the effectiveness of the sanctions regime by bringing China to return to the negotiating table. Any other policy is likely to end in war too quickly. Politics is the art of the feasible and war is not the continuation of politics by other means.

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  3. Dmitri Mitin 2 months ago

    Ritualistic posturing and protestations aside, the policy of muddling amounts to a de facto acceptance of nuclear and missile-ready DPRK. It is also the least risky and most obvious logic for responding to the maturing warhead and delivery capabilities of North Korea. Frustratingly, “more of the same” approach is reactive, incapable of reversing Pyongyang’s capabilities, and, arguably, not sufficient for curtailing further improvements in weapons design. But it is the best of the bleak options that we have in dealing with the North. It is reasonable to assume that DPRK would not disarm under diplomatic and economic duress, while forced disarmament is not a serious proposition. Threats of crippling sanctions or unleashing “fire and fury” for continuing provocations lack credibility. We are thus stuck with containment, the oscillating sanctions regime, attempts at triangular diplomacy via China, but, above all, deterrence. A threat of retaliation will not rule out North Korea’s brinkmanship, but should be enough for keeping it at bay.

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  4. Shen Dingli 2 months ago

    There have been three assumptions in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. First, we are able to contain it, one way or another. Second, along this line, proper sanctions could reverse North Korea’s nuclear development. Third, as North Korean leader could be irresponsible, we could not accept a nuclear DPRK.

    What about all of them false? First, so far we have surely all overestimated our will and capacity to contain DPRK’s nuclear ambition. Second, we have all underestimated DPRK’s will and capacity to endure all possible international sanctions. I am pretty sure that even if the world, primarily China, cuts all links to Pyongyang, the DPRK would, rather than reverse its nuclear path, only add more nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to its strategic arsenal.

    Therefore, all are left with no choice but live with a nuclear North Korea. Since there is no realistic option of military preemption against the DPRK without generating an even more unacceptable harm on any first attacker, such choice is automatically closed. Then, as sanctions would never work, whatever formality they may take, how could one not to try to live with a nuclear DPRK?

    The third assumption, that a nuclear DORK may be irresponsible, is neither necessary right nor wrong. Understanding the DPRK is kind of surrealist in the world, the ultimate purpose of its nuclear development is logically to defend its regime survival. If this is true, the DPRK would not necessarily be irresponsible in initiating a nuclear first strike, which commits itself a suicide through delivering a nuclear damage against others.

    As a conclusion, living with a nuclear DPRK, while politically pretending not to accept it. Meantime, engaging the regime to shape it with proper sense of responsibility, especially through nuclear self-restrain.

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  5. Anastasia Wischnewskaja 2 months ago

    Since the end of the Cold War red lines became more and more blurred up to non-existent as the recent example of Syria has shown. It are however not only red lines, but also clear-cut rules, that are instrumental for a stable international system and which fell prey to international political adventures of recent years such as Western involvement in Libya and Iraq. Neither American threats, nor its promises will be taken seriously by the DPRK’s government. As military strike is not an option, the most acceptable way appears to be “muddling through” as hard as possible. This would include insisting on implementation of anti-DPRK sanctions including sanctioning China for non-compliance, limiting DPRK’s elites’ access to Western luxury goods and scaling back development and humanitarian cooperation This would include taking into account fatalities in North Korea like it was the case in 1994, but it might be the only way of avoiding uncontrolled damage North Korea might cause if it becomes a full-fledged nuclear power.

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7 Comments

  1. Hossein 2 months ago

    I have studied the North Korean regime and its nuclear program in the last 3 years carefully. what is now clear for me is that they wont stop their nuclear and missile program until their security is assured and North Korea is accepted as a military power. The main problem is that Korean peninsula is still in war condition. still no peace agreement after more than 7 decades. The sanctions never work as they did not for Islamic Republic of Iran. The US and other powers have to come to the conclusion that, they should respect other nations and their conditions. You cant put nuclear warheads targeting a nation, refuse to sign a peace agreement and expect them to do nothing. Every body knows that the very first need of a country is security and for North Korea, their military program (sungun) has become their security assurance. The only solution for the Korean crisis is mutual respect and negotiation. If the US wants to do the same to North Korea as they did to Libya or try to collapse the regime, it would be a mere dream. A second Korean War would result in World War 3. Even the successful regime collapse theory would be a great disaster and the whole region would be affected. I conclude :
    1. The old cease fire should become a permanent and actual peace agreement.
    2.North Korea should be accepted as a normal member of international society.
    3. The US should prove its reliability. it has proven the reverse in previous negotiation with North Korea and now in JCPOA.
    4. The six party talks should be resumed as soon as possible.

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  2. majid torkaman 2 months ago

    there are so much to talk about when it comes to NK. the history of this outrages conflict shows that under different administration in US we experienced policies that couldn’t leash Kim Jong-il and now Kim Jong-un. yet there is less than few hope that US under Trump could lead a mature policy in order to decrease tensions and then start to deal with the fact that the Kim Jong-un doesn’t tweet and nor read his tweets in a way that he think.
    Kim is probably aware of US ultimate goal in korean peninsula and they’re not willing to get along with US, given the fact that he describe his regime’s identity with being anti-us nuclear power.

    At this complicated situation we have to think out of box and put aside the obsolete options. as Putin correctly mentioned that North Korea would rather ‘eat grass’ than give up nukes, so sending signals, such as crippling sanctions and or a nuclear strike have not been useful signals.

    The option is to give proper options to NK which require US to stop the deployment of a missile shield in South Korea and end military exercises with the country and move the way for multilateral talks with NK.

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  3. Stefan Engert 2 months ago

    Trump’s speech at the UN yesterday

    I am still baffled: Did he really say that? Total destruction?! During my time as a political scientist, I never heard a speech in the UN like this. Not to speak of the discourtesy to the Secretary General and the General Assembly only to arrive for HIS speech and afterwords leave again as if only HIS words mattered. A demonstration for a non-interest in any kind of dialogue. He also issued the UN a kind of non-confidence vote in passing by stating that the sovereign nation state only (implicitly meaning: rather than international organizations such as the forum he spoke in front of) are in charge in international relations and thereby disregarded the achievements of international cooperation and norms development of the UN and others over the last 70 years. And then, of course, his use of language that makes me as a German citizen in particular shiver anytime a political decision maker uses ‘Sportpalast’-terminology including words such as “total” or ‘all-out’ based on seemingly no-alternative-assumptions: The US would have “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”? Firstly, there are always other choices – we have not yet entered the stage in which the sanctions-alternative is already discredited or verified as ineffective (China!) and therefore only a pre-emptive strike could hinder a direct attack on South Korea, Japan or the US. The latter is “not true”, just to use a typical wording of Trump. Secondly, Trump is talking about North Korea as if nobody lived there but Kim-Jong un – we are discussing the possible annihilation of 25 million people or what else is meant with “total” destruction of a country?! In my view, an irresponsible careless choice of words and therefore a dangerous linguistic limitation of the political options to come. Trump unnecessarily securitized and escalated the North Korean conflict to the next stage. Finally remarkable: the tower man’s unnecessary rebuffing of the Iran (and any other state that worked so hard for the nuclear deal): If you don’t accept diplomatic alternatives to a military strike, how do you get other states to disarm their nuclear capabilities if not by negotiation, deliberation and forging of common interests, absolute gains and multilateral trust? Trump’s view of the world clearly is dangerously ‘realist’ – meaning the IR school: security, survival, relative gains and military means.

    Dear Mr. President, rationality and reason first, self-righteousness second. By the way, that also concerns you, of course, Mr. Kim-Jong un.

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  4. Joshua Lorenzo Newett 2 months ago

    Sanctions have largely been ineffective at reining in the rouge state and it appears as if they’ll remain so, which leaves two options; a military confrontation or a reexamination of US foreign policy toward the DPRK.

    If the United States and its allies were to mount a military response to the DPRK’s program it would be met with little success and have all the ingredients needed for a large scale catastrophe; weapons of mass destruction(chemical, biological and nuclear), opposing ideologies, super-powers, a history of violence between the parties and densely populated cities on a small peninsula. During the first Korean War “American planes dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea — that is, essentially on North Korea –including 32,557 tons of napalm, compared to 503,000 tons of bombs dropped in the entire Pacific theatre of World War II”.(http://apjjf.org/-Charles-K.-Armstrong/3460/article.html) This indiscriminate bombing failed to obliterate the DPRK or bring about a clear cut victory. As Bruce Cumings points out in The Korean War, the DPRK was reduced to little more than a smoking pile of rubble after the first Korean war yet the country survived. Any preemptive military strike on the peninsula would almost certainly flare up into a much larger conflict which could result in a catastrophic loss of life. In addition to nuclear weapons it is known that the DPRK has a large stockpile of chemical weapons and a massive conventional army. They would prove even stronger with China’s backing, which they would most certainly have if a preemptive strike were to be carried out on the DPRK.

    The only sane and rational choice is to accept the DPRK as a nuclear state and hope they treat weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent and not a way to cleanse the peninsula of ‘Yankees’ and their sympathizers. As B.R. Meyers points out in The Cleanest Race the DPRK is based upon a pure blood, race based nationalism, or minjok(민족). People of the DPRK see the ROK as an abomination, a perverse place were foreign influence, and blood, is ruining not just a culture but a race and a sacred land. The people of the DPRK view the world through a Hobbesian lens; all different, all are enemies. Koreans,(both in the DPRK and ROK) call all non-Koreans wegoogen( 외국인). There are only two groups pf people, ‘us’ and ‘them’. The only hope for a peaceful resolution on the peninsula is to accept a nuclear DPRK and hope their view of the outside world changes over time.

    The situation on the Korean peninsula begs the larger question; what happens after nuclear proliferation? Are we to believe that states are to exist in a perpetual state of assured mutual destruction until the end of time, the Sword of Damocles dangling over the globe? States will either have to explore new ways to exert dominance over one another(an ongoing process), destroy each other (and possibly civilization in the process) or reassess the nature of their relationships to one another; states cannot be forever locked in a Hobbesian existence. As Alexander Wendt said “anarchy is what states make of it”.

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  5. chea sokhalay 2 weeks ago

    In 2006 was the first test of unclear weapon in North Korean. At the time, the world have found any solution for conflate with North Korean. The UN have dissuaded among member about the nuclear weapon in North Korean. United Nations have been inputs sanction in North Korea’s economic. Moreover, North Korean didn’t care about the any inputs sanction of united nation and Korean also still continued adopt and test nuclear weapon. The nuclear weapons’ North Korean is the big issue in the world and North Korean is risks becoming uncontrollable. It is not clear early about who Kim Yon Jong were in the politic of North Korea, but it’s really uncontrolled problem in the world.
    There are four meaning that nuclear weapon in North Korean the risks becoming uncontrolled. Firstly, the reason is conflated with South Korean. It mean that when North Korea successes with test of Nuclear Weapon, the Korea might have nuclear war among North Korea and South Korea. The Innovation In Arms Control: De-Alerting, America’s Defense Monitor, Center for Defense Information, December 26, 1999. He said that “the fate of the planet hung in the balance as hundreds of millions of people were going about their daily lives”. Secondly, the reason is effective with environment. We can’t control with environment because North Korea was not involve with climate change agreement and North Korea careless about the environment issue. It really high risks becoming uncontrollable for national nation in the world. Because the nuclear weapon can be destroy anything in the world as environment. When operated properly “nuclear power plants release virtually no radioactive material to the surrounding environment. In the United States, annual emissions for nuclear power plants are limited to 1 mSv (miliSievert) per person per year. Such exposure is estimated to increase the risk of cancer individual by 0.005% per person per year. For comparison, an average person receives around 3.6 mSv per year, and approximately 80% of this number comes from natural background radiation and cosmic radiation. The other 20% are contributed by the effects of nuclear weapons testing in the early Cold War period (1940-60s)” by Ramana, M. V. “Nuclear Power: Economic, Safety, Health Environmental Issues of Near Term Technologies.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 34 (2009): 127-52. Thirty, demonstrate of negative activity. It mean that Kim Yon Jong demonstrating negative action to another country. Sometime, it might be have another country that they will use of tools negative model for play with politic. In diction, it might be some country will transfer from the action and they can use model for paly with politic.
    Conclusion, there are three risks becoming uncontrollable when North Korea successes with Nuclear Weapon are conflated with South Korea, effective with environment, and demonstrate of negative action. So, we might montane with relationship with North Korean. Sometime, we have discuss with North Korea about the problem with the world.

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  6. My Hao Le Thi 2 weeks ago

    There is no doubt that Nuclear Capable North Korea is one of the menacing concerns to the international peace, stability and security. It sounds paradoxical that while North Korea is just a poor country compared with other powerful nations such as the U.S and China, the risks are becoming uncontrollable. I understand that it is really challenging to impose a policy which can achieve the strong consensus from 5 permanent members of the U.N Security Council, however, international community must continue to put pressure on North Korea. We can see that the sanctions from the U.N are incompetent because over the last 15 years of policy, North Korea not only preserves but also expands its nuclear program. I contend that we should have a both strict and open-door policy. On the one hand, international community should maintain the current sanctions against North Korea or even strengthen them. On the other hand, the nations which play a key role is solving North Korea nuclear issues such as the U.S and China should consider every single option, including attack North Korea. We all know that it is not easy for the U.S and China have a common voice, but the leaders of two countries have to take stronger steps because nuclear war is bigger than any national interests. It is a tremendous threat to the existence of human. An attack should be the last choice when all diplomatic methods fail to end the North Korea problem. By and large, I want to emphasize the importance of the cooperation between 5 permanent members of the U.N Security Council because their decisions may change the North Korea nuclear standoff as long as they speak a common voice.

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  7. Chandara Tim 2 weeks ago

    Despite the sanctions from the United States on trade and economic, North Korea remain establishes and tests more nuclear weapon which keeps the high tension and threat in the Korean Peninsula. The economy of North Korea highly depends on coal sold especially to China. The Coal industry represents almost 90 percents of North Korea’s economy. North Korea has spent so much for the weapons and nuclear programs. However, there are a lot of things to be improved in North Korea. The country shall transfer the resource for the nuclear programs to developing countries through education, infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, social welfare, and so on. North Korea shall cooperate with the international and strengthen its relationship with especially South Korea and around the world for the sake of prosperity of the country and her people.

    It is highly time that North Korea changes its attitude and cooperate with the international to recover its wound and reputations on the international stage. North Korea keeps losing a lot of benefits from trade and economic growth if it continues testing the nuclear program with the sanction from the US and the international. North Korea shall continue its diplomatic negotiation and stop testing its nuclear weapons, yet show that North Korea is willing to cooperate and respect to the UN principle for peace and prosperity in North Korea, Korean Peninsula, as well as in relations with the international. It’s not a hopeful sign for the better future of North Korea to remain under the sanction from the international. The more North Korea is isolated, the more it’s getting worse and deteriorating.

    Also, the international, especially the UNSC plays a very important role in solving problems in the Korean Pennisula for the world peace and security.

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