An Investigation into North Korea’s ‘Real’ Nuclear Strategy: A Comparison with Pakistan’s Case

Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
An Investigation into
North Korea’s ‘Real’
Nuclear Strategy: A
Comparison with
Pakistan’s Case
Hwee-rhak Park1
The purpose of this article is to ascertain North Korea’s ‘real’ nuclear strategy.
This article uses the ‘Strategy = Ends + Ways + Means’ construct for the
ascertainment, and it makes comparisons to Pakistan’s nuclear strategy. This
article found that North Korea’s goal of its nuclear armament was as ideological
and aggressive as Pakistan’s, and that its nuclear strategy is closer to the ‘minimal
deterrence strategy’ than Pakistan’s. North Korea seems more desperate than
Pakistan because of its dire economic situation and the uncertain future of the
Kim family dynasty. It could, therefore, try to achieve its goal, the reunification of
South Korea, as soon as it has sufficient capabilities for the strategy. The United
States and South Korea should be prepared for the worst-case scenario, which is
North Korea’s reunification war against South Korea under the threat of nuclear
attack on the US mainland and South Korea.
North Korea nuclear, Pakistan nuclear, nuclear deterrence, North Korea
denuclearisation, nuclear strategy
Denuclearisation negotiations between the United States and North Korea in 2018–
2019 yielded no positive results. It only provided North Korea with the time to
reinforce its nuclear forces. North Korea possessed 20 nuclear weapons in February
2022, according to the Federation of American Scientists (Kristensen & Korda,
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
9(2) 207–230, 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970221098467
1 Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA
Corresponding author:
Hwee-rhak Park, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, 160 Packard Ave,
Medford, MA 02155, USA.
208 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 9(2)
2022). However, a joint report released on 13 April 2021 by two prominent research
institutes in the United States (RAND) and South Korea (The Asan Institute for
Policy Studies) revealed that the situation looks more ominous. North Korea had
between 67 and 116 nuclear weapons in 2020, with the capability of producing 12–18
per year, and they could have as many as 151–242 by 2027 (Bennett et al., 2021).
North Korea has developed a variety of missile systems to deliver these nuclear
weapons, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-
launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). During the January 2021 Party Congress, it
even announced plans to develop a nuclear-powered submarine (SSBN), multiple-
warhead missiles, and solid-fuelled missiles (Cheong, 2021, p. 1). We cannot ignore
the need to rethink North Korea’s ultimate and ‘real’ goal and strategy after seeing
these ambitious nuclear build-ups.
Nobody knows for sure what North Korea’s nuclear strategy is, given the
country’s notoriety for secrecy and deception. We cannot trust any North Korean
statement or action, as they must be the result of North Korea’s deception operations.
Given the recent failure of the denuclearisation negotiations, North Korea did not
develop its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip in the negotiations but desired to
possess them. We must adopt more credible methods to establish a link between
North Korea’s audacious nuclear build-ups and its nuclear strategy. In this regard,
the US military’s strategy construct ‘Strategy (broad definition) = Ends + Ways +
Means’ (Lykke, 2001, p. 179; U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2020, p. I–3), may be useful
in determining the uncertain North Korea’s goal (Ends) and strategic concept for
achieving the goal (Ways), based on North Korea’s relatively certain nuclear
capabilities (Means). The United States and South Korea should be better prepared
to deal with a probable offensive nuclear strategy by North Korea.
Some may argue that the real nuclear strategy of North Korea is already known.
While this may be true for some, most people seem to be confused by the different
explanations of various experts. More importantly, the critical aspect of your
opponent’s analysis is not the conclusion itself, but the degree to which the
conclusion is credible. In other words, we must arrive at a conclusion objectively
and logically, convince the majority of people, and establish a consensus. You
cannot act unless you have strong confidence in your evaluation of your opponent’s
goal and strategy. That is why most scholars emphasise the use of the right
methodology for correct analysis.
Indeed, North Korea’s nuclear strategy has been extensively studied by South
Korean scholars, who published their findings continuously (Choi, 2014; Kim &
Namkoong, 2018; Kim, 2016; Kim, 2021; Lee, 2019; Park, 2019, 2020), though
their articles were nearly impossible for foreign scholars to read because they
were written in Korean. A few South Korean scholars even published their articles
in English (Lee & Alexandrova, 2021 ; Lee & Lee, 2020; Oh, 2019), though their
works were insufficiently comprehensive, as the majority applied Vipin Narang’s
nuclear strategies to North Korea. The analyses of South Korean scholars in
particular were based on North Korean statements and actions or on the scholars’
subjective perceptions of North Korea. As a result, they explained that North
Korea’s goal and strategy for having nuclear weapons was to be defensive, which
may not be true, given the recent failure of denuclearisation and the continuous
strengthening of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

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