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How to Reason With a Nuclear Rogue

Published by Foreign Policy

By Jon Wolfsthal

As with China 50 years ago, the situation leaves only one real option: deterrence. North Korea is not a suicidal state. Far from it. Their pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles appears driven, as far as we can divine, from a desire to preserve the regime. What remains unclear is how North Korea will behave now that it has demonstrated an ability to hit U.S. territory. The answer may be: It will behave similarly to how it has behaved for decades, in light of its ability to deter a U.S. conventional attack by holding Japan and South Korea hostage. The North has avoided steps that risk full-scale war, but is eager to undermine the U.S.-South Korean alliance, and damage the leadership in South Korea, including through blatant acts of aggression. But the American security community has been focused for so long on negotiating an end to North Korea’s program that we have not done the hard work of figuring out how to successfully manage the much more complex deterrent relationship now emerging.

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