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The Surprisingly Simple Reason North Korea Has Nuclear Weapons

Published by the National Interest

By Robert E. Kelly

Since the launch of a North Korean medium- to long-range intercontinental missile this month, there has been much anxiety about Pyongyang’s ability to strike U.S. cities. It seems likely that North Korea can at least strike Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. Some analysts have suggested Pyongyang already has the capability to strike the east coast of the United States. Skepticism may be warranted. North Korea may have trouble with missile reentry, guidance, warhead miniaturization and other technical issues. But nonetheless, it appears quite likely that if Pyongyang does not yet have the ability to strike the lower forty-eight American states, it will soon. Last month, I suggested the United States is on countdown of sorts. North Korea is rushing toward a nuclear ICBM, and Americans will soon be forced to adapt to it, or fight. It seems that decision fork is coming sooner than many expected.

Striking North Korea would be incredibly risky, and the United States has learned to live with other states’ nuclear missilization. Russia, China and Pakistan are powers whom Washington would almost certainly prefer were not nuclear. Yet the United States has adjusted. Each of those three, including Pakistan, has treated its weapons reasonably carefully. There has not been the much-feared accidental launch or hand-off to terrorist groups. All appear to think of their nuclear weapons as defensive and for deterrence purposes. Indeed, the offensive potential of nuclear weapons is curiously constrained. They would so devastate an enemy that conquest of said enemy would be pointless—who wants to take-over an irradiated wasteland? Plus, nuclear use would likely bring nuclear retaliation on the attacker, in which case any benefit of a war would be lost to the huge costs of nuclear destruction in the homeland.

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