Experts Call for U.S.-ROK to Step Up Efforts to Deter North Korean Nuclear Threat

April 12, 2021

With a growing gap between the North Korean nuclear weapon threat and capabilities to defeat it, the United States and the Republic of Korea need to turn their attention to where the threat could be in the mid- to late 2020s and identify options now to counter it, according to a forthcoming paper by the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

Authors will discuss the new research in a media call at 11 a.m. ET Monday April 12. The paper and comments made during the call are embargoed for release at 8 p.m. ET Monday April 12. For details on how to join the call or to obtain an advance copy of the 100-page paper, please email media@rand.org.

The authors estimate that North Korea could have 200 nuclear weapons, plus several dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and hundreds of theater missiles for delivering them, by 2027. They conclude that the ROK and the United States are not prepared to deal with the leverage that these weapons would give North Korea.

North Korea will prefer to use its nuclear weapons for coercion and deterrence because such a strategy might be effective in achieving its objectives and pose less risk to the regime than nuclear weapon attacks, according to the paper. But North Korea's existing arsenal—an estimated 50 or more nuclear weapons—is dangerous and requires immediate enhanced ROK and U.S. defenses.

At the same time, the ROK and the United States should not abandon the potential of denuclearization and should challenge North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to demonstrate some reduction in his nuclear weapon threat, the authors write.

Authors of the report are Bruce W. Bennett, adjunct international and defense researcher at RAND; Kang Choi, vice president for research and a principal fellow at the Asan Institute; Myong-Hyun Go, a senior research fellow at Asan; Bruce E. Bechtol Jr., professor of political science at Angelo State University; Jiyoung Park, senior fellow at Asan; Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation; and Du-Hyeogn Cha, principal fellow of Asan.

Bennett, Bechtol and Klingner will participate in the media call being organized by RAND at 11 a.m. ET Monday April 12. Please email media@rand.org to participate.

The other authors will participate in an event being organized later in the day by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, which funded the research. For information on that event please contact communications@asaninst.org.

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