Deterring North Korea from Using WMD in Future Conflicts and Crises

Published in: Strategic Studies Quarterly, v. 6, no. 4, Winter 2012, p. 119-151

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012

by Bruce W. Bennett

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The United States and its allies need an effective means to deter North Korea's use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). North Korean leaders appear insensitive to the kind of "assured destruction" nuclear weapon retaliatory threats against cities and industry that formed the basis for Cold War deterrence. Deterrence of North Korean WMD use needs to be based more on the ability to defeat that use and deny its objectives while still threatening retaliation that would undermine or destroy the North Korean regime. This article describes such a deterrent approach, first by characterizing North Korea as a failing state—one which has used crises and may yet try to use conflict to strengthen the regime. It then addresses the nature of North Korea's WMD threat, how that threat might be used, and the damage that could result. The study concludes by discussing how the United States and the ROK might deter North Korean WMD threats in conflict and crisis.

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