North Korea Sees Nuclear Weapons as Key to its Strategy, Pentagon Report Says

A newly released Pentagon report emphasizes the importance North Korea attaches to nuclear weapons. This unclassified chart, included in the report, lists the country's known ballistic missile capabilities.

A newly released Defense Department report emphasizes the importance North Korea places on its nuclear weapons as a defense against the United States and its allies.

The report was first posted by the Federation of American Scientists before being posted on the Pentagon’s website. Its release comes as President Donald Trump prepares for a summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, next month in Singapore, although it is not clear that that summit will still occur.

Pyongyang, the report says, “portrays nuclear weapons as its most effective way to deter the threat it claims from the United States and its allies.” The country, it says, points to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya interventions “as evidence that possession of nuclear weapons is necessary to prevent US action in North Korea.”

At the same time, increased nuclear and missile testing and the country’s new rhetoric about reaching “final victory” over the United States and reunification with South Korea, “suggest the regime seeks to achieve a capability that goes beyond minimal deterrence to one that could provide greater freedom of action for North Korean aggression or coercion against its neighbors,” according to the report.

North Korea may have concluded “incorrectly” that having nuclear weapons gives it immunity from retaliation if it attacks a nonnunclear state, the report states.

The 23-page report points to North Korean nuclear ambitions at several points, including a description of its interest, as part of its efforts to keep the Kim family in power, in gaining international acceptance as a nuclear state and having a viable nuclear strike capability.

Reunification with South Korea, by force if needed, “is a key component of North Korea’s national identity,” according to the report, which also states that North Korean leaders probably realize forcing reunification under North Korean control will not happen while South Korea has better military capabilities and an alliance with the United States.

The country’s nuclear weapons development is therefore “probably designed with the assessment that nuclear weapons will deter foreign intervention if Pyongyang attempts to reunify the peninsula by force or coercion.