North Korea’s nuclear strategy appears to be departing from traditional deterrence principles, indicating a shift towards potential pre-emptive use of its nuclear capabilities. While North Korea had initially focused on building a robust ICBM force to deter the United States, its strategy has evolved beyond traditional deterrence. There’s also the notion that North Korea may aim to create a ‘nuclear shadow’ over its conventional forces to discourage comprehensive US military intervention. Consequently, North and South Korea are locked in a competitive cycle marked by efforts to balance each other’s increasing military capabilities.
This report from the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network (APLN) addresses several critical questions arising from these developments. It is divided into two parts, with the first focusing on arms control stability on the Korean Peninsula, analysing North Korea’s nuclear posture and its implications. The second part explores crisis stability, considering the impact of simultaneous crises in Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula on North Korea’s strategic calculations.
The report by Jina Kim offers policy recommendations for South Korean policymakers to address these challenges effectively:
- Resume inter-Korean dialogue to build trust and establish operational hotlines for preventing inadvertent confrontations;
- Initiate crisis management dialogues with China through academic forums and government-level discussions to minimise unwarranted responses and deter crisis escalation;
- Create a regional dialogue for security cooperation, focusing on confidence-building measures to address grey-zone conflicts, proactive preparation for potential Taiwan-related crises, and collaboration with friendly nations for effective crisis management;
- Develop flexible response measures that avoid threatening adversaries’ survival and promote adaptable plans for near-nuclear crises;
- Explore comprehensive arms control measures that bridge North Korea’s security concerns and encourage negotiations on corresponding measures to improve regional stability.
This paper is part of the Asia-Pacific Strategic Risks project, a joint project between the ELN and the APLN, that convenes government officials, experts, and practitioners from South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the UK to discuss how changing threat perceptions impact new and ongoing proliferation challenges and what policy solutions can address them, including steps to encourage strategic restraint, greater collaboration and carefully honed nuclear risk reduction diplomacy.
Read the policy brief here.
Image: Flickr, Antti Lipponen
The opinions articulated in the report represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network or the European Leadership Network, or any of their members.