Issue #3: The Nuclear North

Why is North Korea so insistent on creating a ballistic nuclear weapon?



Recently the Trump administration officially named North Korea “a state sponsor of terror.”



While this new moniker does the usual in reprimanding North Korea, a practice that Donald Trump has done quite often since becoming president, it also adds another layer of sanctions to North Korea in hopes of curbing their nuclear program. Yet while there are legitimate questions to whether sanctions are effective against North Korea, there is one thing the international community generally agrees with: that North Korea should not ascertain ballistic nuclear weapons. Over the last couple of years, North Korea has become a pariah in the international community over their goal of nuclear proliferation.


So the question; why do it? Why would North Korea risk alienation from the international community to obtain ballistic nuclear weapons?



The Nuclear Club


For years now, a nation-state trying to acquire nuclear weapon capabilities has been something more than just about national defense. It became a symbol of prominence and strength on the world’s stage. The countries that were able to ascertain nuclear weapons offered them admission to a very exclusive club within the international community: the Nuclear Club.


The Nuclear Club is a list of nations that have detonated a nuclear weapon successfully. The Nuclear Club consists of:


  • USA

  • Russia

  • United Kingdom

  • France

  • China

  • India

  • Pakistan

  • Israel*


(*Note: While there is no direct evidence to the fact that Israel has the capability to detonate a nuclear weapon, it’s widely believed from multiple groups that they possess the abilities to do so.)   


Of those eight countries that are considered to be part of the Nuclear Club, North Korea had become the ninth with their successful nuclear test back in 2006.



Since then, North Korea has aggressively expanded their nuclear capabilities that include doing more nuclear tests with higher yield rates (testing bombs that have a higher destructive power) and even claiming to have tested a hydrogen bomb. While these tests have always been considered to be a threat to US allies in the region, most notably South Korea and Japan, North Korea’s nuclear capability was never considered a direct nuclear threat to the US mainland. That is until the ballistic tests that North Korea had conducted earlier in 2017.



With North Korea suddenly having the mere potential of reaching the US mainland with a nuclear tipped ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile), it potentially reaches the ranks of an even more exclusive club than the Nuclear Club; nations that possess the capabilities of a nuclear triad.


Even within the Nuclear Club, there have always been a hierarchy within the nations that separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Nations that possessed the ability of a nuclear triad – the ability to deliver a nuclear arsenal through land, water, and air – have always separated themselves from everyone else. Out of the countries in the Nuclear Club, only United States, Russia, China, and India are known to be capable of such a feat (with Israel once again expected to have the capabilities, but not confirmed).


It isn’t a fluke that the nuclear triad countries present a certain standing on the world stage. Each country not only presents a prominent force in terms of their obvious military might, but also in their global economic standing. Each of the four known nuclear triads are all G-20 members (countries that dictate global financial policies), but are also important players in deciding decisions on a global scale. For North Korea, obtaining the ability to use ballistic missiles and become a nuclear triad is more than just about national defense; they believe it’s their ticket to entering a selective group in the international community.



The Ultimate Bargaining Chip


Since the division of the Koreas in 1945, both North and South Korea have been on completely different trajectories. While South Korea continues to grow economically at a steady rate, North Korea has never been the most stable.  The overall financial instability of North Korea is believed to be real and over the years, many countries surrounding North Korea have created contingency plans in the event that there was a regime collapse.


While North Korea boasts prosperity through its perceived military strength; this outward showing comes at an extreme cost. It’s been well documented that the country struggles with crippling poverty and economic stagnation due to its national budget not being implemented back into the country’s infrastructure. If left to their own devices, North Korea looks to be the classic example of a nation state that’s slowly, but surely, headed towards collapse. North Korea’s only goal at this point is self-preservation.


For North Korea, the obtaining of nuclear weapons becomes less a protectionary measure when looked at it from a more holistic world view. As we said earlier, obtaining a nuclear weapon puts North Korea in a very exclusive group of countries (ie the Nuclear Club). If on the way they’re able to gain the technology to successfully launch an ICBM, they would enter the even more selective company of countries that possess the nuclear triad! In many ways, North Korea hopes their nuclear program will be treated similarly to how Pakistan and India’s nuclear programs were treated with their tests back in the late-90’s; original condemnation from the international community, with begrudging acceptance of their programs years later.


Also the international community would unlikely let North Korea’s current regime fail if they were to have a large nuclear program. After all, a failed nation state with a sizable nuclear arsenal is too volatile for the international community at-large to let happen. If nothing else, North Korea’s nuclear program also becomes an interesting bargaining chip to gain access to the international community. Not only would they be among the handful of nations that have nuclear weapons, but negotiating various aspects of their nuclear program could be used to lifting some of the more stringent sanctions brought on by the international community.


For the time being anyway, North Korea looks to be sacrificing economic stability/growth, for the current regime’s self-preservation. The obtaining of nuclear weapons for North Korea, while bringing heat from the international community, could ironically be their ticket into it.



(Photo Credit: Google Images,


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