What does North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic arsenal mean for Trump-Kim summit?

Would we be approaching Trump-Kim summit without the fact that North Korea sees its nuclear and balistic programme as successful, do you assess nuclear and balistic programme of NK as successful, and why? Read few comments.


Edward Howell, ESRC Scholar in International Relations, University of Oxford

The North Korean nuclear programme may have been successful on its own terms, as a tool for bolstering domestic legitimacy, and ultimately, keeping the security of the Kim regime. Pyongyang’ s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons has acted as a viable deterrent for over 65 years. Aside from the North’s provocations and tests, the Peninsula has been relatively stable: there has been no Korean War 2.0. Of course, we can never be sure as to the actual capability of North Korea’s missiles: remember that the ICBM it launched last year collapsed into the Sea of Japan. Yet perhaps we should look at ‘success’ not simply in terms of its ability to target the USA (long-range missiles), or US-allies in East Asia (short-range missiles). The North’s nuclear programs have been a successful bargaining tool – by expressing its will to ‘denuclearize’, which the North emphasized again at the inter-Korean summit on April 27, it can use this as a way of gaining leverage over the USA. And let’s be serious – the North is not going to abandon something it has spent over forty years procuring, any time soon.

Ronald HuiskenSenior Fellow, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

The simple answer is no. The DPRK has a small but skillful and resourceful force of nuclear/ballistic missile scientists and technicians, and they have been working hard for a long time. What happened over the past few years could all be attributed to a long-term investment paying off. If this story can ever be told some countries will be deeply embarrassed. But my sense is that the DPRK accessed some critical new knowledge and assistance in both warhead configuration and propulsion, fuels, fuselage materials for ballistic missiles that enabled the quite spectacular successes we saw since around 2015. This allowed Kim to think of a significantly higher price for winding his program back than his father achieved in the Six-Party deal of 2005. Again, the source of this new knowledge and assistance will be the mother of all stories if it comes out. But it remains the case that I think Kim has decided to see if what he can get for his nuclear/ballistic missile program feels better than indefinite sanctions and absolute dependence on China.

Tong Zhao, Fellow, Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy

I think North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are successful. North Korea has conducted 6 nuclear tests. During this process, it has shifted from testing a fission bomb to testing a much more complex hydrogen bomb, which means it felt comfortable with its capability to miniaturize the fission bomb. North Korea has also conducted three generally successful ICBM tests. There is little doubt that North Korea can deliver a heavy payload to the US homeland. That said, there is some debate about whether NK has developed a fully reliable reentry vehicle for the ICBM. However, that does not matter that much. As long as the US cannot completely rule out the possibility that the reentry vehicle might work if actually used, then the North Korean deterrent exists. In this sense, NK has already acquired a rudimentary nuclear deterrent capability.

Benjamin Young, PhD Candidate in Asian History, George Washington University

North Korea is a de facto nuclear state. That’s basically a fact agreed upon by many North Korea analysts and experts. They’ve successfully demonstrated their nuclear capabilities via numerous tests. The only mystery is if their ICBM could reach the U.S mainland, my assumption is that it could.

Malcolm Cook, Senior Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

Yes, I think the North Korean missile and nuclear programs have been successful in creating a deterrent effect and for getting the US President to the table. Without the credible but untested North Korean ICBM threat to the US homeland, I am not sure that the 12 June would have been agreed to by the US side.

Benjamin HabibLecturer in Politics & International Relations,, La Trobe University

In answer to your question, North Korea has (or is close enough to) a deployable nuclear weapons capability.  Kim appears enthusiastic to talk now with the Americans because in nuclear weapons his government has the strategic leverage it needs to negotiate from a position of relative strength.  North Korea wants to negotiate a peace agreement with the United States, but under Pyongyang’s terms.

Ankit Panda, Senior Editor, The Diplomat

Defining success for a program like this is not straightforward, but I would say that Kim has accomplished what he set out to do with his programs, which is give himself a credible deterrent and a much stronger basis on which to enter talks with the United States.

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