North Korea – officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) - is a significant and credible nuclear threat to the United States, as well as to our allies, South Korea and Japan.
- Since coming to power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has rapidly developed ballistic missiles that are capable of targeting anywhere in the United States and creating mass destruction.
- The U.S. military has missile defense systems deployed in Alaska and California that can shoot down some North Korean missiles headed for the United States.
- However, North Korea’s technological advancements and growing number of ballistic missiles could ultimately overwhelm our missile defense systems if we do not modernize. But Biden’s administration is refusing to take the necessary steps to fully protect Americans.
- The United States must not be tricked into relieving pressure on the Kim regime and giving unilateral concessions until Kim Jong Un gives up North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
How does North Korea threaten Americans?
- North Korea possesses two direct and overlapping threats to the security of the United States, our citizens, and our allies:
- Their ballistic missile arsenal, armed with nukes, is capable of reaching military bases and cities across South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. homeland.
- A conventional force consisting mostly of artillery and infantry that can attack South Korea and destroy its major cities, home to tens of thousands of Americans, with little warning.
- North Korea attempts to evade sanctions and send weapons around the world to various terrorists and enemy states. In the past two decades North Korea has been caught sending and receiving weapons with Iran and Cuba.
- North Korea’s rhetoric to the United States and our officials is viciously hostile. Kim Jong Un attempts to deploy scare tactics threatening to destroy U.S. cities and wage war in the region.
Why Do We have troops in South Korea and Japan? Is it worth it?
- The U.S. provides security commitments to both Japan and South Korea. We keep troops in each country to uphold our promises but benefit massively from their security and stability.
- After we destroyed the Japanese empire in WWII, we prohibited Japan from rebuilding its military. In exchange, we guaranteed the future protection of Japanese citizens from new threats.
- We have around 50,000 soldiers stationed in Japan today. Now, they are one of the United States’ closest allies in Asia and we sold $75 billion of goods to Japan in 2021.
The United States has also guaranteed South Korea’s protection since the bloody Korean War when communists in the North quickly overtook the peninsula. The United Nations, led by the United States, deployed troops and preserved South Korea’s freedom from North Korea.
- Note: Officially, the Korean War has never ended because a full peace treaty has not yet been signed – only a ceasefire in 1953. North Korea wants a peace treaty from the United States.
- The U.S. military keeps 30,000 troops in South Korea, alongside advanced weapon systems and the U.S. Navy’s reassuring presence. The U.S. military deters North Korea and other actors such as the Chinese Communist Party from directly invading again. As a result of U.S. troop presence, the Korean peninsula has been largely peaceful for 70 years. We sold South Korea $65 billion of goods in 2021.
How Do We Deter North Korea’s Nuclear/Missile Threat?
- North Korea’s ability to use their nuclear weapons themselves depends on the delivery system: intercontinental ballistic missiles. Kim Jong Un has conducted over 100 more missile launches than his predecessors and shows no signs of slowing down.
- While North Korea has nuclear missiles capable of hitting the U.S. homeland, our military presently maintains the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System (GMD) designed to intercept incoming North Korean missiles before they can reach the homeland. The GMD is deployed at Fort Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
- In current war-game scenarios, if North Korea launched a first strike ballistic missile, the United States could shoot it down and respond by destroying North Korea.
- However, the rate at which North Korea is building nuclear payloads and missiles decreases the likelihood of our defense systems intercepting an incoming North Korean rocket. That sends a dangerous message of weakness that emboldens our enemies to make a foolish mistake against our interests.
- The United States is presently equipped with between 40 and 44 operable interceptors to knock down incoming North Korean missiles, which cost around $75 million per interceptor. However, this means that if North Korea could shoot 41 nuclear-armed missiles at once, our defenses at most could only stop the first 40, and the U.S. homeland would get hit by a nuclear attack. Once their missiles outnumber our interceptors, the calculus gets dangerous for us.
- The interceptors are not designed to deter China or Russia. Both these nations could easily overpower our defenses. However, our second-strike capability is what stops them from ever firing; Russia, China, and the United States all already face mutually assured destruction.
- Presidential administrations, regardless of political party, have not successfully deterred North Korea’s nuclear build-up. North Korea has faced excruciating sanctions from most of the world but helps stay afloat with support from the Chinese Communist Party.
Supporting U.S. Missile Defense
- The Biden Administration is considering a proposal to abandon matching the U.S. homeland ballistic missile defenses with North Korean nuclear capabilities, whereas the Trump Administration had committed to build up to 64 missile interceptors.
- Kim Jong Un will see any policy choice by the Biden Administration to weaken U.S. missile defense as a unilateral U.S. concession that only validates his efforts to expand North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
- The United States should design a homeland missile defense system at minimum to keep pace with the North Korean nuclear threat, and any potential Iranian nuclear threat, in order to effectively extend deterrence and assure allies.
North Korean Nuke Timeline:
- 1967: North Korea first received nuclear technology from the Soviets.
- Early 1990s: The Kim dynasty turned inward after the fall of the Soviet Union and decreasing support from China. They sought nuclear weaponry and ballistic missiles to advance military provocation in the region and deter potential aggressors.
- 1994: North Korea signed the Agreed Framework with the Clinton Administration, where they agreed to freeze operation and construction of nuclear reactors in exchange for oil from the United States.
- 1998: North Korea successfully tested a short-range missile that flew directly over Japan and was capable of delivering payloads to Hawaii or Alaska. North Korea claimed the missile was a satellite deployment.
- 2002: After credible U.S. allegations, North Korea admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons program.
- 2003: North Korea abruptly withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and signaled to China its intent to break agreements that restricted testing long-range missiles. North Korea admitted to the United States that it has nuclear weapons.
- 2006: North Korea conducted a successful nuclear underground test and long-range ballistic missile test.
- 2009: North Korea conducted its second underground nuclear test.
- 2015: North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.
- 2017: North Korea conducts tens of missiles tests, many over South Korean and Japanese airspace.
- 2018-present: President Trump meets with Kim Jong Un on three occasions, but did not come to an explicit agreement. North Korea continues to test ballistic missiles at a pace higher than before.