25 August 2017

Deterring North Korea: The Next Nuclear-Tailoring Agenda


North Korea is marching toward full-fledged nuclear-armed status, having conducted its first test of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in early July, quickly followed by another one. With this comes the risk that Pyongyang becomes more militarily aggressive, notably toward its neighbors: U.S. allies South Korea and Japan. In response, Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo should strengthen their deterrence and defense capabilities, postures, and policies. That requires heavy-lifting at the conventional level, but also adapting the nuclear posture, or “nuclear tailoring.”

Much has already been accomplished, especially since the sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Islandby Pyongyang in 2010. In consultation with its allies, Washington revised its nuclear policies and capabilities in the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. Washington rejected the notion that the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attacks against the United States or its allies, and committed to modernizing the nuclear arsenal. The review also confirmed reliance on U.S. strategic forces for Northeast Asia and, while retiring the nuclear variant of its Tomahawk cruise missile, decided to maintain a capability to forward-deploy nuclear-capable bombers to visibly show American resolve during a crisis.

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