Log in to get started!

Don't have an account yet? You can create one below.

Student Instructor

North Korean Nuclear Threat

Kim Jong Un
North Korean parade.

The use of nuclear weapons should be unthinkable.  Even the threat of their use can never be condoned.  But, today, global anxieties about nuclear weapons are at the highest level since the end of the cold war.”


— Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, September 19, 2017

2.1 The Issue

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea, has been pursuing nuclear weapons for decades, to the dismay of Western countries and of its neighbors in East Asia. Some U.S. military officials now believe that North Korea has the capability to strike distant targets, including the continental United States, with a nuclear weapon, although tests have not yet proved such capability. In September 2017, Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test and declared that the country had perfected its nuclear warhead design, hinting at the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon on a missile. Whether it has that ability is unconfirmed, but most analysts agree that North Korea has a reliable nuclear weapons capability to strike Japan and South Korea.


The UN Security Council, alongside many individual countries, has condemned the nuclear testing and implemented a program of stringent sanctions to convince North Korea’s leadership to change direction and denuclearize. Despite these efforts, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un believes that his country should be a nuclear weapons state and continues to pursue the ability to strike its adversaries, chiefly the United States, with a nuclear weapon. He is also determined to deter any initial conventional or nuclear attack by building a nuclear arsenal that could survive the first strike. Analysts believe that if Kim gains these capabilities, dealing with the North Korean threat will become much more difficult for other nations.

Decision Point

NSC Meeting

U.S. intelligence officials now believe, based on debris recovered from a recent North Korean satellite launch, that Pyongyang has the nuclear weapons technology needed to reach the west coast of North America. The launch came days after Kim suspended nuclear negotiations with the United States, citing concerns over inspections of its nuclear sites. The U.S. director of national intelligence has concluded that the launch, combined with North Korea’s ongoing nuclear tests and its mastery of warhead miniaturization technology, means that the country is finally capable of following through on past threats to fire nuclear-armed missiles at the United States. The United States has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council to present this new intelligence and discuss an international response to North Korea’s enhanced capabilities.

GO TO SECTION 3.1

You are currently previewing the North Korean Nuclear Threat Basic case.

View Full Basic Case Build a Simulation