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, and most powerful, nuclear test, and declared that the country had perfected its nuclear warhead design, hinting at the ability to launch a nuclear weapon on a missile. Whether North Korea has the ability to accurately deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental United States 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 Korea’s 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 the United States and other countries.