Is it time to accept the reality of a nuclear-armed North Korea?

John Cassidy writes: In May of 2013, Terence Roehrig, the director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Group at the U.S. Naval War College, in Newport, Rhode Island, wrote a brief on the North Korean nuclear situation. “Given its rhetoric and continued testing of both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Pyongyang will likely go beyond its current capability to pursue a small operational program, perhaps 20-40 warheads, though these figures are speculative,” the report, which was published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, at Harvard, said. “Should the DPRK seek to develop a small operational nuclear weapons capability there may be little that can be done other than to make this a long and costly process.”

At the time, the Obama Administration—like the Bush and Clinton Administrations before it—was pursuing a policy of “denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, which involved trying to persuade Kim Jong-un, the young dictatorial leader of North Korea, to give up on his nuclear program. Roehrig expressed skepticism about whether this policy would work, noting, “Some continue to hope that the DPRK may yet be willing to relinquish its nuclear weapons for a suitable package of incentives, but that outcome appears increasingly unlikely.” In the coming years, Roehrig went on, “deterrence on the Korean Peninsula is likely to have a new dimension—North Korea with nuclear weapons. Whether this reality is recognized by the international community or not, all countries will need to figure out how to deal with a nuclear North Korea while maintaining peace and security in the region.”

Three and a half years later, Roehrig’s analysis looks prescient. [Continue reading…]

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