Carnegie NPP scholar Jon Wolfsthal answered listeners’ questions on North Korea and nuclear weapons capabilities. The nuclear program in North Korea, Wolfsthal explained, began in the 1950s, receiving significant assistance from the former Soviet Union. To date, North Korea has conducted, five nuclear weapons tests, a fact confirmed by the comprehensive test ban treaty organization, an international organization that monitors nuclear testing around the world. North Korea began testing short-range ballistic missiles several decades ago, but over the past three months the international community has witnessed North Korea’s program develop rapidly. The advancements include two weapons systems that could potentially deliver nuclear weapons to the continental United States. What we don’t know, Wolfsthal explains, is whether those systems are reliable, and if they work every time.
Wolfsthal further explained that the United States has engaged in a deterrant relationship with North Korea 50 years, while North Korea has deterred the United States from an attack for 50 years. This relationship can be messy and at times dangerous, but is sustainable if the United States continues to handle the relationship with care.
Though questions remain, there is no doubt that North Korea has crossed a number of thresholds, presenting a significant challenge for the United States and its allies.