Report Warns of N.Korea’s Rapid Nuclear Buildup

North Korea will have nearly 250 nuclear weapons by 2027 and could use them on the Korean Peninsula, a report warns.

The Asian Institute for Policy Studies and the Rand Corporation made the estimate in the joint report “Countering the Risks of North Korean Nuclear Weapons” published on Tuesday.

The report estimates that the North’s nuclear weapons have been increasing by 12 to 18 a year since 2017, “with the starting value of 30 to 60 nuclear weapons in 2017.” At this rate their number will grow to anywhere between 151 and 242 by 2027.

The effort to denuclearize the North has failed so far and “seems likely to continue failing,” the report warns. The authors also lay out various scenarios that could prompt the North to use these weapons, from “intimidation, coercion, and deterrence” to “major warfare.”

This could include trying to seize South Korea’s northwesternmost islands just south of the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea, or targeting major cities like Seoul and Busan.

This combined file photo shows North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles during military parades in Pyongyang in October 2020 (right) and January 2021.

The report says the North could also target various locations in Japan to cut off the supply of U.S. reinforcements in the event of a war.

It cites 1997 testimony from a former high-ranking military official who defected to South Korea that the regime believes that “if North Korea creates more than 20,000 American casualties in the region, the U.S. will roll back and the North Korea will win the war.”

Even “major warfare with nuclear weapons” is a possibility. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the military in 2012 “to develop a new strategy to invade and occupy Seoul within three days and all of [South Korea] within seven days.” The regime concluded it “must prevail quickly before U.S. reinforcements could arrive.” To this end, the North would attempt to launch a “surprise attack of 40 to 60 nuclear weapons against military and political targets” in South Korea.

But the regime could also simply continue to increase its stockpile of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles to sow “doubt as to whether Washington would come to allies’ defense once the U.S. homeland is under nuclear threat.” “The North Korean regime might believe that, when it has enough nuclear weapons and ICBMs (maybe 30 to 50),” the U.S. would back out of a direct confrontation to avoid damage to its own people.

It warns that the North could also play a role in spreading nuclear weapons around the world. “As the number of North Korean nuclear weapons hits 100 or so, the North Korean leaders might perceive that they could make some of those weapons available for sale,” it says.

In that event, it advises the U.S. to “warn the North that if it appears to have fielded an unacceptable number of nuclear weapons (maybe 80 to 100), [South Korea] and U.S. might be forced to prepare to execute preemptive counterforce or decapitation attacks, or both.”

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Lohit Soundarajan

Founder , Editor Tech Guy #Voxguy

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