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In this APLN Special Report titled “Nuclear Weapons and Delivery Systems That Might Be Implicated in Nuclear Use Involving the Korean Peninsula,” Matt Korda presents a comprehensive account of the DPRK’s nuclear warheads, delivery systems, fuel types, and launch systems, followed by an analysis of the DPRK’s and the United States’ nuclear doctrine and potential nuclear use.
Korda argues that it is highly unlikely that the DPRK would intentionally launch nuclear weapons in the absence of an immediate existential threat to the continued survival of the state and its political leadership. However, in the event of such a scenario––for example, the prospect of an imminent US invasion or regime change operation––it is likely that the DPRK would use its nuclear weapons to forestall US or ROK action.
The DPRK could then use its short- and medium-range ballistic missiles to strike political and military targets in the ROK and Japan and use its intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike US military targets, including Guam, Hawaii, and the continental United States.
Similarly, it is unlikely that the United States would initiate a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula unless it believed that the DPRK was about to launch its own nuclear weapons. However, in the event of such a case, it is possible that the United States would initiate a nuclear strike plan under OPLAN 5015, which could include the use of 80 nuclear weapons for a “decapitation strike” on the DPRK’s military and political infrastructure.
This report is a part of a joint project on Reducing the Risk of Nuclear Weapon Use in Northeast Asia (NU-NEA) and has been cross-posted by the Nautilus Institute, the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA), and the Panel on Peace and Security of North East Asia (PSNA).
About the Author
Matt Korda is a senior research associate and project manager for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, where he co-authors the Nuclear Notebook with Hans Kristensen. Matt is also an associate researcher with the Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Previously, he worked for the Arms Control, Disarmament, and WMD Non-Proliferation Centre at NATO HQ in Brussels. Matt received his MA in International Peace & Security from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members.
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