Jeffrey LewisSeoul Purpose

The DPRK has issued its own “nuclear posture review” — actually a “memorandum” titled something like “The Korean Peninsula and the Nuclear Issue” (English | Korean).

The Korean version is substantially longer and more detailed. It needs a decent translation, including the title.

I can’t decide whether I am pleasantly surprised or sort of disappointed, but the DPRK nuclear memo lacks much of the bluster that typically livens up any effort at reading North Korean propaganda. Indeed, the declaratory language is pretty modest stuff:

The mission of the nuclear armed forces of the DPRK is to deter and repulse aggression and attack on the country and the nation till the nuclear weapons are eliminated from the peninsula and the rest of the world. The DPRK has invariably maintained the policy not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states or threaten them with nukes as long as they do not join nuclear weapons states in invading or attacking it.

Interestingly, the DPRK seems to have modeled US declaratory policy more than, say, Chinese.


  1. FSB

    Yes, the DPRK and US Negative Security Assurance language are similar minus the NPT bit of course.

    China, on the other hand, is very sensible in having a no first use policy.

    It is interesting to see that, indeed, DPRK possesses some deterrent value even in its crap 4 kT nukes, with no real delivery system for them yet. This attests to the argument of minimum deterrence.

    Could we all go to crap 5kT nukes, now that the Cold War is over?

  2. Josh (History)

    This is a change.

    Even recent remarks didn’t hint at this new twist.

    It’s hard to see this as anything but a tit-for-tat reply to the NPR. But one wonders what unfolded between the relatively sedate initial response and this week’s new policy statement.

    Entirely apart from the merits of the outcome, North Korean policy reviews are evidently more streamlined than our own.

  3. shaheen

    FSB, hold your breath for the forthcoming Iranian NSA.

    Something like: “By the grace of God, we would never use our modest nuclear weapons capability, that would be un-Islamic and contrary to the teachings of the Imam”.

    Of course, there will be interpretative statements (related with the velayat-e faqih in lieu of the right self-defense).

    And you will also have caveats (in case of aggression by the “world of arrogance” and zionist-colonialists, etc. in lieu of the BW marker).

    But what do I know, the Islamic Republic has never attacked anyone (and China is a peace-loving country).

  4. 3.1415 (History)

    What will happen if every country has some 4kT nukes, deliverable or not? Is there any study on that scenario? We apparently need it, because more countries will have these weapons.

    By the way, DPRK will never have a NFU; its nukes are not for retaliation as they cannot survive a first strike. Their deterrence is only credible when a first strike is very unlikely. The more unlikely, the more credible the Dear Leader’s nuclear deterrence.

    Anyone who declares No First Use must be sure that either they will not be striked or their retaliations are effective.

  5. George William Herbert (History)

    I wish people would stop degrading NK for their “4 kt” weapon.

    A functional 4 kt weapon is either one functional D-T gas boost or a half kilo more of Plutonium (or less) away from a 10+ kt nuke.

    And 4 kt is enough to act as a primary for a low yield secondary, particularly a medium enriched uranium fission secondary rather than a high-compression-required fusion secondary.

  6. simorgh (History)

    Is there actually any proof for the new “dogma” of NK being unable to deliver nukes with a missile? After all they had almost twenty years of time to work on this issue, and probably got the CHIC-4 design plans from Pakistan.

  7. John Schilling (History)

    I suspect that what a functional 4 kt weapon is “missing”, is not half a gram of D-T or half a kilogram of plutonium, but half a ton of high explosive and tampers. In other words, a classic entry-level weapon akin to the US Mark 5/7/12, shoehorned into a Nodong-style RV and thus forced to accept a somewhat lower compression (and so yield).

    Meaning, I also am skeptical that NK is unable to deliver its nukes. That’s not so much dogma as just wishful thinking, but dubious either way. One needs to consider at least the strong possibility that the DPRK can put four kilotons of instant sunshine inside a missile, today.

    And four kilotons over downtown Tokyo, Seoul, or San Francisco would kill on the order of fifty thousand people. A prospect which I should think is at least minimally deterring.

  8. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    DPRK Issues Foreign Ministry ‘Memorandum’ 21 Apr on Denuclearization of Korean Peninsula

    KPP20100421051003 Pyongyang KCNA in Korean 1915 GMT 21 Apr 10

    [Full text of the “Memorandum of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs — The Korean Peninsula and Nuclear Weapons” issued on 21 Apr; Pyongyang Korean Central Broadcasting Station [KCBS] in Korean began to carry the following at 1128 GMT on 21 Apr as a single unscheduled report; Pyongyang Korean Central Television via Satellite (KCTV) in Korean carried the following as the last of 25 items in its 1100 GMT newscast on 21 April; the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s last observed issuance of a memorandum was on 19 Jul 2007, as cited in the third referent item and was observed not to have been carried by KCBS]

    The construction of a nuclear-free world is mankind’s ardent wish that has been maintained from the 20th century to the 21st century.

    The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is a part of global denuclearization. The Six-Party Talks have been held over the past years for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but the talks are currently facing grave obstacles without producing results that are worth a mention. Along with the deep-seated distrust among the parties concerned, the main reason is because some countries participating in the talks are seriously distorting the essence of the issue for their sinister objectives. If the essence of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is to be precisely understood and if the way of its realization is to be correctly found, it is essential to correctly realize the initial circumstances and causes of the nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

    1. The Most Serious Nuclear Victim in the World

    Never has there been such a nation in the world as the Korean nation that has suffered nuclear threat most directly and for the longest period. For our people, nuclear threat is by no means an abstract concept but a realistic and concrete experience.

    Our nation is the one that directly sustained the damage caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States’ nuclear attacks, and it is the nation that suffered the most casualties there, only next to the Japanese.

    For the people that directly experienced the horrible catastrophes of atomic bombs, the atomic bomb blackmail that the United States wielded during the days of the Korean war was literally a nightmare. After US President Truman on 30 November 1950 openly mentioned the use of atomic bombs on the Korean front, an order was given on the same day to the US Strategic Air Command on “Maintaining a standby status to fly bombers to immediately drop atomic bombs in the Far East.” In December of the same year, [Douglas] MacArthur, Commander of the US Forces Far East, let loose an outburst, “A radioactive corridor will be created from the East Sea [Sea of Japan] to the West Sea [Yellow Sea] of the northern region of Korea. In this region living things will not be able to resurrect over the next 60 years or 120 years.”

    Because of the United States’ nuclear blackmail, the rows of “atomic bomb refugees” were created to flow from north to south of the Korean peninsula during the war. When entire family members were unable to leave together, many families forced their husbands or sons to evacuate to the South with only the desire to maintain their family bloodlines. Millions of the “separated families” created through this course are still living divided in the North and the South of the Korean peninsula.

    The United States is the ringleader who was the first to bring nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula. When the retention of the pro-US regime was jeopardized, as the anti-nuclear campaign was escalating in Japan in the late 1950s, the United States moved the nuclear weapons deployed in Japan to South Korea. In 1957, the United States’ first strategic nuclear weapons were brought from Japan into South Korea and deployed there. In the end, the United States nuclearized the Korean peninsula in place of the “denuclearization” of Japan. The United States’ deployment of nuclear weapons in South Korea constantly built up, and the number of nuclear weapons reached over approximately 1,000 in the mid 1970s.

    From the late 1960s, the United States began to stage joint military exercises to actually use the nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea in a war of aggression against our Republic. The US-South Korea joint nuclear war exercise — which began with the “Focus Retina” operations in 1969 — has ceaselessly continued every year since then for such a long, long period of 40-odd years, while its name being changed to “Freedom Bolt,” “Team Spirit,” “Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration [RSOI],” “Key Resolve,” “Foal Eagle,” and “Ulchi Freedom Guardian,” and the like.

    It is precisely a stark nuclear reality of the Korean peninsula that even the post-war generations have grown in this way while inhaling nuclear powder odor as the targets of the US nuclear weapons that are deployed in South Korea for a real war.

    2. The Effort That the Government of the Republic Has Made To Remove US Nuclear Threat

    The DPRK’s effort aimed at removing the United States’ nuclear threat has been made in three stages.

    In the first stage, the government of the Republic made an effort to remove the United States’ nuclear threat by the method of creating a denuclearized zone through peaceful dialogue and negotiations.

    In 1959, it [government of the Republic] proposed to establish an atomic bomb-free peace zone in Asia; in 1981, it put forth a proposal for the establishment of a denuclearized zone in Northeast Asia; and in 1986, it proposed to turn the Korean peninsula into a non-nuclear-weapon region and made an active effort for its implementation.

    On 10 January 1984, it proposed the convening of three-party talks — the talks in which the South Korean authorities, too, would participate in the DPRK-US talks to be held to remove the danger of a nuclear war; and in a government statement released on 23 June 1986 it solemnly declared that it would not test, produce, store, or introduce nuclear weapons, would not allow any military bases, including foreign nuclear bases, and would not allow the transit of foreign nuclear weapons via its territorial land, territorial airspace, and territorial waters.

    Nevertheless, the United States has escalated the nuclear threat to us while ignoring all our efforts exerted to create a non-nuclear-weapon region in the Korean peninsula.

    In the second stage, the government of the Republic combined efforts to remove the United States’ nuclear threat based on international law.

    In 1978, the depositary states of the NPT — the United States, the former Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom — issued, though conditional, a “non-use of nuclear weapons” statement [stating] that they would not use nuclear weapons against the non-nuclear-weapon states that joined the treaty. The DPRK joined the treaty in December 1985 with a hope that this would help the removal of the United States’ nuclear threat to us.

    When the United States made a pledge that it would discontinue the “Team Spirit” nuclear war exercise, we, based on the relevant NPT clause, actively helped the aperiodic inspections that the IAEA conducted six times during the period of May 1992 through February 1993.

    Nevertheless, the United States, by instigating the sinister forces in the agency while talking about the so-called “suspicion about nuclear development,” fabricated a “resolution for special inspection” targeting not only our nuclear facilities but even our sensitive military targets, even before the completion of the agency’s aperiodic inspections based on the safeguard agreement. Since then, the brigandish nature of such a mandatory inspection was completely laid bare through the Iraqi situation. Under the pretext of inspection, the United States combed even the Iraqi Presidential Palace and concocted the “intelligence” that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to use it as an excuse to carry out military strikes. Later on, it was revealed to the whole world that the “intelligence” that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction was a groundless fabrication, but it was too late; it was already after the country collapsed, and the nation had become submerged in a sea of blood.

    In order to impose a “special inspection” on us, the United States blatantly perpetrated nuclear threat by even resuming the “Team Spirit” joint military exercise that it already suspended. After all, it was impossible to stop the United States’ high-handedness even with the international treaty, and it had become clear that the treaty was actually being abused as a tool to justify the United States’ coercion.

    Based on Article 10 of the NPT, the DPRK on 12 March 1993 declared its withdrawal from the NPT for the defense of the country’s sovereignty and security and informed the depository states of the fact. Then, when the United States responded for DPRK-US talks, it [DPRK] took measures to unilaterally and temporarily suspend the effectuation of its withdrawal from the NPT — through the DPRK-US joint statement on 11 June 1993 — while DPRK-US talks were underway.

    On 21 October 1994 during the Clinton administration, the “DPRK-US Agreed Framework” was adopted to resolve the nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula, but the United States unilaterally scrapped it when the Bush administration was inaugurated. In the “State of the Union Address” on 30 January 2002, the Bush administration even called us part of an “axis of evil.” The harboring of such hostility toward a country by the world’s largest nuclear power state means the greatest nuclear threat to that country. In particular, when the United States announced in March in that year the “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR],” which included us in the “targets for preemptive nuclear strikes,” the security of our country and nation was placed in extremely grave jeopardy of nuclear catastrophes.

    It had become clear that the effort made through dialogue and the effort exerted based on international law all ended up in smoke. The unique situation on the Korean peninsula, which could be found nowhere else in the world, required a special measure for a solution. The only and last option was to counter “nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons.” With the most serious nuclear threat, the United States was persistently compelling us to possess nuclear weapons.

    On 10 January 2003, the government of the Republic took a resolute, self-defensive measure of completely withdrawing from the NPT by bringing into effect the withdrawal from it, which it had suspended for 10 years. After delivering itself from the treaty, it [the government of the Republic] turned in the direction of legally and stately weaponizing the entire amount of the plutonium produced in the course of producing electricity from a pilot atomic power plant. It conducted the first nuclear test in October 2006, three years after its withdrawal from the treaty, and the second nuclear test in May 2009.

    By this, the state of nuclear imbalance in Northeast Asia where nuclear weapons and nuclear umbrellas were packed and where only the DPRK remained as a nuclear vacuum zone was brought to an end. By the deterrence effect provided by the Republic’s possession of nuclear weapons, the danger of the outbreak of a war has noticeably reduced. This is precisely the effort made on the current stage to remove the nuclear threat not through pleas only in words but by deterring the United States’ nuclear weapons with our nuclear weapons.

    3. DPRK’s Nuclear Policy

    The position of the government of the Republic to establish a solid peace regime on the Korean peninsula and achieve denuclearization there remains unchanged.

    The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — which was pointed out in the 19 September Joint Statement that the Six-Party Talks adopted and announced in 2005 — is the course of turning the entire Korean peninsula into a nuclear-free zone by completely removing in a verifiable manner the existing nuclear threat from outside to the Korean peninsula. Realizing denuclearization requires confidence-building. On the Korean peninsula, which is still in a state of the ceasefire, the sooner a peace agreement is concluded, the quicker the confidence necessary for denuclearization will be built.

    The mission of the nuclear forces of the DPRK is to deter and repel aggression and attack against the country and the nation until the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the world is realized. The DPRK is invariably maintaining the policy not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states or threaten them with nuclear weapons as long as they do not join the act of invading or attacking us in conspiracy with nuclear weapons states.

    We are ready to join the international efforts for nuclear non-proliferation and for the safe management of nuclear materials on an equal footing with other nuclear weapons states.

    We will produce as many nuclear weapons as we need but will neither join the nuclear arms race nor produce more nuclear weapons than is necessary, and we will join the international efforts for nuclear disarmament on an equal footing with other nuclear weapons states.

    Regardless of whether the Six-Party Talks are resumed or not, the DPRK, as in the past, will continue to make a consistent effort in the future as well for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and in the rest of the world.

    [Dated] 21 April, chuch’e 99(2010)

    [Place] Pyongyang

    [Description of Source: Pyongyang KCNA in Korean — Official DPRK news agency; URL:

  9. FSB

    indeed, the Islamic Republic has never attacked anyone. China is at least as “peace-loving” as the NATO countries, although their human rights record is marred in distinctly different ways from that of big Western powers.

    The NDU study by experts attested that its ambitions are for deterrence. (The US has attacked two of its neighbors, and Israel, the regional superpower, has attacked Lebanon, Syria and Gaza so deterrence is indeed desirable for them).

    A major reason that Iran will not do a first-strike on Israel — besides the minor point that it would guarantee their own annihilation — is that there is in intrinsic deterrent there.

    There are really two stable points: zero nuclear weapons states in the middle east, or several.

    Hyping the Iran threat is really quite silly. especially considering our DNI says — as of 2010 Feb — that Iran does not have a weapons development program.

  10. Chad

    Although North Korea’s desire to be formally recognized as a nuclear weapon state are nothing new, yesterday’s document expresses these desires in a new context. The document suggests that North Korea’s external relations department have been keeping a close eye on the recent flurry of non-proliferation activity and news. Consequently it seems that North Korea has concluded that jumping on the non-proliferation bandwagon is now the best way for it to assert its nuclear weapon status.

    First – in the context of the recent Nuclear Security Summit, the Foreign Ministry’s call to ‘join the international efforts [on] nuclear non-proliferation and on nuclear material security’ can be read as an attempt to inject some credibility into the concept of North Korea as a responsible nuclear steward. A country that should be regarded on an equal footing with others in the nuclear ‘club’, that could presumably even contribute expertise to the next Nuclear Security Summit, to be held in 2012 in South Korea.

    Next, it seems the mostly positive international reaction to the U.S Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) has motivated North Korea to attempt to win similar praise. Thus the articulation of the ‘mission of the nuclear armed forces of the DPRK’, which describes Pyongyang’s arsenal largely in defensive terms, appears to be an overt attempt to emulate Washington’s mainly defensive posture. By going down this path, North Korea may be hoping to win some hearts and minds and be seen in a similarly responsible and non-aggressive light – characteristics it realizes are required in order to get the recognition it so desires. Note: It’s worth pointing out that Pyongyang didn’t catch up to Washington in one respect: It’s posture statement includes its own version of the so-called “Warsaw Pact” clause, which the U.S. NPR just ditched.

    Finally, North Korea’s PR people seem to have also picked up on the momentum surrounding the forthcoming NPT Review Conference as a way of aligning their nuclear status with that of the five recognized nuclear states. Indeed, part of the Memorandum is strongly reminiscent of the language and obligations found in Article VI of the NPT. Compare:

    From North Korea’s posture memo: ‘[North Korea will] neither participate in [a] nuclear arms race nor produce more than it feels necessary… [And will] join the international nuclear disarmament efforts’

    And from Article VI of the NPT: ‘[Parties will pursue] effective measures relating to [the] cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.’

    This similar choice of language attempts to paint North Korea as an advocate for disarmament and as a responsible nuclear steward – again, no matter how incredible that might sound to some.

    In short, it appears the objective of this Memorandum is to present North Korea’s nuclear weapon status to the rest of the world as an irrefutable and justifiable fact, using the language and rationales traditionally used by the other nuclear weapon states (apart from Israel). Just like them, North Korea is now saying that it will keep nuclear weapons until ‘they are eliminated from the peninsula and the rest of the world’. You could say imitation is the best form of flattery.

    (This is an excerpt from a blog I did on NOH in case you are wondering!)

  11. anon

    “ …North Korea’s nuclear weapon status to the rest of the world as an irrefutable and justifiable fact…”

    Appears to be a fact given the Norks attacked & sunk a SK military ship killing 46 sailors and SK has not responded militarily.

  12. chad

    “Appears to be a fact given the Norks attacked & sunk a SK military ship killing 46 sailors and SK has not responded militarily.”

    What can South Korea do though? Go and launch a reprisal attack on the North? It would change nothing and actually just feed the regime with more excuses for the poor conditions there.
    Its not in South Korea’s interest to prove that the DPRK was involved in this, it will put Lee Myung Bak in a tricky position.

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