Disillusioning Pyongyang’s Nuclear Deterrence Strategy: Nuclear Asymmetry, Conventional Posture, and Overdeterrence

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Does Kim Jong Un need nuclear weapons to deter the United States? Pyongyang has long insisted that nuclear weapons prevent the United States from invading North Korea. But, do nuclear weapons provide Pyongyang with as much deterrent effect as it expects? Has the conventional military posture failed in deterring the U.S.–ROK alliance? This article challenges conventional wisdom on North Korean nuclear deterrence and raises the question of why nuclear weapons do not help Pyongyang improve its deterrence capability. Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear deterrence is an overdeterrence. Pyongyang’s presumably assured retaliation is not credible given the United States’ superb nuclear capability. Rather, conventional deterrence has worked on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang may have other reasons to build up its nuclear capability, but the risks and costs are too high to take. This article also suggests highly important and timely theoretical and policy implications about how to deal with a nuclear North Korea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-559
Number of pages19
JournalKorean Journal of Defense Analysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023


  • North Korea
  • Pyongyang
  • conventional deterrence
  • nuclear asymmetry
  • nuclear deterrence
  • overdeterrence


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