Immediate and Remote Causes of North Korean Nuclear Crisis

Prof. Jaechun Kim

What caused North Korean nuclear crisis has taxed minds of scholars and policymakers alike in past three decades. Most experts agree that North Korea’s aspiration to secure regime survival has driven their nuclear weapons program. The demise of the Cold War international order posed an existential threat to the communist North. When the Cold War came to an abrupt end, the capitalist South Korea wasted no time to normalize diplomatic relations with Russia and China in 1990 and 1992, respectively, but the North was not able to mend fences with the US. After losing Soviet patronage, the North had no option but to turn to nuclear weapons program to prolong their regime survival. North Korean regime insisted repeatedly that their nuclear weapons programs is to protect their regime from hostile policies of the US, more specifically to deter military attack of the imperialist Americans. North Korea took great pains to convince the international community that their nuclear weapons program is defensive in nature. However, North Korea obtained enough of deterrent capabilities when they successfully tested atomic bombs and medium-range ballistic missiles. The nuclear weapon North Korea tested in September 2017 was a hydrogen bomb. Hwasong 15 North Korea test-fired in November 2017 was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with the range of reaching the entire territory of the US. This paper calls into the question the defensive nature of North Korean nuclear program and assess motives of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs in this era of new nationalism.