Kurata Hideya, National Defense Academy professor, as told to Hikabe Motomi
North Korea has been striving to develop two nuclear postures in the last decade. One nuclear posture is “minimum deterrence” centered on “No First Use (NFU),” declared when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 under Kim Jong Il. North Korea is not trying to fight a nuclear war with the U.S. The “minimum deterrence” posture indicates that North Korea will not start a nuclear war, but it will possibly launch a retaliatory nuclear attack that claims many lives on the U.S. mainland if the U.S. strikes first.
After the Kim Jong Un regime began in 2013, North Korea has adopted another nuclear posture that is incompatible with “minimum deterrence.” This second posture is a strategy to prevent an armed conflict from escalation with the intervention of United States Forces Korea (USFK) and United States Forces Japan (USFJ) in the event of a small-scale armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has commented on a preemptive nuclear strike. North Korea’s military capabilities are inferior to those of the U.S., and North Korea recognizes that nuclear weapons are necessary to prevent U.S. military intervention. What is needed [to counter this posture] is not “minimum deterrence,” such as a nuclear weapon with large explosive power capable of killing many people. What is needed are capabilities to reliably attack a specific target such as military headquarters, even with a nuclear weapon of small explosive power.
North Korea sometimes declares NFU and sometimes mentions “preemptive nuclear strikes” because it is promoting two nuclear postures at the same time. Going forward, it is of concern that the equipment required for these two strategies will become more sophisticated.
Kim Jong Un mentioned the development of tactical nuclear weapons at the Workers’ Party Congress. Tactical nuclear weapons are intended to be used in actual warfare. The challenge will be how we can prevent his regime from using them.