North Korea's Nuclear Menace

Michael Genender
March 25, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Nuclear in North Korea (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Following World War II, Korea was divided into two parts along the 38th parallel by the United States and the Soviet Union. The U.S. occupied the south part and the Soviets occupied the north. Two separate governments formed in the late 1940's, a communist society in the north and a capitalist society in the south, as depicted in Fig. 1. [1] Since the Korean War ended in 1953, no exchanges of letters, calls or emails have been permitted between those in the North and those in the South, despite their identical ethnicities and the fact that many families have members in both parts. Only brief reunions for broken up families have been allowed. [2] It could be inferred that these tensions have hurt North Korea more, as evidenced by events like the Great Famine from 1995-1998 where it is estimated that 2-3 million North Koreans starved to death. [3] Additionally, according to recent estimates by the Bank of Korea, the per capita income ratio between North and South Korea is around 1 to 22. [4] The North Koreans do have a major asset that makes the nation feared by the western world: a thriving nuclear program. [4]

North Korea Nuclear Program

Estimates of the number of different types of nuclear weapons in North Korea's arsenal range from 4-10 and that number is only increasing over time, as they have enough raw materials to produce much more. [5] Their nuclear program is complemented with their ballistic missile program and it is estimated that North Korea currently has nearly 1000 short and long-range missiles combined. [5] With much of North Korea's nuclear program concealed underground or inside mountains, the country is now making big strides with mobile missiles that can be taken from hiding spots to launching within minutes. [6]


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just made his first trip to Asia as secretary of state with a goal of looking to upend the rapid progress of the North Korean nuclear program. [6] Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, believes that negotiation for a monitored freeze is the best course of action moving forward. While that would keep North Korea's existing capacities in place, it would stall the testing needed for future progress. [6] It would also give U.S. intelligence more time to learn more about the current state of the nuclear program. That would in turn give government officials time to craft up a plan for a large-scale nuclear agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. [6] Will that type of agreement end up working out? Time will tell.

© Michael Genender. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S.-H. Choe, "Amid Hugs and Tears, Korean Families Divided by War Reunite," New York Times, 20 Feb 14.

[2] S.-H. Choe, "South and North Korean Families, Separated by War 65 Years Ago, Reunite Briefly," New York Times, 20 Oct 15.

[3] B. Crossette, "Korean Famine Toll: More Than 2 Million," New York Times, 19 Aug 99.

[4] A. Lankov, "Why Nothing Can Really Be Done about North Korea's Nuclear Program," Asia Policy, No. 23, 104 (January 2017).

[5] T. Roehrig, "North Korea's Nuclear Weapons: Future Strategy and Doctrine," Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2013.

[6] A. J. Blinken, "Will Rex Tillerson Pass North Korea's Nuclear Test?" New York Times, 15 Mar 17.