The Associated Press has an entire story on North Korea’s Kim building up his nuclear arsenal.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the “exponential” expansion of his country’s nuclear arsenal and the development of a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, state media reported Sunday, after he entered 2023 with another weapons launch following a record number of testing activities last year.
Kim’s moves are in line with the broad direction of his nuclear program. He has repeatedly vowed to boost both the quality and quantity of his arsenal to cope with what he calls U.S. hostility. Some experts say Kim’s push to produce more nuclear and other weapons signals his intention to continue a run of weapons tests and ultimately solidify his future negotiating power and win greater outside concessions.
The presumption by experts, or at least the ones that the media quotes, that North Korea and Iran are building up their nuclear programs as negotiating leverage strangely assumes that the only possible use for nukes is in diplomatic bluffs.
Sure, we’ve seen plenty of that over the years. Putin keeps mentioning he has lots and lots of nukes every 5 minutes. And North Korea is unlikely to use nukes against us. Or at least we like to think that they still believe that even the Biden administration would engage in nuclear retaliation. Frankly, I’m skeptical. After 9/11, I’m pretty sure that the response to an American city being nuked by a non-great power would be to go over and make sure that they have democratic elections rather than making them glow in the dark.
But the idea that Iran wouldn’t use nukes against smaller targets, whether Israel or regional powers, or that Kim is collecting nukes for show with no serious intent of using them against regional nations is a serious blind spot. It’s the same kind of blind spot that had Chamberlain waving around his agreement with Hitler, convinced that the Austrian sociopath was not serious about an extended program of conquest.
Just because we can’t imagine that people think differently than we do, doesn’t mean anything.
Presuming that Kim doesn’t want nukes except as a status symbol could turn out to be a very dangerous mistake. Murderous dictators like power. And nuclear weapons are the ultimate form of military destructive power. They do provide a lot of diplomatic leverage, but the ultimate leverage is still force.