Project on Defense Alternatives: A look at North Korean situation

In December Charles Knight and Lyle Goldstein traveled in northeastern China, then overland to Vladivostok, Russia and finally Seoul, South Korea.  A principal purpose of this trip was to bring back to the US regional perspectives on the North Korean nuclear crisis  —  collected from nearly thirty hours of discussion with nineteen international relations specialists from six universities, the U.S. Consul General in Shenyang (in the Manchurian region of China bordering North Korea) and a brigadier general from the Republic of Korea (ROK).

In this advisory we provide a summary of findings from the trip and a commentary based on those findings.

We will be pleased to make ourselves available for interviews.


1.  We found near unanimous agreement that the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) has achieved the status of a nuclear-armed state.  It is unclear how secure or effective that deterrent is. It seems likely, that under the presently intense diplomatic and military pressure led by the US, the North Koreans will not feel confident about their deterrent until they can credibly put at risk a number of continental US cities.  Nonetheless, Chinese and Russian analysts generally believe that the US is effectively deterred from employing the military counter-proliferation option, notwithstanding what President Trump’s National Security Adviser and other officials have at times claimed.

2.  None of its immediate neighbors are pleased that North Korea is a nuclear state, but they believe this is the reality they must now live with.  Both China and Russia see themselves adjusting to this reality.  They think US leaders are in a state of unproductive and dangerous denial.  Several times we were offered an analogy to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons: a politically unstable country with nuclear weapons, but “a situation we have been dealing with for years.”

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Charles Knight and Lyle Goldstein