Recommendations on North Korea Policy and Extended Deterrence

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The world is experiencing a number of tectonic shifts due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and related developments that present a perilous landscape for the U.S.-ROK (Republic of Korea) alliance as well as new opportunities for Washington and Seoul to navigate in the coming months.  

The war in Ukraine has had multiple impacts on the Korean peninsula. It has reminded South Korea of the strategic importance of the U.S.-ROK alliance as a buffer against hostility from outside powers, while also intensifying concerns about South Korea’s vulnerability as a nuclear-weapons-free power facing a nuclear-armed North Korea. For North Korea, the war in Ukraine seems to have amplified the importance of nuclear weapons for its security while prompting Pyongyang to consider a new “first-use” nuclear doctrine as well as the operational deployment of tactical nuclear weapons—imitating Putin’s tactics in Ukraine.  

The war in Ukraine has also produced a favorable external environment for North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and missile programs. North Korea’s increasing weapons capabilities, its threats to use nuclear weapons for offensive purposes, and the vulnerability of U.S. national missile defense interceptors to North Korean multiple independent reentry vehicle technologies have led the South Koreans to question the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. 

Collectively, these shifts in the strategic landscape call for the United States and its allies to reexamine traditional approaches to the North Korea nuclear issue and devise ways to increase the credibility  of U.S. extended deterrence. The recent election of South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol, whose positions on North Korea and regional issues align closely with those of the Biden administration, presents opportunities for the alliance to pursue new initiatives that will enhance the stability, security, and prosperity of the region. 

This report, based on the work of a bipartisan commission co-chaired by John Hamre and Joseph Nye, presents actionable recommendations for navigating North Korea policy and strengthening U.S. extended deterrence during these uncertain times. 

The publication of this report is made possible by general support to CSIS. No external sponsorship contributed to this report.

John J. Hamre
CSIS President and CEO, and Langone Chair in American Leadership
Joseph S. Nye Jr.
University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, and Former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Victor Cha
Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair