Sleepwalking into Nuclear War with North Korea

September 15, 2016

For special access to experts and other members of the national security community, check out the new War on the Rocks membership.

In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we put North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in a historical, theoretical, and policy context.  We review historical evidence revealing U.S. preferences for preventive nuclear war when America was a new nuclear power.  Our guest is Dr. Vipin Narang (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), who talks about his book Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era (Princeton University Press) and what it means for North Korean nuclear doctrine.  And at the end of the show, we explain the changes needed to alliance deterrence, military posture, and public diplomacy to adapt to the realities of North Korea as a second-tier nuclear-armed adversary.

Subscribe on iTunes, Pocket Casts, RSS feed


Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks.

Image: Stefan Krasowski CC

We have retired our comments section, but if you want to talk to other members of the natsec community about War on the Rocks articles, the War Hall is the place for you. Check out our membership at!

4 thoughts on “Sleepwalking into Nuclear War with North Korea

  1. The authors have written a long tome. Unnecessary. There will be only one way to deal with North Korea, and not a single American politician has the courage as of yet. Fact is that NK is now a nuclear power threatening the USA with atomic destruction. Simple really: step 1- give a deadline to Kim Jong whatever that he will halt production of nuclear by a specific deadline or face absolute and certain destruction. At that deadline he will turn over ALL nuclear weapons to the UN and it will be fully verified. In return he will get a peace treaty that the USA will never attack him. When he refuses and the deadline passes, conventional stealth bombers and missiles take out his nuclear plants and missile facilities for good. When he blows his little fuse and retaliates, USA decapitates with mini and micro Neutron Bomb devices to minimise death and destruction to his hapless people. NK is next reunited with SK, becomes a prosperous democracy and problem solved.

    1. Why didn’t someone think of this before now? I mean, it’s so obvious. Unless one actually has some common sense, instead of a delusional belief that one can read the minds of the North Korean leadership.
      We dont know how many devices NK has. We can only guess. We don’t know for sure where all of them are. We can have no confidence a first strike would take them all out. What we do know is that one nuclear bomb dropped on Seoul is one strike beyond unacceptable, and that an incomplete destruction of the NK arsenal would make it more, rather than less, likely. There are also the political consequences of a pre-emptive strike by the US on a small foe, and its probable total unacceptability to SK public opinion.
      The key is China, and getting China on board for action which will deter the NK regime from pursuing its military programme without wholesale destabalisation of the Korean peninsula.
      One reflection: Given what’s happening in NK, the wisdom and success of the Iran JPCOA is starkly apparant for all except those who are against it for ulterior reasons.

      1. China on board to help persuade North Korea to stop threatening the South, the US or Japan, or anywhere else, with its nuclear weapons? I don’t think North Korea’s nuclear weapons have anything to do with the latter at all. North Korea’s nuclear deterrent is about China. And that’s why nothing the Chinese say will ever make the North give up its weapons.