Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 3, Issue 4  /  

North Korean Provocations Gone Nuclear: What Happens Next & How the U.S. Can Prevent It in the First Place

North Korean Provocations Gone Nuclear: What Happens Next & How the U.S. Can Prevent It in the First Place North Korean Provocations Gone Nuclear: What Happens Next & How the U.S. Can Prevent It in the First Place
To cite this article: Groves, Bryan, “North Korean Provocations Gone Nuclear: What Happens Next & How the U.S. Can Prevent It in the First Place”, Infinity Journal, Vol. 3, Issue No. 4, winter 2014, pages 17-24.

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the Combined Arms Center or the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, or Duke University


North Korea has commanded significant attention throughout the last year due to its third nuclear test, suspending operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, warning foreign diplomats that it could not guarantee their safety past mid-April, and declaring itself in a state of war with South Korea and in preparation for nuclear attacks against the United States. America responded to this round of provocations through combined military exercises with South Korea and by flying a couple of nuclear-capable stealth bombers from the U.S. to the Korean peninsula.[i] The international community responded by unanimously approving another round of sanctions through United Nations Security Council Resolution 2094.[ii] Even North Korea’s traditionally staunch ally, China, annoyed by the renewed belligerent rhetoric and actions of the Kim Jong-un regime, agreed to increased sanctions against North Korea.[iii] More recently, the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song Theak, who was thought to be the second most powerful person in North Korea, raises questions about the regime’s stability and whether the young leader has successfully consolidated power.[iv] So far Theak’s execution has been treated by the international community as an internal matter, though monitored closely to see what it might portend for North Korea’s future in terms of increased instability, provocations, miscalculations, or regime collapse.[v]

These types of events often cause military strategists and policy makers to revisit contingency plans to ensure readiness and alignment with the current political environment.[vi] In addition to planning for a North Korean collapse, they should consider the following questions related to the worst case scenario: How might North Korea use nuclear weapons against the United States? What would the appropriate U.S. response entail and why? This article briefly addresses the first question, but focuses on the second. It argues that if North Korea attacked the U.S. with nuclear weapons, America should pursue regime change and Korean unification. The U.S. should accomplish these policy objectives through a strategy of compellence and a broad international coalition led by the U.S. during the invasion and by South Korea during the long unification and reconstruction process. Further, the U.S. should take specific steps now in partnership with South Korea and in coordination with China and other regional players to limit the chances of such an attack or other miscalculation by Kim Jong-un.

North Korean Nuclear Attack Scenarios

In one scenario North Korea might launch a direct nuclear attack against the United States or its allies. Were a nuclear attack perpetrated directly by North Korea, American bases in Guam, Japan, or elsewhere across the Pacific would be likely targets. This is because the bases located there are within the range of North Korean missiles, house U.S. military equipment and personnel, and therefore present North Korea with iconic targeting value. Preemptively attacking a U.S. target, even with conventional weapons, however, risks Kim Jong-un’s fundamental objective (survival) by placing himself squarely in American crosshairs.

The more plausible development is one in which the Kim Jong-un regime transfers a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group which then uses it against the U.S. This would afford Kim Jong-un plausible deniability and test American nuclear forensics capability. Yet that scenario is also fraught with problems for Kim because it yields target control to the terrorist group and still risks his survival—and that of his country—if the U.S. traces the nuclear device back to North Korea. While neither scenario is likely, nor present good response options for America, being ready for the worst case scenario before it happens can facilitate deterrence or a more coherent reaction.


For assessment and planning purposes, it is necessary to make a number of assumptions regarding these scenarios and the corresponding U.S. response. One assumption is that the nuclear attack would be a single attack against the U.S. abroad due to North Korean missile range, accuracy, and limited stockpile. A second is that U.S. nuclear forensics will trace the weapon’s origin to North Korea, even if detonated by terrorists. Third is that the U.S. will depose Kim Jong-un. A nuclear attack would be too significant a psychological blow for the U.S. to respond by “turning the other cheek” or by a limited punitive strike that lobbed cruise missiles at North Korean targets. A fourth assumption is that although there would be no good options in such a situation, a conventional war will yield better political results than a nuclear retaliation.[vii] Fifth, multilateral involvement would be a must for diplomatic legitimacy and for burden sharing; further, the international community would support American political and military action. Sixth, if either scenario happened in the next few years, because of the economic situation and the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. will not follow the extensive and largely unilateral nation building paradigm followed in those countries. Seventh, South Korea will embrace reunification.[viii]

The final major assumption is that a reunified Korea would be the best political outcome for the U.S., make the most sense historically and culturally, and be the course most likely supported regionally and globally. A new regime could be established in North Korea by eliciting Chinese action to prop up another North Korean elite in Kim-Jong-un’s place. Alternatively, the Chinese may vie for annexation of North Korea.[ix] Due to China’s significant interests in outcomes on the Korean peninsula, and its perspective which holds North Korea as a barrier against democratic encroachment, it would likely be apoplectic to have a unified, democratic Korea on its border. Therefore, it would be willing to pay a high price to avoid this result. The U.S. should view such a Chinese response as positive rather than negative. It would afford America diplomatic leverage by which it should secure Chinese support and burden sharing for shaping North Korean regime change. Counterintuitively, it might even benefit the U.S. in the long run if China were responsible for the expensive and long-term project of restoring (or annexing) North Korea. On the margins, it might distract and preoccupy China, be a resource drain, lead to overreach, shrink its appetite for global engagement, or lessen its aggressiveness elsewhere. Such an aftermath could, then, actually have its upsides for the U.S. Many Asian nations, however, already concerned about increased Chinese assertiveness, would strongly oppose this result.[x] Additionally, it would marginalize the U.S. “rebalance to Asia.” Historical and cultural ties between North and South Korea make its reunification a more logical end, and more supportable internationally. Thus, on the balance, the best initial American policy would be for North Korean regime change and Korean unification led by the South and backed internationally.

Ends & Ways

The ends and ways the U.S. should pursue to change the Kim Jong-un regime and facilitate Korean reunification would be similar regardless of the nature and scale of the attack.[xi] The difference in the second strike scenario is that the U.S. would also seek the complete decapitation and dismantlement of the responsible terrorist network. In either case, a retributive response must achieve several corollary objectives simultaneous to accomplishing the primary political ends. First, it must punish the responsible party (North Korea and/or the terrorists). Second, it must signal to potential nuclear attackers (terrorists and states) that the high cost they will pay for striking the U.S. is not worth the perceived benefits. Third, the American response must accomplish these two goals without compromising related aims. An effective reprisal might satisfy Americans’ cry for justice and deter potential attackers, yet alienate critical international actors by being clearly disproportionate in scope. Such a response would make unification of the Korean peninsula more time or cost intensive, or outright impracticable. As Richard Haass points out, the U.S. may not need the international community’s permission to act abroad, but America does need their support for its foreign policy endeavors to be successful.[xii]

This would especially be true for the unification of the Korean peninsula, an immense undertaking generally regarded as one that will be much more difficult than the unification of Germany in the 1990s.[xiii] While the South Korea government and people would bear the brunt of the merger socially and economically, the effort would depend on the rest of the international community for security assistance, economic aid, refugee support, and diplomatic top cover. If the U.S. military response alienated international actors, America could jeopardize the political outcome, the ways, and the means available. This could leave the entire region worse off, with an on-going civil war and massive refugee flows, but without the requisite global support.

America’s ways would entail a combination of various elements of national power including diplomatic, informational, military, and economic measures. Whether the target of a direct nuclear attack from North Korea or an indirect terrorist attack, the U.S. would use diplomatic channels and information media to garner robust international support. These ways would support actions in the military and economic domains. Building a coalition to share the burden of regime change and nation building efforts would be the fundamental focus of diplomatic efforts. Promoting broad human and financial investment in a military response, reconstruction, and reunification would be crucial to eventual success. The more buy-in from the more actors, the greater the perceived legitimacy would be. If properly coordinated and resourced, this could translate into greater positive impact.

Recognizing this, if either of these scenarios were to unfold as indicated, the U.S. should capitalize on the opportunity to set a new “Pottery Barn” precedent: if we break it, we don’t necessarily own it. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s comment during the lead up to the Iraq invasion of 2003 that “if you break it, you own it[xiv]” is the current version of the “Pottery Barn” metaphor. The legacy of American involvement in Iraq following the invasion demonstrated that there was much truth behind his statement. Yet this slogan and the Iraq experience should be illustrative of particular situations and bear a cautionary warning—not foreclose on other policy options. A North Korean nuclear attack against the United States and an American response to spearhead Kim Jong-un’s fall should not dictate a decade-long presence of 150,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines. Proximity, interest, and kindred ties will force South Korea and China to be the long term lead states, with other regional actors who have a significant stake in the outcome playing supporting, (albeit occasionally competing), roles. The U.S. should work for regional buy-in from the outset and reinforce it over time throughout diplomatic exchanges with South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and others.[xv] Likewise, the U.S. should follow its rhetoric with corresponding, measured actions that left much room for and required other actors to take ownership.

Means, Sequencing, & the Remainder of the Theory of Victory

America would initially utilize robust diplomatic, informational, and military means in the ways already addressed. Following the demise of the Kim Jong-un regime, the offensive military means would transition to a security and stabilization effort in line with phases four and five of joint operations (stabilize the environment and enable civil authority). Civilian reconstruction and economic development would become the supported efforts while the remaining military elements would be in a supporting role. Diplomatic coordination would arguably be even more vital during these stages to ensure the success of political, economic, and social dimensions of Korean reunification. Development aid from the UN, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and various states would be crucial to addressing the sad state of North Korea’s economy and the hunger of its people.[xvi] South Korea and the United States would be smart to draw on the expertise and lessons learned by those involved in working Germany’s reunification in the 1990s to the extent they are relevant.[xvii]

The International Atomic Energy Agency would play a role in safeguarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons, material, and facilities. The U.S., South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan would all have a significant interest in facilitating that mission. Non-governmental agencies would flood the peninsula providing aid, agricultural training, health education, and microfinance investments. Multinational corporations (MNCs) would follow, but at a slower rate. South Korea’s pattern of significant economic growth over the last thirty years would eventually provide a catalyst for foreign direct investment, but all except the most entrepreneurial MNCs would wait for the establishment of robust security and stability. Regional intergovernmental organizations such the Shanghai Corporation Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations may incorporate a unified Korea into their bodies, helping its long-term security and economic trajectory. An integrated approach using these means, all instruments of national power as the ways, and a heavy reliance on international allies and partners, would be the only realistic manner in which America could successfully pursue regime change and Korean unification in the aftermath of a nuclear attack by North Korea.


Even with strong support, the U.S. would face very real political, economic, and military risks and would need to emplace substantial mitigation measures. Politically, if the U.S. acted too ambitiously it would risk losing the international support that it would initially enjoy following a nuclear attack. This would be similar to the situation America experienced following 9/11 when President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq despite significant opposition from European allies led to an erosion of goodwill in the war against terrorists. Economically, the U.S. could be saddled with unexpected commitments leading to greater debt accumulation. This would especially be true if it became embroiled in a long nation building effort for which it assumed the brunt of the burden. America could then find itself at greater risk of imperial overreach in line with Paul Kennedy’s famous thesis of why great powers fall.[xviii] Continued profligacy on domestic spending, the primary culprit, would only exacerbate the problem.[xixi] Militarily, faced with a robust conventional, asymmetrical, and nuclear threat, the U.S. could experience casualties on a scale not seen since Vietnam. Popular resilience would be important as the enterprise tested the American social fabric over time. The U.S. could mitigate these challenges by maintaining the moral high ground throughout the duration of its multifaceted response, ensuring that the international community shared the burden militarily and economically, and by setting the new Pottery Barn precedent.


In conclusion, none of the options (cheek turning, a limited punitive response, nuclear retaliation, or regime change) available the US vis-à-vis a North Korean nuclear attack are good options. All of them involve significant trade-offs. The best that can be done is to prepare for and diminish the threat by strengthening American and alliance capabilities,[xx] as well as international resolve. To do so, there are a couple steps America should accentuate to diminish the chances of threat realization posed in these scenarios.

First, the North Korean nuclear attack scenarios underscore the importance of regular diplomatic coordination and combined military, law enforcement, and intelligence training exercises. These exercises carry both deterrent and operational value. The U.S.-South Korean alliance has utilized these exercises throughout the sixty years since the Korean armistice as a key signaling device to North Korea and for crisis management. As demonstrated by last spring’s round of military exercises and stealth bomber flights, in conjunction with tough diplomacy and support from regional players like China, they are important elements in de-escalation.[xxi] Moreover, moving beyond bilateral maneuvers to multilateral training that included multiple Asian partners such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and even Vietnam and China would also be useful. In addition, establishing internationally recognized “red lines”[xxii] regarding North Korea that would trigger specific, agreed upon actions would be helpful, albeit extremely difficult to achieve.[xxiii] Finally, the U.S. must reassure South Korea that despite the switch to a nine-month rotational presence, its commitment to the alliance remains strong and effective.[xxiv] One method to do this would be by having rotational units serve a portion of their deployment near the demilitarized zone–North Korean border.[xxv]

Second, the U.S. should continue hunting globally minded terrorists while further developing its nuclear forensics and implementing cutting edge missile defense technologies in appropriate locations.[xxvi] As with the training exercises, these steps offer deterrent and operational value. Effective capability and credibility in these areas signal America’s strength, deterring states from attacking the U.S. and from transferring nuclear capability to terrorists who might. Effective counterterrorism and counter radicalization may also deter less ideologically driven individuals from attacking the U.S., driving them underground or causing them to pursue alternative outlets of protest. Operationally, however, is where the real impact occurs. Rapid disruption and dismantlement of terrorist organizations renders their target planning and execution more difficult. Finally, effective forensic detection and missile defense hold operational value by enabling rapid and accurate response when attacked.

In sum, the most realistic and least bad option for an American response to a North Korean nuclear attack, or one perpetrated by terrorists with a North Korean provided nuke, is a conventional response to depose Kim Jong-un, eliminate any involved terrorists, and unify the Korean peninsula. But to be both effective and affordable, all elements of an American response must be undergirded by South Korea and coordinated with China and the broader international community.[xxvii] The threat reduction measures outlined in this section will not make the recommended reaction much more palatable should it ever need implementation. They stand the best chance, however, of decreasing the likelihood of North Korean miscalculation and of degrading terrorist capability, which is all the U.S. can work toward right now.


Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the Combined Arms Center or the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, or Duke University


APPENDIX A – Lifecycle of North Korean Foreign Policy Statements & Acts [xxviii]

Appendix A



APPENDIX B – Simplistic Game Theory Model of U.S.-NK Relations [xxix]

Appendix B

The payoffs associated with each action/player are annotated in the boxes (higher is better). The shaded box represents the Nash Equilibrium. Although the payoff structure is subjective, these numbers represent the recent historical pattern fairly well.  One of the major actions that the U.S. (and the international community through the UN) tend to take following each new round of North Korean provocations, is to pass more economic sanctions. The low payoffs for both players associated with U.S. military action demonstrates why the U.S. has not taken significant military action against North Korea since the Korean War, and why it likely will not unless the North attacks it or South Korea.  However, this does not mean that the U.S. military is unengaged. An additional combat battalion just deployed to South Korea in early January 2014. The unit will be there for nine months and represents a permanent plus-up of the U.S. military presence. Other military actions are discussed elsewhere in the paper and in Appendix C. Furthermore, it is important to note that combinations of U.S. actions (mixed strategies) are possible—and typical.  In the interest of clarity and simplicity, this model does not depict that. Yet as one might expect, reality does not always follow simplistic theory.  The purpose of this model is not an attempt to perfectly portray reality.  Rather, the purpose is to provide one simple means of understanding, and potentially predicting, aspects of the actions each player is most likely to take and why.



APPENDIX C – Barometer for U.S.-NK Relations & Corresponding U.S. Measures [xxx]

Appendix C


[i] For a graphical depiction of North Korea’s lifecycle of foreign policy statements and acts (i.e. provocations and charm offensives toward South Korea and the U.S.), see Appendix A. For a simplistic game theoretical model of this lifecycle, see Appendix B.
[ii] Susan E. Rice, “Fact Sheet: Un Security Council Resolution 2094 on North Korea,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations (March 7, 2013). (accessed December 20, 2013).
[iii] More recently than the new UNSCR, China is contemplating abandoning its longtime ally, which is in accord with generally better relations between Beijing and Seoul over recent years. See: Jin Dong Hyeok, “China Notes Possibility of Abandoning Pyongyang “ Daily NK (February 6, 2014).
[iv] Jang Song Theak is generally thought to be the one responsible for much of North Korea’s limited business ties and economic success.
[v] Bruce W. Bennett, “Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse,” (2013). Bruce W. Bennett, Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse. Given the recent execution of Jang Song Theak, scholars have become even more worried about North Korean regime collapse, pondering what his execution may mean regarding the state of Kim Jong-un’s government and opposition forces. See: “North Korean Military Faces Massive Shakeup after Jang’s Execution,” Radio Free Asia (February 5, 2014). Although not the main subject of this paper, regime collapse may be more likely than a nuclear attack. Bennett provides a comprehensive treatment of the subject, including how to handle North Korean, South Korean, and Chinese dynamics related to collapse scenarios.
[vi] Kori Schake, War on the Rocks (December 17, 2013). (accessed December 17, 2013). Kori Schake points out that the current political and budget environments mean that no U.S. president would be excited about sending the 530,000 troops to secure the Korean peninsula that she alleges Pentagon plans call for.
[vii] One policy option to accomplish these goals would involve a conventional military response as part of the broader diplomatic and economic campaigns. This approach would minimize unnecessary suffering to noncombatants by funneling violence discriminately against the regime instead of the North Korean people. It would also facilitate the eventual restoration of the global taboo against nuclear weapon use. Last, it would likely stand the best chance of maintaining robust levels of sustained international support.
Employing a nuclear response would be another policy option. The positive of this approach is that it would demonstrate U.S. strength and a willingness to respond in kind, potentially contributing to future deterrence of state-centric nuclear attacks against America. Yet a nuclear response would likely be counterproductive to accomplishing broader U.S. policy aims. It would be a geopolitical distraction, endangering vital international support. It would kill many innocent civilians as well as members of North Korea’s ruling elite, individuals who would be important to an effective and efficient rebuilding process. Finally, it might lead to further escalation involving both sides launching multiple nuclear weapons against the other. All things considered, a conventional military response by the U.S. is arguably the best of the available bad response options.
[viii] Ha Eo-young, “In First Press Conference, Pres. Park Calls Reunification “the Jackpot”,” Hankyoreh, (January 7, 2014). See also: “Reunification ‘Would Boost Korea’s Credit’,” Chosun Media, The Chosunilbo (January 10, 2014). (accessed January 10, 2014). “N.Koreans ‘Want Reunification’,” Chosun Media, The Chosunilbo (February 4, 2014). Richard C. Bush III, “Korea: Surprising Excitement About Unification (Part 2) “ (January 24, 2014). “Kerry to Discuss Korean Reunification with China,” Chosun Media, The Chosunilbo (February 4, 2014). Although the U.S. and South Korea have a long stated goal of Korean unification, they have long eschewed its implementation, hoping for its eventual attainment through peaceful means. However, my contention is that a North Korean nuclear attack against the U.S. would provide the occasion not only for regime change in North Korea, but for reunification led by the South. Arguably, a new regime could be established in North Korea, perhaps even by the Chinese. While outside the scope of this paper to explore this fully, future research should explore that possibility.
[ix] China’s reaction to Korean reunification is a matter of much interest and some debate. See the following articles: Minxin Pei, “Would China Block Korean Unification? With Some Arguing China Is Turning North Korea into a 21st-Century Tributary State, It Can’t Stop Its Reunification with the South.,” The Diplomat, (January 27, 2013). Relations United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign, China’s Impact on Korean Peninsula Unification and Questions for the Senate a Minority Staff Report Prepared for the Use of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, One Hundred Twelfth Congress, Second Session, December 11, 2012 (Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2012). See-Won Byun, “China’s National Identity and the Sino-U.S. National Identity Gap - a View from Four Countries: A View from South Korea, 2013,” Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies, Asia’s Uncertain Future: Korea, China’s Aggressiveness, & New Leadership. Gilbert Rozman, Editor-in-Chief.
, Korea Economic Institute.
[x] China’s increased patrolling around the Senkaku Islands and November 2013 announcement of an extended Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that overlaps with South Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese zones have only exacerbated these concerns.
[xi] Some argue that an appropriate U.S. response would be calibrated based on the nature and scale of North Korea’s nuclear attack. Dr. Michael Matheny from the Army War College and Dr. Shane Smith from the National Defense University have made this case in discussion or email exchange with me. The logic is that distinctions should be made based on the target(s) of the North Korean attack, the extent of the casualties and damage, and the manner and timing of its execution. For instance, an attack during peace (Korean War armistice notwithstanding) demonstrates greater barbarity than does a nuclear escalation during war. An attack against civilian population centers is fundamentally different than an attack against military targets and may lead to a different response. A fifteen megaton hydrogen bomb would result in tremendously more damage than a ten kiloton nuclear improvised explosive device detonated in the same location. An attack against the U.S. homeland has a greater psychological impact than does one levied against American interests abroad, such as an embassy. A similar dynamic would also be at play if the target were an American ally or partner thought to be of little geopolitical significance to the U.S. An attack perpetrated by a state lends itself to a large military response more readily than does one wrought by a terrorist organization. I agree that in many contexts the nature and scale of an attack would be the predominant factors shaping a response. Yet I contend that these dynamics, however important, would not significantly impact the strategic outcome in either of the nuclear scenarios outlined in this paper—as long as the U.S. could verifiably trace the origin of the nuclear weapon back to North Korea. In either of these scenarios, the main factor governing a U.S. response would be the use of nuclear weapons. Specific differences in how the attack occurred would not outweigh that overarching similarity. In either scenario, therefore, the U.S. response would involve significant military action—accompanied with an intense diplomatic and informational campaign—to affect regime change. Despite the current and seeming hard-learned lessons from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars tending to a more limited and less overtly militarized U.S. foreign policy, Americans would not allow a medium size regime that utilized nuclear weapons against it to stay in power. The challenge in the terrorist scenario would be proving North Korean culpability to the world community. The difference in that situation from a direct North Korean strike would be the need to bring to justice the responsible terrorist organization in addition to the Kim Jong-un government.
[xii] Richard Haass, Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order, Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2013, p. 83.
[xiii] Australian Colonel David Coghlan, “Prospects from Korean Reunification,” Strategic Studies Institute, April 2008, p.3. See also Robert Kelly’s Asian Security Blog, “Korean-German Unification Parallels (2): Differences,” Available at, accessed May 28, 2013.
[xiv] In the lead up to the Iraq invasion, Secretary of State Colin Powell explained to President George W. Bush that he would own all the problems of Iraq after military victory. This became known as the Pottery Barn rule after the furniture store, and was codified in the simple phrase, “if you break it, you own it.” In the case of Iraq, Powell warned Bush that he would also need to “fix it.” See William Safire’s article, “Language: You break it, you own it, you fix it,” New York Times, October 18, 2004, available at, accessed May 28, 2013.
[xv] The U.S. and China are reportedly already coordinating on the full range of options regarding North Korea’s future, including regime collapse. See: Lee Chi-dong, “U.S., China Discussed Contingencies in N. Korea: Report,” N.K. News (January 13, 2014). (accessed January 13, 2014).
[xvi] Jasper Becker, Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea, Oxford: University Press, 2005.
[xvii] Korean unification would be even more challenging than Germany’s due to North Korea’s greater population, less infrastructure, and a significantly higher level of poverty than that in East Germany. See Robert Kelly, Asian Security Blog, “Korean-German Unification Parallels (2): Differences,” Available at, accessed May 28, 2013. See also the article by Australian Colonel David Coghlan, “Prospects from Korean Reunification,” Strategic Studies Institute, April 2008, p.3.
[xviii] Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000, New York: Vintage Books, 1987.
[xix] Richard Haass, Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order, Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2013.
[xx] Colonel (Retired) Dave Maxwell, Associate Director of Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies and Security Studies Program, as well as a Korean expert, often argues via a daily national security email distribution list that the strength of the U.S.-South Korean alliance is the key to deterring provocative North Korean behavior.
[xxi] Anne Gearan, “U.S., China agree to cooperate on Korea crisis,” Washington Post, April 13, 2013, available at, accessed May 28, 2013. See also “North Korea agrees to return to nuclear talks under pressure from China: Pyongyang’s special envoy makes concession on nuclear disarmament to ease tensions between communist allies,” The Guardian, May 24, 2013, available at, accessed May 28, 2013.
[xxii] Former Secretary of Defense William Perry indicated in an interview with Best Defense that he favored red lines along the ‘three no’s:’ “no new nuclear weapons, no improved nuclear weapons, and no export of nuclear weapons.” The interview occurred on June 20, 2013. It was posted June 25, 2013 on Thomas E. Ricks’ blog, available at
[xxiii] For a “barometer” of U.S. and North Korean relations and corresponding U.S. actions that can complement these “red lines,” refer to Appendix C. For a discussion of “thermostats,” tipping points, and other practical, policy relevant concepts, see: Thomas C. Schelling, Micromotives and Macrobehavior, New ed., Fels Lectures on Public Policy Analysis (New York: Norton, 2006).
[xxiv] This is also important given that the U.S. has insisted, and South Korea has agreed, to pay more in 2014 for the costs associated with the U.S. troop presence in South Korea. See: “South Korea to Contribute $867 Million for U.S. Military Forces in 2014,” (January 11, 2014). Furthermore, the U.S. and South Korea are conducting long-standing talks regarding when South Korea will take the lead in warfighting command for the contingency of a war with North Korea. All of these actions could make South Korea feel that the U.S. is becoming less committed to them—if not allayed by other actions.
[xxv] Colonel (Ret.) Dave Maxwell argued in a national security distribution list email on January 6, 2014, that South Korea is concerned about the U.S. move to a rotational presence and that America needed to take steps to assure them of continued commitment to the alliance. He suggested that one way to do this would be to place rotational units along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the border with North Korea.
[xxvi] It is important to place American missile defense equipment in strategic locations, again both as a signaling device (deterrent), and for force protection should deterrence fail. President Obama’s decision to reposition some of this defensive capability in Guam is an important, positive step.
[xxvii] Chi-dong.
[xxviii] Colonel (Ret.) Dave Maxwell’s comments on a national security oriented daily email distribution inspired this graphical depiction.
[xxix] Robbie Richards, a fellow Duke Public Policy PhD student, helped me develop this simple game theory model.
[xxx] South Korea has created something similar to this barometer as well, though it has not revealed the details. See: “S. Korea Creates N. Korea Situation Index,” Yonhap News Agency (January 26, 2014).