The testing of a nuclear device by North Korea has drawn the ire of the US, South Korea, and Japan, among others. Countless penny-a-quote pundits have come forth with their opinions as to why North Korea developed nuclear weapons, with most “analysis” limited to understanding North Korea’s development of nukes as an act of villainy by the autocratic “thug” ruling the “hermetic” kingdom. That the puerile minds of non-analysts bloated on clichéd Hollywood fare will offer such trash is expected but the relative lack of other explanations is stunning.
Why does North Korea want nuclear weapons? I argue that North Korea wants nuclear weapons for the same reason India and Pakistan wanted them, and that is as a deterrent against hostile action from other states. Walter Pincus of The Washington Post traces North Korea's initial interest in nuclear weapons to the threats made by US presidents Harry S Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to use nuclear weapons against North Korea during the Korean War.
"In 1950, when a reporter asked Truman whether he would use atomic bombs at a time when the war was going badly, the president said, 'That includes every weapon we have.'"
Three years later, Eisenhower made a veiled threat, saying he would "remove all restraints in our use of weapons" if the North Korean government did not negotiate in good faith an ending to that bloody war.
In 1957, the United States placed nuclear-tipped Matador missiles in South Korea, to be followed in later years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, by nuclear artillery, most of which was placed within miles of the demilitarized zone.
Aside from the initial nuclear threats, today over forty thousand American troops man the Korean peninsula and another thirty thousand stay on a base in Japan. Stack on to this the fact that Japan is widely acknowledged to have capability to produce nuclear weapons at a short notice, and we can begin to understand North Korea’s motivations for developing nuclear weapons as a response to its threat perception.