Conventional Deterrence of North Korea

The debate over whether North Korea could be deterred was eclipsed by the onset of negotiations in 2018. Yet, the last three years have been marked by rapid advancements in the regime’s military capabilities and apparent evolution in its military strategy, which now relies on the threat of preemptive attacks against allied conventional forces to limit damage to the regime. Many of the standard assumptions that have underwritten U.S.-ROK deterrence posture are now obsolete. The deterrence balance on the peninsula is now between DPRK nuclear forces and allied conventional forces. Allied deterrence posture that depends on the threat of nuclear use or invasion will be insufficient to deter the regime from attempting to impose a fait accompli to forcibly achieve limited objectives. The alliance must place conventional deterrence at the center of its planning to ensure that U.S. conventional forces can effectively supplement South Korea’s ability growing ability to defend itself from limited aggression. The proposed posture requires closer coordination and additional capability, a difficult but necessary step at a time when the alliance faces severe friction.

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