Nuclear risk can emanate from various factors. These range from the more obvious military developments and incidents that could lead to increased tensions and possibly even nuclear misuse, to the often overlooked domestic and external contexts in which a country perceives its circumstances and, based on those perceptions, makes decisions that have direct or indirect implications for nuclear risk.
In an attempt to more comprehensively assess nuclear risks on and around the Korean Peninsula, this monthly Report examines the DPRK’s and the ROK’s nuclear and military spheres, as well as activities and policy decisions across main domestic and foreign policy spheres that could impact nuclear risks.
Key Takeaways in September
The DPRK adopted a constitutional amendment enshrining its nuclear force policy during a meeting of its Supreme People’s Assembly. In a major step to nuclearize its navy, the DPRK launched its “tactical nuclear attack submarine.” The DPRK’s military also launched four cruise missiles shortly after the conclusion of joint ROK-US military drills and another two ballistic missiles while Kim Jong Un was visiting Russia. These developments demonstrate the continued efforts of the DPRK to enhance its nuclear weapon delivery capabilities.
The ROK held a military parade and continues to enhance its deterrence posture against the DPRK’s nuclear threat by strengthening conventional military capabilities and deepening military ties with the United States. Kim Jong Un visited space and military sites in Russia, raising concerns about possible military cooperation between the two countries.
A summit between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin signalled a move towards comprehensive expansion of political, economic and defence cooperation between the DPRK and Russia, with the DPRK expressing that bilateral relations between the two nations are “top priority” for the regime. A series of official meetings and recently released trade data indicated progress in the recovery of China-DPRK economic exchange following a COVID-19-induced decline in 2020. The successful transfer of US soldier Travis King from DPRK to US custody without any publicly-reported concessions suggests that some lines of communication appear to be functional despite tense relations.