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Why should the United States pay attention to the impoverished and economically devastated North Korea?

Question submitted by Jerome Kennedy, from Massachusetts, May 13, 2013

Answered by: Paula Briscoe, National Intelligence Fellow


North Korea, formally called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), remains a top security concern for the United States, despite its moribund economy. The DPRK poses a serious potential military threat to its neighbors and to U.S. military bases and allies in the Pacific.

DPRK leadership calls the United States its enemy; since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011 its threatening rhetoric has escalated. The DPRK reaffirmed its commitment to its nuclear program in 2013 and tested a nuclear device in February. It may attempt to proliferate nuclear weapons technology or materials to organizations or other states hostile to the United States, such as Iran. If the DPRK's stance was combined with technology that enabled missiles to reach the United States, it must be assumed that they might follow through on their threats.

The DPRK is primarily a threat to U.S. ally South Korea, formally called the Republic of Korea (ROK). The DPRK has engaged in hostile activity towards the ROK on numerous occasions, including sinking one of its navy ships in March 2010 and bombarding ROK territory with artillery shells in November 2010. The DPRK has thousands of rockets and mortars aimed at the ROK and maintains such a large military that it could overrun parts of the ROK if it ever chose to invade. The United States has more than twenty-five thousand troops stationed in the ROK that would also be at risk if the DPRK invaded.

Finally, the human suffering endured by millions of impoverished people in the DPRK is abhorrent to U.S. values. While the United States cannot always positively affect the plight of suffering people around the world, it should oppose it through all available avenues.