Despite years of international condemnation, diplomacy, and pressure, North Korea has succeeded in developing a relatively small nuclear arsenal, one which is poised for further gradual expansion, in terms of both size and sophistication, in the future. North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests, the most recent of which took place in January 2016. While determining the level of North Korea’s technical sophistication is difficult, some experts believe that Pyongyang may have achieved the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to be paired atop a ballistic missile, and may have also developed a boosted-fission weapon that is more sophisticated than a simple fission device. North Korea is also increasing its stockpile of fissile material though both uranium enrichment and plutonium production programs, is developing more sophisticated delivery systems, and has begun to articulate a nuclear posture. In addition, North Korea has a history of proliferating nuclear and missile technology abroad, and the possibility of future nuclear proliferation remains a source of major international concern. The Six Party Talks, which aimed to find a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear program, have not convened since 2008, and Pyongyang has since repeatedly declared that it has no interest in denuclearization.
This Issue Brief reviews what is known about North Korea's plutonium and highly-enriched uranium programs, as well as its efforts to weaponize the fissile material it has acquired. It also looks at North Korea's emerging nuclear posture and strategy, and the global proliferation risks its nuclear program may pose.
The full Issue Brief is available here.