Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2010

North Korea: Challenges, Interests, and Policy

James J. Przystup

November 2009

Institute for National Strategic Studies


North Korea poses two distinct but interrelated challenges. The first is external: the challenge posed by its nuclear weapons program and the threat of proliferation off the Korean Peninsula. The second is essentially but not wholly internal: the challenge posed by the pending transfer of power in Pyongyang and potential for instability as the process plays out. This complex reality underscores the need for balance and strategic patience if the twin dangers of proliferation and instability on the peninsula are to be successfully managed. U.S. national security interests on the Korean Peninsula are focused on deterrence of North Korea, defense of the Republic of Korea (ROK) if deterrence should fail, and support for Korean unification under the ROK. The United States also has a national security interest in North Korea’s stability. This interest should not be mistaken as support for the Pyongyang regime, but given the risks posed by its nuclear weapons program, instability could result in the loss of command and control over those weapons and increase the risk of proliferation.