The North Korea Card

by DR. PETER VINCENT PRY December 4, 2016

Contrary to bipartisan conventional wisdom of Washington, D.C.'s foreign policy elites - the looming nuclear missile threat from North Korea cannot be addressed by playing "the China card."

Republican and Democratic administrations have for years begged Beijing to use China's economic leverage to compel North Korea to abandon its illegal development of nuclear missiles, to no avail.

China and Russia Help North Korea

Evidence is overwhelming that China, far from being the solution to a nuclear-armed North Korea, is co-conspiring with Russia to build a nuclear missile "North Korea card" to play against the United States:

  • China could stop cold North Korea's nuclear missile program by halting the flow of food and energy. But Beijing only pays lip service to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, while cheating on international sanctions imposed on the North, complacent with Pyongyang's growing nuclear capabilities and escalating threats against the United States.
  • North Korea's mobile launcher for its KN-08 and KN-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are from China. The only nations in the world with mobile ICBMs are Russia, China, and North Korea. Not even the U.S. has a mobile ICBM, but backward North Korea does.
  • North Korea's ICBMs (of unproven reliability but assessed by the Defense Department as nuclear-armed and capable of striking the U.S. right now) are souped-up versions of Russia's SS-N-6 missile sold to the North by Moscow, along with a dozen Golf-class ballistic missile submarines, supposedly for scrap.
  • Russian generals told the Congressional EMP Commission in 2004 that the design for Russia's Super-EMP weapon "accidentally" leaked to North Korea, and there is "brain drain" of Russian and Chinese scientists who are helping North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. A single electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack could blackout North America and kill millions.
  • The U.S. is continually surprised by the rapid development of North Korea's nuclear missile program because most analysts do not understand, or do not want to face the fact, that China and Russia are helping North Korea. During the last year alone, North Korea has successfully tested and declared operational a submarine-launched missile, deployed a new land-mobile ICBM, orbited another satellite over the U.S., and according to the Defense Department apparently tested components of a hydrogen bomb (see "Underestimating the North Korean Nuclear Threat" Secure Freedom Quarterly, 2nd Quarter 2016).
  • China and Russia also help the nuclear and missile programs of Iran and Pakistan. For example, the UK study Pakistan's Strategic Nuclear and Missile Industries concludes China is helping Pakistan develop nuclear missiles.


According to CIA's unclassified Chinese Policy and Practice Regarding Sensitive Nuclear Transfers: Special National Intelligence Estimate (January 20, 1983), "China transferred a complete nuclear weapon design, according to some reports" to Pakistan (see also Congressional Research Service, Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons June 14, 2016, footnote 13).

If China helped Pakistan design nuclear weapons, it is even more likely China would help its closest ally-North Korea.

Nuclear North Korea Serves Chinese and Russian Interests

North Korea armed with nuclear missiles serves China and Russia's larger geostrategic interests by challenging the existing world order led by the U.S., without Beijing and Moscow having to confront Washington directly.

North Korean nuclear missiles pose an unprecedented threat to the U.S. alliance with South Korea, Japan and other Pacific allies, at a time when U.S. military capabilities are at low ebb and the nation is war weary.

North Korean ICBMs by threatening the U.S. directly change the entire strategic cost-benefit calculus for Washington of honoring its security guarantees.

Are Seoul or Tokyo worth as much to the U.S. as Los Angeles or New York? Russia and China know that most American don't think so, and so do South Korea and Japan.

China and Russia hope that a belligerent nuclear North Korea will undermine U.S. alliances and perhaps even drive the U.S. into isolationism.

The erosion of U.S. credibility is most recently manifest in President Duterte of the Philippines canceling joint exercises with the U.S. Navy and announcing he will seek stronger security ties with Beijing and Moscow.

Moreover, the U.S. delusion that China and Russia might help reverse the North Korean nuclear threat empowers Beijing and Moscow. What concessions must the U.S. make, perhaps in the South China Sea and in NATO, for their help?

In extremis, China and Russia could play their North Korea card by waging nuclear war by proxy against the United States or its allies, without Beijing or Moscow having to put themselves at risk.  North Korea armed with Super-EMP weapons deliverable by satellite-two North Korean satellites currently orbit regularly over the United States-poses an existential threat to the entire Free World.

What Is To Be Done?

The U.S. must recognize that China and Russia are part of the problem, not the solution to nuclear missile threats from North Korea.

The U.S must push back against the China-Russia-North Korea Axis to restore U.S. credibility and deter aggression. China and Russia howled over U.S. deployment of THAAD missile defenses to South Korea. They protested more loudly over U.S. strategic bomber exercises in the Pacific than they ever did to any North Korean nuclear test.

We need to do much more. For example:

  • Strengthen regional missile defenses by deploying more Aegis guided missile cruisers.
  • Rebuild and modernize U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, mostly dismantled after the Cold War, and redeploy these on U.S. submarines and other naval platforms patrolling the western Pacific, to provide a nuclear deterrent just offshore.
  • Shoot down the two illegal North Korean satellites that currently orbit over the U.S., and intercept any future North Korean missile launches to enforce prohibition of their further development of nuclear missiles.


China and Russia will not give up their nuclear North Korea card unless the U.S. undertakes muscular actions to make them pay a price. Remember, President Reagan achieved the first treaties in history to reduce nuclear weapons only after deploying nuclear missiles in Europe.

Most importantly, the U.S. needs economic prosperity so we can afford to rebuild our military strength and nuclear deterrent - and go beyond nuclear deterrence by reviving President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Space-based defenses would render nuclear missiles obsolete and usher in a new era of "peace through strength."

A version of this piece also appeared on

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, both Congressional Advisory Boards, and served on the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of Apocalypse Unknown: The Struggle To Protect America From An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe and Electric Armageddon, both available from and



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