March 20, 2023

Calculated ambiguity and the DPRK’s nuclear capability

North Korea combines opaque statements, hints to keep world guessing about its arsenal

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, calculated ambiguity has been a feature of national nuclear postures. North Korea’s recent discussion of its plans to test a nuclear weapon is proving that it is no exception, and may even be patenting its own brand.

When forming their nuclear weapons postures, many countries have opted to remain deliberately vague, or in some cases altogether silent about their specific capabilities. The most notable example is Israel, which prefers not to confirm or deny whether it has nuclear weapons at all. Admittedly, Israel’s motivation to remain opaque about its nuclear program is unique. As Avner Cohen details in The Worst Kept Secret, conscious of its history, Israel selected “a policy that was credible enough to generate effects of deterrence but opaque enough to maintain political distance, even deniability.”