September 26, 2023

The implications of North Korea’s tactical nuclear warheads

New capabilities may not radically alter status quo, but experts underscore urgent need for dialogue with Pyongyang

If North Korean state media is to be believed, the regime tested a cruise missile last month with a range of 1,500 km (932 mi), allegedly hitting targets after a flight of a little more than two hours. Analysis after the test suggests that the regime has tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) capability, which may signal a new phase in nuclear negotiations. 

The wider applicability of tactical nuclear weapons increases the chance of a tactical nuclear exchange, which in practice would soon result in a strategic nuclear exchange. The fact that these weapons, certainly when deployed by ballistic missiles, are now available means the moment the Korean People’s Army finds itself on the losing side of a conflict, it is highly likely it will resort to the use of nuclear weapons.