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Open Access Publications from the University of California

North Korea’s Approach to Defense Innovation: Foreign Absorption, Domestic Innovation, and the Nuclear and Ballistic Weapons Industrial Base

  • Author(s): Haggard, Stephan;
  • Cheung, Tai Ming
  • et al.

The international community has consistently underestimated North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities. How has an economically impoverished, technologically backward, and internationally isolated state been able to establish robust and increasingly competent nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, especially since the mid-2010s? Has North Korea predominantly relied on foreign sources of technology or are its nuclear and missile programs the result of domestic effort? Even when technologies have been borrowed, a detailed analysis of the evolution of the programs suggests sustained domestic investment has proven crucial. The result is a far-flung and large weapons of mass destruction (WMD) infrastructure. Any negotiations over the program must take the extent of this infrastructure into account and consider the challenges of how to inspect, verify, and limit them, including through repurposing these capabilities to civilian uses.

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