I've heard lots of people saying that Kim Jong Un is crazy and mad and that he will cause war and destruction. However, there is one thing that confuses me about this statement: North Korea has had nuclear weapons for a while now, and if Kim Jong Un is as mad as people say he is, why hasn't he already launched nukes?

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    Were any of the people making that assessment qualified psychiatrists who have examined him? Otherwise, the diagnosis has about as much meaning as a random guess.
    – user4012
    Jan 11, 2017 at 23:35
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    Are the nuclear weapons of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in a deployable state? Do they have means of delivery? They've done tests, but Trinity wasn't Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
    – SQB
    Jan 14, 2017 at 20:44
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    A lot of people are saying the same about Trump, and previously about Obama. The fact that people are saying something, and even that you've heard that, doesn't mean it's truth. Aug 18, 2017 at 20:25
  • Does "crazy enough that one can envision him possibly using nukes" really equal "so crazy that he'd use them for no particular reason"? Oct 20, 2017 at 14:50
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    It would be literal suicide - Pyongyang (and pretty much any other major city) would be reduced to ash in retaliation. Kim isn't crazy in that sense of the word. You don't build nuclear weapons to use them - you build them to threaten to use them.
    – John Bode
    Oct 20, 2017 at 18:14

4 Answers 4


The North Korean nuclear program isn't for attacking anyone, and it never has been. It exists for the same reason that it has heavy artillery pointed at Seoul: deterrent.

To quote Kim Jong-Il (source, emphasis mine):

The nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula arose as a result of the United States constantly threatening the sovereignty and security of our people. Sovereignty is the lifeline of a country and nation. We have possessed nuclear deterrent to protect our sovereignty from the blatant nuclear threat of the United States and its increasingly hostile policy.

North Korea is a bizarre country by any standard and its human rights violations are among the worst of any modern country – if not the worst. But there are reasons it still exists, and existence of the nuclear arsenal is certainly an important one, and on the long term, perhaps the most important one.

If we assume for a moment that the Chinese stop supporting North Korea and that the South Koreans actually want an active war with North Korea – something that could happen in the future – then what does North Korea have left? Very little, except the threat of "if you attack us, we'll nuke the hell out of Seoul". For the record, there are about 25 million people living in the Seoul area, so that's one hell of a threat.

As for your assertion that "Kim Jong-Un is crazy"; well, I wouldn't know about that. There is a lot of secrecy about him, and I doubt that anyone can really make an informed judgement about that.

In dictatorships the dictator can't just act on every whim. As Caesar discovered, you can't be a dictator with a dagger in your back :-) Politics in dictatorships does exist, it's just different. Think Game of Thrones.

As mentioned, there's a lot of secrecy about North Korea and who knows what their procedures for launching nuclear weapons* are, but there's a decent chance that if Kim Jong-Un would decide "let's launch some nukes" for no apparent reason he would be stopped by other high-ranking North Korean politicians – either by reasoning with him somehow, or by the "dagger in back" method.

And make no mistake: North Korean leaders would have to be really really REALLY crazy to launch nukes. It will almost certainly mean the end of the North Korean country as we know it today; and North Korean leaders are well aware of this.

* If they even have that ability, since there is some doubt about the quality of the missiles they currently posses.

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    +1 for pointing out that dictatorships aren't just one mad man doing whatever he wants. I think the complexities of totalitarian states is grossly oversimplified in American media and politicians. Jan 12, 2017 at 13:19
  • @ Scribblemacher Actually that's exactly what the word dictator means. He dictates, the rest of us apply. You might say that how ever crazy the country is, it's not a real dictatorship in the literal meaning of the word. Oct 20, 2017 at 11:26
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    Not to mention that nuking somebody would be contreary to their current ideology. They would have to change the ideology first.
    – Anixx
    Oct 20, 2017 at 11:30
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    @jamesqf North-Korean ideology has been well documented since the nation's founding. As for their view that an attack can happen being crazy; well, George W. did invade Iraq and called North-Korea to be one of the "axis of evil", which did more to spur on North-Korean's nuclear program as anything else. North-Korea is a crazy country by any standard, but the line you're taking here is not a good example of that.
    – user11249
    Oct 23, 2017 at 6:49
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    @jamesqf You seem to be confusing your own opinion with North-Korea's reasoning. The question is about the latter, not the former.
    – user11249
    Oct 24, 2017 at 6:17

We can't positively answer what single reason prevents them from using WMD yet. However, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Nobody starts the war to die. Doing that even being totally cornered still assumes a non-zero chance to win;
  2. The "North" Korea historically uses its nuclear weapons to extort something to eat blackmail other countries: only the UN has called for $111 million for financial aid in 2015, leave alone funding from Korea, China, Russia, and other countries;
  3. "Madness" and "craziness" are too vague terms. If we use "unpredictability" instead, I would argue that the "North" Korean officials are totally predictable in their foreign policy; they only do what suits their needs for point #2 above.

Using nuclear weapons doesn't mean that you explode them on your enemies.
It's a bit like armed robbery. Even if you didn't pull the trigger, you still used a gun to rob the bank (or whatever) *1.

In that sense North Korea has used its nuclear weapons. You could have speculated that North Korea could be invaded 1 or 2 years ago. Today that is no longer a possibility. Countries with nuclear weapons do not get invaded. Period.

Whether Kim is crazy is not that relevant; any leader has about the same strategy. It's called MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), meaning: how ever strong you are, how ever sneaky you can attack me, I have the will, the capability and enough time to shoot back, then we both die. In no way does North Korea have the intention to explode nuclear weapons as a first strike. Whomever tells you something different is not trying to inform you, they are trying to disinform you.

Would they really launch nuclear weapons, if they got invaded, knowing they would be vaporized one hour later? I think the answer is yes. Today we know how close the Cuban missile crisis came to Armageddon (very very close). The Cuban leaders were ready to launch all their missiles at U.S. cities, the second an American invasion would start. Notice, they could have destroyed up to (about) 200 American cities. I think any leader of any country with nuclear weapons would react identically.

*1: I stole this example from Noam Chomsky


Kim Jong-un is not crazy on the scale of "will launch nuclear weapons randomly for no reason". He is crazy on the level of

  1. Will sell weapons of mass destruction to countries that will use them on their own populace and which might allow them to fall into the hands of rebels who are also terrorists. E.g. Syria and Iran.

  2. Will use nuclear weapons to extort concessions from other countries. His father did it in the past; he's doing it currently by shooting inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) past Japan and towards the United States; presumably he'll do it in the future in some fashion.

  3. Will use nuclear weapons to protect himself from the consequences of other actions, like its international arms sales.

  4. Note how North Korea (citation) claims to be the legitimate government of the Korean peninsula. So when they say that they will only use missiles to protect their territorial integrity, remember that from their perspective the US and other countries are already violating their territorial integrity.

Someone might point out that countries were less worried about Pakistan with nuclear weapons. That's true, but it's part of the problem now. Because North Korea bought some of its technology from Pakistan. To whom will Pakistan and North Korea sell technology next? Iran? Syria? Iraq? And who will get nuclear weapons from those countries? Al-qaida? Daesh?

Or he's sane and doing all those things through cold hard calculation. It doesn't really matter. Perhaps he is crazy like a fox. But if so, then it is even more important to set up the incentives properly. Because if it is rational for Kim to get nuclear weapons, then it is rational for every dictator. And not so coincidentally, there is someone willing to sell to dictators who will soon have saleable nuclear missiles (if he doesn't already).

Some claim that North Korea could never use nuclear weapons because it would inevitably lead to the destruction of the country. However, if that's so, then they aren't a threat. So why does North Korea want them? Clearly there is some circumstance under which they could be used. If not, they wouldn't do anything. The threat of counter attack reduces but does not eliminate the danger of direct use. And it doesn't even reduce the danger of indirect use, e.g. by sale to Syria.

I agree that North Korea is not an absolute dictatorship but instead the more limited form. Kim is subject to assassination or coup. But I'm not greatly comforted by that. That means that under some circumstances, Kim would be stopped from using nuclear weapons. But it also means that under some circumstances, Kim's actually crazy replacement might make the decision to use nuclear weapons. And there will be no one available to stop that person because those people just died in the coup.

That's also the real danger in a place like Syria. Not that Syria will itself use nuclear weapons but that it is subject to losing control of nuclear weapons the same way that it lost control of most of its territory. And if we can't stop North Korea from getting nuclear weapons, then we have no way long term to prevent Syria from doing so.

Some might argue that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. And they do. They have nuclear bombs. And they have missiles. But they may not have nuclear missiles. It's not clear that they have miniaturized the bombs enough to load on missiles. It's possible that they have. But outsiders don't know that. It's much harder to use a nuclear bomb if it can't just be put on a missile. Counter-missiles are not as effective as anti-aircraft and naval protections.

Another issue is that even if they have missiles, the missiles may not be able to reach the continental United States yet. After all, they are threatening Guam, not California. And how does North Korea prove that it can hit the continental US with a hydrogen bomb tipped missile?

Traditionally North Korea has threatened nuclear development and other countries have given it concessions. Donald Trump doesn't seem very interested in giving concessions. Ignoring whether that is the right or wrong approach (a point under vigorous debate), it leaves North Korea unable to get the concessions that they want. But if they really need those concessions, how do they get them? Given their behavior, they seem to believe that they have to prove their capabilities.

  • "But if they really need those concessions, how do they get them?" See here Oct 21, 2017 at 21:14

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