In late 2017 and early 2018, the possibility of the United States going to war with North Korea felt alarmingly real. This was the era of the Hawaii missile alert, where an accidental warning message sent thousands scrambling for shelter. Serious newspapers published articles outlining how a DPRK nuclear attack might affect the American homeland. During this period, Kim Jong-un’s regime was perceived as the greatest threat to the US and its allies.

Today, with Russia grinding forward in Ukraine, Iran nearing an all-out war with Israel, and China eyeing Taiwan like a shark, the North Korean threat feels more distant. It seems like a relic of a bygone time. However, such feelings can be deceiving. As you read this, a small but significant number of experts are sounding the alarm on the DPRK. They warn that the threat from Pyongyang is only growing stronger, suggesting that the next great crisis might emerge on the Korean Peninsula.

The Escalating Tensions

A report by seasoned DPRK experts Robert L. Carlin and Siegfried S. Hecker, published by 38 North, titled “Is Kim Jong-un Preparing for War?”, laid out why they felt that conflict on the Korean Peninsula was now inevitable. They argued that the situation was more dangerous than it had been at any time since early June 1950. According to them, like his grandfather in 1950, Kim Jong-un had made a strategic decision to go to war. This report had a significant impact, sparking debates and discussions globally.

Rising Rhetoric and Actions

In recent months, North Korea’s rhetoric and actions have reached unhinged heights not seen since the 2017 crisis. The focus of DPRK’s latest threats has been its neighbor South Korea, a US treaty ally. In January, Kim Jong-un had the constitution changed to name South Korea the number one hostile state. The same month, he ordered the ministry responsible for Korean reunification to be permanently shuttered and had the reunification monument in Pyongyang bulldozed. This abandonment of reunification as a goal represents a significant shift in decades of DPRK policy. Kim now declares his plan to “completely occupy, subjugate, and reclaim South Korea.”

These threatening words have been matched by actions designed to cause anxiety in Seoul. In January alone, the regime tested new underground attack drones and fired artillery at Yeonpyeong Island, causing 200 South Koreans to evacuate. More recently, Seoul saw a terror alert for its diplomatic missions after intelligence suggested North Korea might be plotting to attack a South Korean embassy or consulate in five nearby nations.

Historical Context

While an attack on a South Korean embassy would not be unprecedented, it would signify a serious escalation. In the past, North Korean commandos carried out a raid on the South Korean president’s residence, killing 30 people, and bombed a South Korean airliner, killing 115. In 2010, the North shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing two South Korean soldiers and two civilians. In all these cases, the death and destruction wrought by Pyongyang failed to spark a new Korean conflict.

Despite the renewed threats against the South, the likelihood of these provocations escalating into a global crisis remains low. However, the actions and rhetoric of North Korea suggest it is becoming a more active player than it has been in years.

Geopolitical Alignments and Concerns

North Korea has been cozying up to major players in the anti-Western world order. The most significant development is its blossoming relationship with Russia. Since last summer, Moscow has been turning to Pyongyang for artillery ammunition. The Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates at least 10,000 containers, consisting of millions of shells, have made their way from DPRK’s stockpiles to Russia’s front lines. In exchange, Russia has used its Security Council veto to kill a UN panel tasked with monitoring Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

There are also concerns that Russia could start supplying Pyongyang with sensitive military technology on ballistic missiles and submarines. Additionally, North Korea is getting closer to Iran. In April, Pyongyang’s minister of external economic relations appeared in Iran, the first visit by a DPRK official in half a decade. The US State Department suspects this trip was a cover for possible missile and nuclear technology cooperation.

Advancements in Missile Technology

North Korean weapons technology is becoming increasingly powerful. The regime successfully tested its new solid-fuel hypersonic intermediate-range ballistic missile, the Hwasong-16b. Solid-fuel missiles are advantageous because they are easier to move and store and can be fired with little preparation time. By mastering them, North Korea makes it harder for the US or its allies to detect and destroy their arsenal in the opening minutes of any conflict. The Hwasong-16b has a range long enough to target American assets in Japan or Guam, home to multiple US military bases and over 70,000 combined personnel.

Long-Range Threats

In December, North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could place the whole of North America at risk. Although North Korea has had the ability to strike the US since 2017, the new Hwasong-18 is more powerful than previous missiles. While it is unclear whether North Korea’s ICBMs could bypass US anti-missile systems or if their warheads could survive re-entry into the atmosphere, the regime’s missile technology is rapidly improving.

Potential for Nuclear Tests

Experts fear 2024 might bring another North Korean nuclear test. So far, DPRK has tested six nuclear devices, with the most recent and powerful test in September 2017. Since then, North Korea’s technology has improved, and its stockpile has grown. The Korea Institute for Defense Analyses estimates that Pyongyang has between 80 and 90 nuclear warheads. The UN has assessed that North Korea has likely succeeded in miniaturizing its warheads to fit onto ballistic missiles. A seventh test could be highly destabilizing and might coincide with the US presidential election.

Alternative Crisis Scenarios

The word “threat” in the Korean context often implies the risk of renewed war on the peninsula. However, there are other ways Pyongyang could engineer a crisis without launching an armed attack on its neighbors.

Arms Dealing

The arrival of North Korean missiles in the Ukraine war gave Russia an ammunition boost and allowed Kim to test his stockpile in a real-life war, feeding back useful data to improve their missiles. There are concerns that North Korea might try to sell its weapons to other global conflicts. With Russia’s Security Council veto in place, the UN won’t be able to do much about it. This could destabilize multiple regions without direct military engagement.

Nuclear Arms Race

A potential nuclear arms race on the Korean Peninsula is another concern. The presence of US troops in South Korea backed by a defense treaty makes Seoul feel secure. However, if a future US administration adopts an isolationist stance, South Korea might consider acquiring its own nuclear weapons. President Yoon directly threatened this in January 2023. A nuclear South Korea could lead to other nations, like Japan, considering nuclear armament, increasing the risk of a miscalculation leading to large-scale destruction.

The Unthinkable: Full-Scale War

A full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula remains a terrifying possibility. Both sides’ theories of victory rely on massive preemptive strikes. South Korea’s “three-axis system” calls for attacks on the North’s nuclear bases before conflict breaks out, while Kim’s regime also predicates its war planning on bold early moves. This could involve detonating a tactical nuclear device as a warning or launching preemptive nuclear strikes against South Korea, Japan, and American forces.

Rapid Escalation

A renewed Korean conflict would likely escalate quickly, with both sides incentivized to use nuclear weapons early. This could result in millions of deaths in Seoul and Tokyo, the destruction of Pyongyang, and potentially nuclear strikes against American cities. The conflict would not remain conventional for long, as both sides would feel compelled to go all-in from the outset.

Current Actions and Future Threats

Despite the dire scenarios, some experts believe a full-scale war is unlikely. Analysts like Jenny Town from the Stimson Center argue that North Korea’s current actions, such as supplying weapons to Russia, suggest that Kim is more focused on building up military manufacturing capacity rather than preparing for an invasion of the South.

Domestic Justifications

The harsh rhetoric towards South Korea and missile tests designed to hit the US might be a cover for ramping up weapons manufacturing and cracking down on South Korean culture within North Korea. The Kim regime perceives South Korea as an existential threat and justifies severe punishments for consuming South Korean media.

Economic Considerations

Bloomberg suggests that Kim might not want war because North Korea’s economy is currently doing relatively well. Growing trade with Russia and China is providing the Kim family with more cash than at any other recent time. North Korea’s economy grew by 0.5% in 2023, the most since tightened UN sanctions came into force in 2016. This economic growth might deter Kim from launching a war he is likely to lose.


Is the world underestimating the North Korean threat? The answer is not clear-cut. While some experts believe a full-scale war is unlikely, others are not so sure. Pyongyang has multiple ways to put the world on edge without resorting to conflict. It remains a powerful geopolitical flashpoint that requires continued attention.

FAQ Section

Q: How serious is the current threat from North Korea compared to 2017-2018? A: While the immediate threat from 2017-2018 has subsided, North Korea’s rhetoric and actions suggest that it is becoming a more active player, potentially posing a significant threat in the near future.

Q: What are the potential triggers for a renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula? A: Potential triggers include North Korea’s aggressive actions towards South Korea, advancements in missile technology, and geopolitical alignments with countries like Russia and Iran.

Q: How could North Korea destabilize the world without launching an armed attack? A: North Korea could destabilize the world by selling weapons to other conflicts, conducting nuclear tests, and increasing missile capabilities that threaten the US and its allies.

Q: What are the economic factors influencing North Korea’s actions? A: North Korea’s economy is currently growing due to increased trade with Russia and China. This economic stability might deter Kim from launching a war.

Q: What is the likelihood of a nuclear arms race on the Korean Peninsula? A: If the US adopts an isolationist stance, South Korea might consider acquiring nuclear weapons, potentially leading to a nuclear arms race in the region.

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By Ryan Hite

Ryan Hite is an American author, content creator, podcaster, and media personality. He was born on February 3, 1993, in Colorado and spent his childhood in Conifer, Colorado. He moved to Littleton in 2000 and spent the remainder of his schooling years in the city. Upon graduation from Chatfield Senior High School in 2011, he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated from the university in 2015 after studying Urban Planning, Business Administration, and Religious Studies. He spent more time in Colorado in the insurance, real estate, and healthcare industries. In 2019, he moved to Las Vegas, NV, where he continued to work in healthcare, insurance, and took his foray into media full time in 2021. His first exposure to the media industry came as a result of the experiences he had in his mid to late teens and early twenties. In 2013, he was compelled to collect a set of stories from his personal experiences and various other writings that he has had. His first book, a 365,000-word epic, Through Minds Eyes, was published in collaboration with Balboa Press. That initial book launched a media explosion. He learned all that he could about creating websites, marketing his published works, and would even contemplate the publication of other works as well. This book also inspired him to create his philosophy, his life work, that still influences the values that he holds in his life. Upon graduating college, he had many books published, blogs and other informative websites uploaded, and would embark on his continued exploration of the world of marketing, sales, and becoming an influencer. Of course, that did not come without challenges that would come his way. His trial-and-error approach of marketing himself and making himself known guided him through his years as a real estate agent, an insurance agent, and would eventually create a marketing plan from scratch with a healthcare startup. The pandemic did not initially create too many challenges to the status quo. Working from home did not affect the quality of his life. However, a series of circumstances such as continued website problems, social media shutdowns, and unemployment, caused him to pause everything between late 2020 and mid-2021. It was another period of loss of momentum and purpose for his life as he tried to navigate the world, as many people may have felt at that time. He attempted to find purpose in insurance again, resulting in failure. There was one thing that sparked his curiosity and would propel him to rediscover the thing that was gone from his life for so long. In 2021, he started his journey by taking on a full-time job in the digital media industry, an industry that he is still a part of today. It was at this point that he would also shut down the rest of the media that he had going at the time. In 2023, he announced that he would be embarking on what has become known as PROJECT30. This initiative will result in the reformation of websites, the reinvigoration of social media accounts, the creation of a Youtube channel and associated podcast, the creation of music, and the continued rediscovery of his creative potential. Unlike past projects, the purpose of this would not expound on the musings of a philosophy, the dissemination of useless news and articles, or the numerous attempts to be someone that he was not. This project is going to be about his authentic self. There are many ways to follow him as he embarks on this journey. Most of all, he wants everyone to be entertained, informed, and, in some ways, maybe a little inspired about the flourishing of the creativity that lies within the mind and soul of Ryan.

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