Bolton: North Korea Sees Nukes as Way to Reunify Peninsula Under Its Control

By Patrick Goodenough | February 23, 2018 | 4:44 AM EST

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton speaks at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security in Washington D.C. on February 21, 2018. (Photo: DMGS)

( – Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons program is designed not merely to defend his regime, but in pursuit of its ultimate aim to reunify the peninsula under its grip, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said this week.

“At some point, people have to recognize that North Korea wants nuclear weapons not for self-defense, but because they still want to reunify the Korean peninsula, under their control,” he said during a lecture at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security.

Bolton said South Korea’s long-term security will be badly undermined if the Stalinist North acquires the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon by missile.

He made the comments in response to a question about the potential costs to South Korea of a preemptive so-called “bloody nose” U.S. strike against North Korea.

Bolton said he had no idea of the administration’s planning but it was incumbent on the U.S. to do whatever it could to minimize casualties for South Korea and U.S. forces there.

“But I think the question you have to ask is, what’s the cost-benefit tradeoff to striking before North Korea gets [deliverable] nuclear weapons compared to what happens after they get nuclear weapons?”


Bolton proceeded to lay out how he would envisage Kim Jong-un deciding to leverage his arsenal, once he had achieved such a capability.

It wouldn’t be a case, he argued, of Kim waking up one morning and deciding to attack the U.S.

A likelier scenario would be an ultimatum: Remove U.S. forces from South Korea or face the consequences.

A weak U.S. president may reason, “Am I risking Los Angeles to keep 35,000 American troops in South Korea? We’ll just move them back to Japan.”

Emboldened, Kim may then demand that the U.S. move them out of the region altogether.

“At some point, people have to recognize that North Korea wants nuclear weapons not for self-defense, but because they still want to reunify the Korean peninsula, under their control,” Bolton said.

So that’s why I think South Korea needs to face this question too. And I understand for obvious reasons it’s very divisive, but the long-term security of South Korea will be undermined severely if North Korea gets that deliverable nuclear weapons capability.”

The outgoing commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, recently made a similar point to Bolton’s about the objectives of North Korea’s nuclear program.

Harris told the House Armed Services Committee that he does not subscribe to the prevailing view that Kim Jong-un’s actions are taken to safeguard his regime.

“I do think that he is after reunification [of the peninsula] under a single communist system,” he said.

A Gallup poll released this week found that 51 percent of Americans believe that North Korea is America’s greatest enemy – up from 16 percent a year ago. (Russia, China and Iran were next on the list, at 19, 11 and 7 percent respectively.)

‘Barack Obama is no longer president’

Bolton on Thursday again addressed the North Korean threat, during a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC),

He quoted Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo as saying that Pyongyang is within a “handful of months” from having the capability of reaching the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile.

Bolton praised President Trump for his stance on North Korea and on China – the country widely seen as having the most leverage on the regime in Pyongyang – and contrasted it to the approach of his predecessor.

“I do think President Trump now has convinced both North Korea and China that Barack Obama is no longer president – which is the single most important thing that he could do,” he said.

Bolton served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs during the George W. Bush administration.

His criticism of North Korea did not endear him to Kim Jong-il’s regime, which described him as “human scum” and refused to deal with him during six-party talks which were held over several years in an unsuccessful bid to resolve the nuclear standoff.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow