Kim Jong Un Is Hell-Bent on a Nuclear War with the U.S.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the test-firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile in a photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on August 25. Nicholas Eberstadt writes that North Korea is preparing to fight a nuclear war in the Korean peninsula against the USA and its allies. KCNA/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

As the world's most completely closed society, there are many things about North Korea that we cannot know. For good or ill, though, the DPRK's nuclear strategy is crystal clear—for Pyongyang has been doggedly pursuing this very same game plan single-mindedly, for decades on end.

It's really very simple: North Korea is methodically and deliberately preparing to fight and win a limited nuclear war in the Korean peninsula against the USA and its allies.

No, this is not Dr. Strangelove stuff. The North Korean leadership is not planning to join the Eternal President Great Leader Kim Il Sung in heaven. If things go their way, North Korea's rulers will be safe and sound before, during and after the confrontation they are preparing for.

The idea, rather, is to force a crisis in the peninsula, at a time and place of their own choosing, in which an American president is faced with options so unappetizing that he or she will hesitate, blink or back down in the face of North Korea's provocation or aggression.

And as soon as the American president does this, the U.S.-ROK alliance will be finished. Indeed, if the U.S. commitment to Seoul's defense is shown to be hollow, South Koreans themselves will militate to get U.S. soldiers out of their country on the double.

North Korea's current and ongoing missile launches and nuclear tests serve other purposes as well, of course—international military extortion, domestic legitimacy messaging and all the rest.

But the overriding purpose is to perfect and amass a nuclear arsenal and the attendant weapons delivery systems that will permit Pyongyang to face down Uncle Sam in that moment of truth that three generations of Kims have been preparing for.

For over 60 years, U.S. policy in the peninsula has been to deter North Korea.

Why do we have such a hard time understanding that the DPRK's leadership has spent those same many years thinking about how to deter us?

Nicholas Eberstadt is Henry Wendt scholar in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research and a member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of numerous monographs and articles on North and South Korea, East Asia and countries of the former Soviet Union, among them The End of North Korea (AEI Press, 1999) and The Poverty of the Poverty Rate (AEI Press, 2008).