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North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons and Missile Programs

In April 2018, North Korea announced that it had achieved its goals, would no longer conduct nuclear tests, and would close down its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. It dynamited the entrances to two test tunnels in May 2018. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports say North Korea began restoring test tunnels in March 2022 and the test site “remains prepared to support a nuclear test.”

Nuclear Warheads Outside experts estimate that North Korea has produced enough fissile material for between 20 to 60 warheads. A 2021 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report says that North Korea “retains a stockpile of nuclear weapons.” Another goal of a nuclear weapons program is to lower the size and weight of a nuclear warhead for deployment on missiles

Overview North Korea continues to advance its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite UN Security Council sanctions and high-level diplomatic efforts. Recent ballistic missile tests and military parades suggest that North Korea is continuing to build a nuclear warfighting capability designed to evade regional ballistic missile defenses. Such an approach likely reinforces a deterrence and coercive diplomacy strategy—lending more credibility as it demonstrates capability—but it also raises questions about crisis stability and escalation control.