What Are North Korea’s Intentions?


North Korea has warned the world that “the moment of explosion is near,” as troops have been cleared to launch a nuclear attack. North Korean rockets have the potential to strike most of its close neighbors, Europe, the U.S., and Australia. North Korea also has a fearsome collection of biological and chemical weapons. (National Post)

Has North Korea launched a nuclear weapon? Use our study guide to better understand the issue.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

North Korea (officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) has been flexing its military muscle since Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un took office in 2011.Photograph by Adelin Petrisor
North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) has been flexing its military muscle since Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un took office in 2011.
Photograph by Adelin Petrisor


Illustration by Rich Johnson, National Post

Discussion Ideas:

  • According to the National Post graphic, North Korea has four types of ballistic missiles, from the short-range Scud to the long-range Taepodong. Except the Scud, all North Korean missiles share a significant flaw. Can students identify this tactical issue? Why is it so dangerous?
    • All North Korean missiles (except the well-tested, short-range Scud) are inaccurate. They do not have a strong history of hitting their targets.
    • Inaccurate missiles pose a severe threat to civilian populations and settlements. Entire nations and populations with whom North Korea is not in conflict are put at risk by inaccurate medium-range and long-range missiles.


  • North Korea has successfully tested nuclear weapons, and at least some of its ballistic missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear payload. Can students think of reasons why nations with no hostile relationship with North Korea would nonetheless be alarmed at North Korea’s nuclear threat to the U.S.?
    • North Korea’s missiles are notoriously inaccurate and put unintended communities at risk.
    • One of the most long-lasting dangers posed by nuclear explosions is radioactive fallout. This fallout drifts in the atmosphere, and puts entire regions, sometimes thousands of kilometers away from the incident, at risk. Radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, for instance, drifted as far as Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Greece.


  • North Korea is armed with a collection of both biological and chemical weapons, most of which are listed in the graphic. Can students identify the difference between a biological agent and a chemical agent?
    • Biological weapons are composed of living organisms, such as bacteria. Chemical weapons are non-living substances, such as gases.


  • In addition to threatening the U.S., North Korea has cut off some diplomatic and economic relations with South Korea. The National Post graphic speculates on a possible North Korean invasion of the South, with attack routes concentrated in the western part of the country. Look at our MapMaker Interactive map of the Korean Peninsula. Why do students think military analysts speculate an invasion from the west and not the east? (Have students look at the NatGeo base map, the topographic (Topo) base map, and the Satellite base map—options available in the top right corner of the MapMaker Interactive.)
    • Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is in the western part of the country. A military strategy would probably focus on taking control of Seoul.
    • The western part of the peninsula is much less mountainous than the east. This may make an invasion less arduous.


National Post: DPRK Intentions?

Nat Geo: Did North Korea Just Detonate a Hydrogen Bomb?

Nat Geo: Korean Peninsula map

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