Although the North Korean regime depicts the image of the United States and the West completely destroyed, the main reason behind their push for proliferation is because they are scared. They’re scared of an invasion or US intervention. They’re scared because the US doesn’t have a great track record with keeping its word on agreements regarding disarmament. In recent history, Iraq and Libya serve as perfect examples. The US signed an agreement with Saddam Hussein in which he gave up his WMDs1. In the end we still said he had WMDs, invaded Iraq, and toppled his government. With Libya the US signed a disarmament agreement with Muammar Gaddafi. Eventually we toppled his government too1. Kim Jong Un simply fears ending up like Hussein or Gaddafi. He fears that any agreement the US signs won’t stop the US from overthrowing the North Korean government if it so chooses. He has decided that nuclear weapons are the best way to avert that option.
It all goes back to the theory of nuclear deterrence. If North Korea has deliverable nuclear weapons, it should, in theory, deter the United States’ desire to invade or attack North Korea because they fear nuclear retaliation. In general, nuclear weapons aren’t used for first strikes or warfighting. They’re used to deter the enemy from using them in the first place. A lot of the theory depends on second strike capability. It’s the idea that if we are attacked first will we still have the ability to strike back with such destruction that the enemy will not want to attack in the first place. It can be argued that North Korea definitely doesn’t have a proper second strike capability, but what really determines what is too much destruction for the US? 50% of the country’s major cities, or just one major city on the west coast? Who can say what would be too much for the American people? It is safe to assume that the American people will react negatively to any kind of attack. In the end, it isn’t about North Korea’s ability to completely destroy the US. Kim Jong Un wants nukes out of fear. After all, if North Korea initiated a first strike against the US, that country would cease to exist. They want that even less.
1 Mosher, D. (2018). North Korea is not building nuclear weapons to destroy the US — the real reasons are much more surprising. Business Insider.