North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear bombs in its arsenal, the U.S. Army said in a report published last month, noting that leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to give them up in order to protect his regime.
The Department of the Army Headquarters published a report in July titled North Korean Tactics, which outlined North Korea’s combat operations, functional tactics, and military structure, among other assessments.
The report said that North Korea may have the world’s third-largest chemical weapons stockpile, estimated to be between 2,500 and 5,000 tons. It added that North Korea is believed to have accumulated 20 to 60 nuclear bombs, “with the capability to produce 6 new devices each year.”
Pyongyang is unlikely to give up these weapons in order to protect the Kim family regime, the U.S. military said, adding that North Korean leadership does not want to suffer the same fate as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who agreed to give up his country’s nuclear weapons in 2003 and was ultimately overthrown and killed by rebel forces.
“North Korea sought nuclear weapons because its leaders thought the threat of a nuclear attack would prevent other countries from contemplating a regime change," the report said.
The U.S. Army added that North Korea has a “long-standing chemical weapons program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood and choking agents,” including the extremely toxic sarin nerve agent. It added that Pyongyang is “highly likely” to use chemical artillery shells.
North Korea is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Conventions, an international arms control agreement that outlaws production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.
The U.S. military also expressed concerns that North Korea “possibly has weaponized anthrax or smallpox” that could be mounted on missiles and used against enemy targets like the U.S., Japan, or South Korea. It noted that a recent North Korean defector—a North Korean soldier—had been vaccinated against anthrax.
“Only one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of anthrax could kill up to 50,000 people in Seoul,” the report added.
North Korea is also believed to have amplified its cyber warfare capabilities in recent years and is estimated to have over 6,000 hackers who are mostly based overseas.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute compiled a similar report in June estimating that North Korea had 30 to 40 nuclear warheads.
Cho Myong-gyon, the former South Korean Minister of Unification, estimated in 2018 that North Korea had 20 to 60 nuclear weapons.
The U.S. Army report comes at a time when talks between North Korea and the U.S. remain at an impasse.
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim met on two occasions to discuss denuclearization—first in Singapore in June 2018 and again in Hanoi in February 2019—though talks ended without an agreement.
In December 2019, North Korea’s top envoy said denuclearization is off the table and asserted that lengthy talks with the U.S. are no longer needed.