The key growth restraints are energy and manpower. The nuclear programme answers both questions.
Secondly, nuclear deterrence could free North Korea from maintaining such a large army. A standing army of close to 1.4 million could free more than 100,000 men just by cutting conscription by a year. The North has an unfashionable notion of drivers of growth, essentially massive factories and mines. Yet it just might work, drawing on its enormous pool of cheap skilled labour.
Some close to the US administration are talking of a pre-emptive attack while a paranoid Pyongyang plans its response. The prophecy risks becoming self-fulfilling. Washington would win any fight, but it could be the ultimate pyrrhic victory.
Second, it should offer de facto recognition of Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state, like India, Pakistan and Israel.
Third, engage with Beijing to encourage restraint by Pyongyang against further adventures in nuclear weapons and missile technology – in hydrogen bomb, miniaturisation and ICBM re-entry and guidance technologies.
Fourth, encourage those whom Pyongyang is willing to talk to, to engage.
Glyn Ford is a former member of the European Parliament and author of Talking to North Korea (2018) and Picturing the DPRK (2024)