SEOUL, April 13 (UPI) -- North Korea's nuclear arsenal will continue to grow over the next several years, reaching as many as 242 nuclear weapons and dozens of intercontinental ballistic missiles by 2027 and posing a threat that will be increasingly difficult for South Korea and the United States to contain, a report released Tuesday said.
The report, jointly produced by Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies and Santa Monica, Calif.-based Rand Corp., warned that negotiations alone are unlikely to be effective in reducing the threat and called for measures such as deploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea.
Titled "Countering the Risks of North Korean Nuclear Weapons," the report estimates that North Korea had developed between 67 and 116 nuclear weapons by 2020, with its stockpile to grow by 12 to 18 weapons per year until 2027.
Until now, the isolated country has relied on its nuclear arsenal for deterrence, but as North Korea advances its nuclear capabilities it may be able to use weapons for blackmail, coercion or even to conduct pre-emptive strikes against South Korea and the United States.
"Despite some ROK and U.S. efforts to enhance defense and deterrence, there is a growing gap between the North Korean nuclear weapon threat and ROK and U.S. capabilities to defeat it," the report said.
The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.
"Today, even a few of the likely dozens of North Korean nuclear weapons could cause millions of fatalities and serious casualties if detonated on ROK or U.S. cities," it added.
North Korea has not conducted any nuclear or long-range missile tests since 2017, but it launched a pair of short-range ballistic missiles last month in violation of United Nations sanctions. Pyongyang also showed off a new ICBM at a military parade in October.
A report by a United Nations panel of experts earlier this month concluded that North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear and missile programs and has "increased its nuclear strike capability, as well as its ability to counter foreign missile defense systems while safeguarding itself with its own new air defense system."
The Asan/Rand report warned that future negotiations are unlikely to lead to denuclearization.
"Unfortunately, the major ROK and U.S. strategy to moderate the growing North Korean nuclear weapon threat has been negotiating with North Korea to achieve denuclearization, and this effort has failed and seems likely to continue failing," the report said.
Instead, the authors contend that the United States and South Korea "must consider putting all options on the table" in confronting the North Korean threat, focusing on deterrence and defense but signaling a willingness to destroy the North Korean regime if it uses nuclear weapons.
Steps would include deploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, as well as increasing intelligence collection and enhancing missile defense systems.
"The ROK and the United States must now turn their attention to deterring North Korean nuclear weapon attacks and being able to defeat such attacks if deterrence fails," the report said.
The allies should be ready "to fight and win a war on the Korean Peninsula under conditions of North Korean nuclear weapon use, and both countries must be prepared to implement the current U.S. policy of destroying the Kim regime if it uses nuclear weapons," the report added.