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North Korea is on its ‘way to an arsenal of perhaps dozens’ of nuclear warheads

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In the wake of North Korea’s latest nuclear test, a panel of experts discussed the possible implications of a nuclear weapons “no-first-use” policy on global security at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday.

A “no-first-use” policy calls for a country to not use nuclear weapons first and only in response to an attack.

Last week, Pyongyang carried out its largest nuclear test, which was the second one this yearand fifth since 2006. In response, experts highlighted the importance of deployingAmerica’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system despite upsetting near-peers like Russia and China.

“THAAD is a reaction. It is a defensive reaction against the North Koreans’ audacious attitude towards the South and towards Japan by testing ballistic missiles and its nuclear weapons test,” Franklin Miller, former Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council, told Business Insider.

“The whole point of THAAD is to devalue the North Korean missile threat to its neighbors,” Miller added.

North Korea has the dishonorable distinction of being the only country to test nuclear weapons in this century.

“The North Korean problem is a very concerning one. If you look at the trend lines they are all in the wrong direction,” Matthew Kroenig, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, told Business Insider.

“They’re producing more nuclear material — best estimates are now that they may have enough material for up to 21 nuclear warheads and the capability to produce about 6 new warheads a year.”

“So for a long time we kind of assumed that they would have a couple of nuclear weapons, what’s the big deal? Well now they’re on their way to an arsenal of perhaps dozens,” Kroenig said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test-fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang August 25, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA KCNA photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a test fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile Thomson Reuters

Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, echoed similar thoughts.

“North Korea appears to be on the cusp of significant advances towards longer-range missiles, mobile and potentially sea-launched missiles,” Karako told Business Insider in a prior interview.

“So the missile threat isn’t going down — it’s going up. And I think you’re going to see increased missile-defense activities from the United States, Japan, and South Korea,” he said.

Later this weekend, US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in New York to discuss responses to North Korea’s latest nuclear test.