North Korea & WMD: How to Think About the Unthinkable

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About This Episode

Spencer talks with David Schmerler, a researcher who keeps track of North Korea and its weapons of mass destruction. David says his work can be like a spy novel, or a video game — and in fact he even helped create a Minecraft simulation to help people understand what’s at stake. But knowing the difference between fiction and reality is crucial — for him, and for all of us.

David Schmerler

David Schmerler

David holds a MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies from the Monterey (now Middlebury) Institute of International Studies, and a BA in Political Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Areas of Research:

North Korea’s missile and nuclear program

Iran’s missile and nuclear program

Geospatial Analysis

East Asian Security

3D modeling and analysis

Open-source analysis


  • John Schilling, Jeffrey Lewis, and David Schmerler, “A New ICBM for North Korea?”, 38North, December 22, 2015
  • Melissa Hanham, Jeffrey Lewis, and David Schmerler, “3D View: North Korean and Iranian Missile Collaboration?”, Nuclear Threat Initiative, March 18, 2015

Find David on Twitter: @DaveSchmerler

3D simulation of the Raven Rock Mountain Complex

Frame from 3D simulation of Raven Rock Mountain Complex,

Show Links

James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

“How North Korea Analysts Uncover the Hermit Kingdom’s Secrets,” New York Times

Minecraft bunker simulation at

Google Earth

Planet Labs


Arms Control Wonk

NK News

"That Secret Iranian 'Nuclear Facility' You Found? Not So Much," Foreign Policy, by Jeffrey Lewis

"Command and Control," by Eric Schlosser (about near-misses of nuclear disaster)

"Amusing Ourselves to Death," by Neil Postman