A nuclear North Korea only worsens, not improves interests of region

By Wang Junsheng Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/10 19:33:40

With China-North Korea ties back on the right track and US relations with the Northeast Asian country improving, there have been voices saying that China and the US may give consent to North Korea as a nuclear state. Nonetheless, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not only the continued common goal of Beijing and Washington, but also in Pyongyang's interest.

If North Korea keeps on the path to its nuclear ambition, it will catch the attention of the region and the world, but will go against the tide of the times when nuclear proliferation is strongly opposed to. On the one hand, there is little likelihood that the US and UN Security Council will ease economic sanctions making it hard for North Korea to shift its strategic focus to economic development. 

On the other hand, the US will almost certainly enhance its military presence in South Korea, which will further push the Peninsula closer to a Cold War-like pattern. North Korea will continue to face military pressure from the US, South Korea and Japan, and its security environment will hardly improve. 

But if denuclearization is achieved, UN Security Council sanctions are expected to be lifted. The militaristic US-South Korea alliance can focus more on politics. A denuclearized North Korea can also establish normal diplomatic ties with the US, Japan and South Korea.

Within the US, some believe North Korea should be given the consent to be a nuclear state. They think as North Korea already owns nuclear weapons, the country will not give them up easily. Another reason is that the US has technically acquired enough experience to coexist with a nuclear-powered country. 

This is only a minority opinion. Among the government, think tanks and the public, majority believe that the US cannot live with a nuclear North Korea, let alone establish normal diplomatic ties. 

Besides worrying that North Korea has developed the ability to hit US soil with nuclear weapons, they have deep-rooted distrust of Chairman Kim Jong-un's regime. They contend that other countries own nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence and will not easily use them, but North Korea may resort to the armaments under certain circumstances. Threats from North Korea several times in 2017 to launch nuclear attacks against the US have heightened their fears.

The US also worries that North Korea's ownership of nuclear weapons will cause a domino effect. Theoretically, if North Korea threatens to strike Los Angeles on the West coast of the US and demands Washington cede its security shield for Seoul, will the US really do so?

This will force South Korea and Japan to develop nuclear weapons and stop depending on the US nuclear umbrella. US alliances with the two countries will be jeopardized or even spiral out of control.

China has already been firm on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As a major responsible power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it does not want to see nuclear proliferation. Beijing also realizes as long as the goal is not reached, the US will have sufficient reasons to step up its military presence in the region which will further split Northeast Asia. 

Given the territorial and historical disputes and balance of power in the region, a nuclear North Korea will drive South Korea and Japan to develop nuclear weapons, resulting in an arms race and fragile security. This does not help countries in the region, including North Korea, to achieve long-term stability and peaceful development.

The author is an associate research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: ASIAN REVIEW

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