One of the worst threats to the modern international world is building countries’ nuclear capabilities. Under conditions of heightened geopolitical tension, news about the development of new types of nuclear weapons, exercises, and threats by political leaders prove most dangerous since there are insufficient guarantees that a nuclear threat will not materialize. This is especially true for those countries that are not actually parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the moment, which means that their deterrence strategies are flawed. North Korea is one of those regions that initially ratified the treaty and then withdrew its signature due to conflict with the IAEA. Thus, there are no meaningful mechanisms to contain North Korea’s nuclear build-up, which, combined with the impulsiveness of the local leader and the potential for military conflict with South Korea, poses a threat to international well-being.
North Korea’s Nuclear Status
First of all, it must be said that under conditions of intense globalization, containing the possibility of nuclear catastrophe has become a priority for the international community. In 1968, after the USSR’s successful use and testing of nuclear weapons, the United States, China, and France, it was decided to create the NPT, which would form a “nuclear club” of powers with access to nuclear weapons. Since then, the number of members of this club has grown markedly, although not all countries are still members of the NPT, which prohibits any testing of nuclear weapons. North Korea, in this regard, demonstrates a dynamic in which the country initially ratified the pact but has since withdrawn from restrictive measures. In 2005, North Korea officially announced the development of nuclear weapons on its territory, and between 2006 and 2009, it conducted two test runs, calling itself a self-declared nuclear power. Garlauskas (2021) says that North Korea’s nuclear build-up to date has been implemented in three areas: developing nuclear warheads, producing fissile materials, and increasing the number of mobile missiles. Consequently, the nuclear threat from North Korea is real because the country is not deterred by any measures at the international legal level but has proven operational nuclear weapons.
The risks of nuclear weapons use by North Korea are no longer abstract, and hence there is an urgent need to manage these scenarios. Developing new international requirements and bans that North Korean leaders could voluntarily sign is necessary. One obvious strategy to solve this problem is to initiate negotiations in order to limit North Korea’s nuclear freedom through compromise; however, it has been reported that U.S. negotiations have consistently failed (Bennett et al., 2021). It should be understood that as long as the authorities in the region can maintain their nuclear sovereignty, they are of strategic value to the international community, which means policymakers of developed powers and tactical economic centers have to reckon with the opinion of Kim Jong-un (Stokes, 2021). Otherwise, if the nuclear club succeeds in subjugating the will of the North Korean leader, the region will quickly lose its military relevance to the international world, which is probably not in the country’s interest.
The contradiction described above is a central barrier to overcoming nuclear catastrophe scenarios. Until unambiguous agreements are reached (and thus until North Korea ceases to be a sovereign aggressor), the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used toward the region’s enemies will not only persist but increase (ORF, 2021). Therefore, strategies to eliminate this threat must be as swift and effective as possible, as the possibility of nuclear weapons becomes an issue for South Korea, the historical rival of the North region, and the entire world.
One such method is a temporary moratorium on suspending any development and testing related to nuclear weapons. The moratorium should become an internationally recognized document to violate which economic and political sanctions are imposed on the accused party. At the same time, the moratorium is not a harsh restriction on North Korea, as it only imposes a temporary ban but does not suppress the state’s sovereign right. On the part of the international community, the duration of this ban (for example, fifty years) creates suitable conditions for the development of new strategies of deterrence, ensures the possibility of a change of power in the regions to a more loyal one, and creates a postponement for a threat on a global scale.
Moreover, if North Korea refuses to disarm fully, one possibility to at least partially ensure peace is to reduce the number of strategies implemented. In particular, North Korea may be invited to negotiate reductions in mobile missile and warhead development but to continue research on nuclear weapons for research purposes (Nobumasa, 2019). This solution, one of compromise, could help the global community reduce the threat of a nuclear strike but not fully secure the planet.
On the other hand, if the threat from North Korea continues to grow, it is possible to place NATO military bases in close proximity to North Korea. It is worth recalling that NATO is a political-military bloc of European countries with access to U.S. nuclear resources, designed to deter Eurasian threats and the spread of U.S. influence in Europe and Asia. From this perspective, placing NATO military bases near North Korea will help deter the threat in two ways. First, air defense installations will be able to intercept missiles, which means that the real threat of a nuclear attack by North Korea will be minimized. Second, placing NATO military bases in close proximity to North Korea will show that in case of aggression, the NATO block will respond quickly, which means that North Korea will risk military damage. This fact could become a deterrent to North Korean aggression, which would help minimize the threat.
Furthermore, North Korea’s historical system of deterrence illustratively demonstrates its ineffectiveness in minimizing the threat from the North Korean government. Consequently, any new developments in this context require a revision of current practices and a complete modernization of existing sanctions as a demonstration of goodwill on the part of the world community toward North Korea. Eventually, this would create an international peace based on recognizing states’ nuclear sovereignty and respect for freedoms, but not on the brutal suppression of forces.
To summarize, North Korea’s nuclear build-up requires special attention since ignoring it could lead to a nuclear attack on its enemies. However, the characteristics of nuclear weapons lead to local consequences and threats to planetary well-being and peace on a planetary scale. Among the recommendations proposed to contain this build-up are a moratorium, restrictions on some nuclear developments, the deployment of NATO military bases, and a review of current policies.
Bennett, B. W., Choi, K., Go, M. H., Bechtol, B. E., Park, J., Klingner, B., & Cha, D. H. (2021) Countering the risks of north Korean nuclear weapons. Web.
Garlauskas, M. (2021) Proactively countering North Korea’s advancing nuclear threat. Web.
Nobumasa, A. (2019) The breakdown of the US-North Korea summit meeting and future prospects: an analysis from the structural factors of “denuclearization”. Web.
ORF (2021) Issue Brief. Web.
Stokes, J. (2021) Tangled threats. Web.