The Buzz

How North Korea Could Become Nuclear Weapons Powerhouse

China and Russia have promoted a ‘freeze for freeze’ deal, in which North Korea supposedly halts its nuclear and missile development in return for the US ending joint military activities with South Korea. If that proposal were accepted, it would contribute to the goal of decoupling the US from its allies in Asia. But it would be difficult to verify North Korean compliance, especially if, as is likely, North Korea didn’t allow intrusive inspections. It would also be hard to prevent North Korea from using computer simulation to further develop warhead designs.

The risk is that if we accept the status quo now, then an assertive China, along with Russia, may see an opportune moment to double down on freeze for freeze, on the understanding that North Korea might then come to the table, but from a perceived position of strength, and potentially with a much larger and more capable nuclear arsenal likely to emerge in a few years.

In this scenario, there would likely be increasing pressure on South Korea, and Japan, to consider their own nuclear deterrent capabilities. That would have drastic consequences for the success of nuclear non-proliferation across much of Asia. In the face of such pressure, the US would have to choose between boosting its extended nuclear deterrence security guarantees and watching nuclear non-proliferation in Asia collapse.

This first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

Image: Reuters.