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A nuclear North Korea is not a threat, but an ideal stabilizer.

Why the United States Needs North Korea to Stay Nuclear,   A nuclear North Korea is not a threat, but an ideal stabilizer. National Interest Hongyu ZhangKevin Wang, 

Many are hopeful that the June 12 summit in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will lead to denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Others believe the historical record makes clear that such a hope is overly optimistic. But what if allowing North Korea to retain its nuclear arsenal could both lead to peace and benefit America’s long-term security interests in the region?

There are two reasons for this. First, possessing nuclear weapons is the best way to pacify North Korea and constrain its aggression. Second, a secure and independent North Korea (without the presence of Chinese or U.S. forces) would also provide a buffer against great power tensions. The long-term primary objective of U.S. strategy in East Asia should be to contain a rising China. To achieve this, the United States must minimize Chinese influence on its neighboring states—whether they are U.S. allies or not. A limited North Korean nuclear arsenal is the most effective way to make this happen.

The United States should, therefore, continue reaching out diplomatically to North Korea and even end some sanctions to seek long-term stability. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, a nuclear North Korea and a balanced peninsula are the best possible outcome for the region and the world.

The View From Pyongyang: A Need for Balance

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s backing of North Korea and U.S. backing of South Korea were roughly equal, resulting in a stable power balance on the Korean Peninsula. However, since the Soviet collapse, the balance of power has rapidly shifted against North Korea. The United States continues to lead the Republic of Korea (ROK)-U.S. Combined Forces Command and regularly renews its security commitments in the region. In contrast, Russia abolished its alliance treaty with North Korea in 1994. China also refused to replace the Soviet Union as North Korea’s patron when the matter was discussed between Deng Xiaoping and Kim Il-sung in 1991.

Without this balance, the peninsula has been in prolonged instability and frequently came close to military confrontation. As a sovereign state ruled by a totalitarian regime, North Korea has shown its willingness to guarantee its security at any cost. Intensifying military and economic pressure against the North has only made it more defiant and unpredictable. Therefore, any solution to the present crisis must take into account the security of this sovereign nation. Clearly, massive militarization and isolation are not a long-term solution for North Korea.

North Korea’s fear of Chinese control is one area where North Korean and American interests of containing China actually align. Moreover, North Korea would prefer to have the ability to hedge between two superpowers to get the best deal, which is only possible by reducing China’s monopoly on economic leverage over North Korea. In the same way that a nuclear China was useful in containing the USSR in the 1970s, North Korea may be helpful in containing China today.

A tacit agreement to allow the DPRK to retain a minimal but credible nuclear deterrent is advantageous to U.S. interests in that it maintains a source of friction in Sino-North Korean relations. By possessing nukes, North Korea will be more independent from Chinese influence and can turn away from China. Thus, a nuclear North Korea would be a viable solution to the imbalance of power on the Korean peninsula after the end of the Cold War. Finally, North Korea would also benefit the long-term U.S. strategy of containing Chinese expansionism. This China containment policy can only be successful if the United States is willing to politically and economically engage with North Korea.

In a 1967 article in Foreign Affairs, Richard Nixon stated that “Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors.” If Nixon, along with Henry Kissinger’s support, could understand the strategic value of engaging a former adversary with newly acquired nuclear weapons, perhaps policymakers can see the strategic value of doing so with North Korea today.

Hongyu Zhang is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, and can be reached at His research focuses on nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, and Chinese foreign policy.

Kevin Wang is a Research Assistant at the National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs (CISA) for Nuclear Security and Nonproliferation Issues. He can be reached at



June 27, 2018 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international, USA

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