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Moving Target: Korea's Nuclear Proliferation Potential

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Working paper no. 5,

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In early 1992, the nuclear issue was moving so fast in Korea that it bewildered many analysts accustomed to the glacial pace of North-South Korean politics since 1953. Korea may spawn a new geopolitical axiom the longer and harder the freeze, the faster the thaw. This essay seeks to clarify the medium-run trends and possible outcomes that are consistent with this rapidly moving mosaic of events. My purpose is to evaluate the potential for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dilemma in Korea. First, I outline the basis of Western concern over North Koreas nuclear activities, and describe the stances taken by the various parties to the Korean conflict on the issue. Next, I analyse the threats emanating from some quarters in Seoul and Washington of attacking North Koreas nuclear sites-and possible North Korean reprisals. Third, I examine the idea of challenge inspections of North Koreas nuclear program - an alternative that is also discounted as unrealistic. Finally, I sketch a range of possible outcomes of the current impasse, starting with the most optimistic and ending with the most pessimistic arguably the least likely. None of the key variables underlying these scenarios - the dominant world views in Seoul and Washington, the emphasis on military versus economic power, the ability of the two North Korean elites to achieve mutual understanding - are predetermined. These alternative nuclear futures therefore represent stark choices for, and political challenges to, all parties to the Korean conflict.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Nuclear Warfare

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