Why the United States Needs North Korea to Stay Nuclear

    Hongyu Zhang, Kevin Wang

    undefined, Asia

    A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, in Seoul, South Korea, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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

    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.

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