Briefing Paper: Proposal for a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone
A Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone would help resolve a number of linked and intractable security issues in Northeast Asia. These include:
- The need to respond to North Korea’s nuclear breakout without undermining the nuclear abolition policy announced by President Obama;
- The need for Japan and Korea to deepen their non-nuclear commitments to more deeply ingrained “forever” status without hedging; and
- The need for Japan-Korean cooperation to lay the foundations for a comprehensive security mechanism and long-term regional security institution, including through a cooperative nuclear fuel cycle and space access activities.
For in-depth analysis and compiled research related to this project, please see our Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Briefing Book.
More background information for this initiative.
On October 9th & 10th, 2012 the Nautilus Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will co-host the New Approach to Security in Northeast Asia: Breaking the Gridlock Workshop in Washington, DC. The meeting seeks to define a complement to containment, the default position of US policy towards the DPRK, via a comprehensive regional security settlement that enables states to accede, and then to commit in appropriate groupings to resolve those security issues that are salient given history, their capacity, and their interest.
On November 11, 2011 the Nautilus Institute co-hosted the East Asia Nuclear Security Workshop, which addressed the robustness of proposals to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Northeast Asia region.
Specialists from Japan, Korea, China, Australia, and the United States explored in depth the current status of nuclear extended deterrence in East Asia, the plausibility of substituting conventional for nuclear extended deterrence in US alliance relationships, the cooperative security relationships that are needed to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone, and the thorny issues of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the Taiwan Straits conflict.
In addition to expert analysts from each country, the workshop was attended by senior members of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network, who served as a sounding board for the arguments presented at the workshop.
The goal of the workshop was to advance the concept of a nuclear weapons-free zone to a policy option considered in each of the capital cities of the nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states in the East Asian region by early 2013.
The Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone must meet the standard and conventional requirements of a treaty-based nuclear weapon free zone. It would also need to address region-specific issues:
- The need to harmonize the different philosophies and principles that exist already in Japan and Korea with regard to nuclear transit and nuclear extended deterrence;
- The possibility of the entry of North Korea (DPRK) at a later stage into the zone as a denuclearized, non-nuclear state, and the need for regional energy security strategies to support this accession; and the possibility that the DPRK would try to co-exist as a nuclear weapon state or attempt to sign a protocol intended for a nuclear weapon state;
- Specific issues that may arise due to the impact of the zone on China’s perceived security interests and thereby on its security relationships with state parties to a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, especially with Japan and the United States of America.
Benefits and outcomes
If realized, the Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone will:
- Increase the non-nuclear commitment of Japan and Korea beyond their status as non-nuclear weapon states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to more deeply ingrained “forever” status without hedging;
- Devalue North Korea’s nuclear weapons, increase pressure on North Korea to disarm and dismantle its nuclear weapons, and leave the door open for a non-nuclear North Korea to join later;
- Create confidence-building measures between traditional antagonists — Japan and Korea — and create forms of inter-dependence that increase cooperation in areas such as the nuclear fuel cycle and access to space;
- Remove a major obstacle to President Obama’s nuclear abolition policy by creating a constructive sustitute for nuclear extended deterrence, while retaining implicit “existential nuclear deterrence” as a backdrop to the Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.
More information on benefits, costs, obstacles, advantages and outcomes.