Nuclear Free Zone on the Korean Peninsula: A Russian View
by Gennady Chufrin
Institute of Oriental Studies Moscow
produced for the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network
managed by Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development Berkeley, California USA
Recently the international situation on and around the Korean
Peninsula has become very strained because of widely spread
suspicions about the nuclear program of the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea (DPRK) and alleged aggressive intentions of
Pyongyang. In the Western press gloomy forecasts are abound
predicting a possibility of a large-scale military conflict on
the Peninsula. The DPRK is described as having a substantial
military superiority over the Republic of Korea and the US
government is called upon to prevent the North Korean attack on
In order to see clearly through all these suspicions and
allegations as well as to assess properly what is real and what
is imaginary one has to step back a little and recollect the
experience of the Korean war. When this war began in 1950 the
military strength of the North was indeed far superior than the
defense capabilities of the South. And yet the war was not an
easy affair for Pyongyang.
At first an unforeseen two day delay at the 38th parallel
followed by a much longer stoppage near Pusan resulted in the
loss of strategic initiative by the North, the loss which even
the capture of Seoul could not offset. And when 50,000 US
troops were landed at Inchon in the rear of the North Korean army
the latter was forced to retreat hastily and in great disorder.
After that the Korean war was fought predominantly by two major
powers - the USA and China. When the hostilities were finally
stopped and the armistice signed in July 1953 the warring parties
found themselves again facing each other across the 38th
Even now, more than 40 years after the armistice, the Korean
people remain divided by a 240 kilometer long and 5 meter wide
wall along the demarcation line which speaks very
vividly about the futility of resolving the unification of
Korea by force. If this became impossible at the time Pyongyang
enjoyed political, economic and military support not only of
China but also of the Soviet Union, at present after the collapse
of the bi-polar world any military adventure on behalf of the
DPRK is even less feasible and can be safely excluded as a real
possibility of resolving outstanding problems between two
Let us, however, look more closely at the strategic situation
which exists now on the Korean Peninsula.
1.1. Military balance between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea.
a) Ground forces.
According to the available information the DPRK ground forces
number 1 to 1.2 million men. They include 30 infantry and
mechanized divisions, 15 armors, 20 mechanized, 4 infantry and
22 special combat brigades. They are armed with 3600-3700 tanks
(including 100-200 light ones), 6500-6800 (100, 122, 130
and 152 mm) conventional artillery pieces, 9000 (82 and 100
mm) mortars, about 900 infantry fighting vehicles and 4000
armored personnel carriers. Besides the North Korean army
has a large number of anti-aircraft guns and antitank guided
missiles at its disposal.
The ground forces of the Republic of Korea number
approximately 650,000 men. They consist of 3 mechanized, 19
infantry and 23 reserve divisions, several special combat and
airborne brigades. Besides there are 3 anti-aircraft brigades and
3 separate tactical missile divisions. The South Korea ground
forces are armed with 2000 tanks, 1000 infantry fighting vehicles
and over 1500 AFV, 4500 (105, 155, 175 and 203,2 mm) conventional
artillery pieces and 5300 (81 and 106,7 mm) mortars. Besides
there are 110 Hawk and 200 Nike Hercules launchers, a large
number of anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns as well as 450
helicopters at the disposal of the South Korean army.
b) Naval forces.
The naval forces of the DPRK number 40,000-41,500 men.
There are two operational fleets in North Korea equipped with
approximately 600 surface combatants. However among them there
are only 6 relatively large combatants - 3 frigates and 3
corvettes. The rest are small surface combatants that include 39
missile gunboats, 168 torpedo boats, 142 patrol boats and 180
landing ships. Such composition of the North Korean navy is
determined by geography of the Korean Peninsula characterized by
a complex coastal line and a large number of small bays that
presupposes the use of small high speed vessels. The main task of
such a navy is to disrupt naval communication lines,
to land small special combat and reconnaissance groups, to
demolish ports of an adversary and protect its own ports
and littoral infrastructure.
The main attack force of the DPRK navy consists of 24-27
middle class submarines whose task is to disrupt sea lanes in the
Sea of Japan, Yellow and East China Seas as well as in the Korea
straits. Besides there are 48 mosquito submarines for sabotage
purposes in the North Korean navy.
The South Korean navy numbers 60,000 men including 25,000
marines. This composition of the naval forces reflects the
experience of the Korean war when the South Korean marines
participated in landing operations alongside the US troops. After
the Korean war the South Korean naval forces continued to
upgrade their interaction with the US Navy during annual Team
Spirit military exercises.
The South Korean navy consists of three operational fleets, two
flotillas and an air wing of naval aviation. Having fewer
submarines than in the North Korean navy (3 to 27 respectfully)
the South Korean navy outnumbers the North in surface combatants
in the same proportion. The total number of large surface
combatants is 66, including 9 destroyers, 7 frigates, 26
corvettes and 14 large and medium landing ships. Besides Republic
of Korea has 97 speed boats, including 11 missile gunboats, 66
patrol boats and 20 landing boats.
The main task of the South Korean navy is to defend major sea
lanes, ports and military bases, as well as to carry out landing
operations and sea blockades together with the allied navies of
the USA and Japan.
The South Korean naval aviation consists of 20 patrol
aircraft and 50 anti-submarine helicopters. There are three
divisions of marines (including one reserve division) armed
with tanks, amphibious armors personnel carriers, 105 and
155 mm conventional artillery and Harpoon missiles.
It is important to emphasize that South Korean combatants
(especially large surface ones) are armed with more advanced
weapon systems and have more sophisticated electronic equipment
compared to the North Korean navy. Besides Republic of Korea has
a large program aimed at bridging the gap with the North as
to the number of attack submarines as well as at increasing
its superiority in the number and quality of surface combatants
and ASW aviation.
c) Air Force.
The North Korean air force numbers 70,000 men (compared to
40,000 men in the South Korean AF) and about 750 combat aircraft
(compared to 500 combat aircraft in the South). One should
not disregard however the superior quality of the South Korean
air force both because of its more advanced weapon systems and
better models of aircraft used (F-16 Fighting Falcons now and F-
18 in the near future) as well as because of US air force
presence on the Peninsula.
d) Reserve Forces.
The North Korean military reserves, military civilian
services and militarized security forces are estimated to be 5.4
million. men. The comparable forces in South Korea are estimated
to be 3.4 - 4.2 million men.
Summing up the results of the above comparison we come to the
conclusion that while North Korea has a larger armed force (with
or without the reserve forces) and enjoys numerical superiority
over the South in the number of tanks, artillery pieces, mortars,
combat aircraft and attack submarines, the Republic of Korea has
a much larger Marine corps, has more surface combatants and ASW
But what may be even more important is that the nominal
superiority of North Korea in conventional weapons over the South
is only 1.8 times while the share of military expenditures in GNP
in the North is almost 50 per cent compared to only 6.5 per cent
in the South. That means that the military industrial complex in
the South is far more efficient, a fact that will become even
more obvious in case of any prolonged military conflict between
the North and South. If on the other side the North plans a short
war it is unclear how it can win it without having a classical
threefold superiority in conventional weapons recommended for
offensive operations. Moreover a 1.5 times superiority of the
North in the number of artillery pieces is substantially reduced
by more powerful artillery systems of the South while its
superiority in the number of tanks is effectively offset by more
effective anti-tank weapon systems in the South as well as by a
large number of helicopter gunships deployed there.
It has been already mentioned earlier that the South Korean air
force has a clear advantage over the North Korean air force. As
to the naval forces of two Korean states, the
North Korean navy though having more submarines is rather
vulnerable to air attacks of ASW aircraft because of insufficient
air protection of its major naval bases. At the same time the
South Korean navy will enjoy superiority in the number and
fire power of its surface combatants.
Lastly, more powerful amphibious forces of the South are
able, if its naval and air superiority is established, to ensure
successful large-scale landing operations of the Marine Corps.
Of course, the deployment of a major part of the North Korea
armed forces within 100 km from the demarcation line as well as a
strategically vulnerably geographical location of Seoul may be of
a certain advantage to the North. However as may be judged from
the experience of the Korean war an occupation of Seoul does not
guarantee a victory in a warfare. Besides while preparing for
a possible attack from the North the South Korean army has
deployed about 350 thousand troops, i.e. over half of its total
strength, around the capital. Moreover, it is totally unclear
why the US forward deployed forces in Japan and South Korea
itself (i. e. over 83 thousand men, 200 combat aircraft and 15
surface combatants) would be unable to react timely and
efficiently in case of an attack from the North.
Under such conditions the only possibility for the North to
achieve a decisive military superiority over the South may appear
if the Northern armed forces launch a very
powerful missile attack against all major ports, air fields and
military bases in the South. Such a possibility however may be
real only if DPRK possesses nuclear weapons and means of its
delivery. Let us then consider such a possibility.
1.2. Nuclear weapons: possible scenarios of their deployment and
An issue of nuclear armament is closely connected with an
issue of its delivery. As is known surface-to-surface ballistic
missiles of various ranges are considered to be the most
effective means of nuclear weapons delivery. It is also known
that the major nuclear powers, i.e. the United States and Russia,
have practically stopped now to use tactical nuclear weapons
delivery systems including nuclear-capable artillery, tactical
missile launchers and tactical aircraft. According to SALT-I and
SALT-II agreements there are also restrictions imposed upon the
use of tactical sea-launched cruise missiles as the means of
nuclear weapons delivery. That leaves practically only ICBMs and
strategic aircraft as major nuclear weapons delivery systems in
the United States and Russia.
However, already in 1990 according to the available
information about 30 countries were armed with various types of
short-range and medium-range delivery systems with range
capabilities up to several hundred kilometers. And there are
already a lot more threshold states that are prepared to follow
their example. This phenomenon reflects current changes in the
geostrategic situation when the confrontation
between two superpowers has been replaced by an ever
increasing competition at the regional level between local
actors. Modernization of delivery systems in these countries
moves in the following forms:
* through the use of foreign know-how and foreign experts
* through the development of ballistic missiles on the basis
of national know-how (Israel, India, Pakistan, Brazil);
* through modernization and upgrading of foreign made missiles
along with development of local tactical missile launchers
(Iran, Iraq, North Korea and South Korea).
Since the development of national nuclear capability is
usually unpopular among the local population and for those
countries that have became a party to the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) such activities are a gross
violation of its provisions, nuclear research and creation of
nuclear weaponry are conducted under conditions of great secrecy
and without any control not only from international agencies but
also from national public opinion. Such indeed may be the
situation on the Korean Peninsula as suspected by international
What kind of missile launch systems do the DPRK and Republic of
Korea possess at present? Officially the North Korean armed
forces have 70 tactical missile launchers at their disposal. Most
likely these are somewhat modernized Soviet or Chinese tactical
missiles imported from China. They are, however, rather outdated
and their range capability does not exceed 150-200 km.
However in May 1993 North Korea carried out a test flight of a
new Rodong-1 missile. Being launched it covered the distance of
480 km in the direction of Tokyo and fell down in the Sea of
Japan. This missile is capable of delivering a nuclear,
biological or a chemical war head. To all probabilities this
missile is a modified version of a tactical Scud missile that
became well-known during the Persian Gulf war. The test flight of
Rodong-1 proved the fact that its range capability is enough to
reach US military bases in Japan and even threaten Tokyo, which
means that the DPRK possesses now a modern launch system
potentially capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
One should not overlook, however, that the Republic of Korea
also possesses a modern delivery system which is even more
powerful than that of North Korea. At the beginning of June
1993 South Korea launched a Science-1 space rocket which
though officially described as a civilian one can easily be
used for military purposes.
Officially the South Korean armed forces have in their
possession 12 US built Honest John launch systems which are
outdated and have been replaced in the US Army long ago. However
in 1975 South Korea bought in the United Stated a plant for
production of solid fuel missile engines which was then
transported from California and assembled in South Korea. Already
in 1978 first successful tests of unguided surface-to-surface
missiles with the range of 35 to 150 km were carried out. Then
that production of guided air-to-air missiles was organized. At
present South Korea assembles at this plant modern guided
missiles with all necessary electronic guidance systems out of
local parts and materials and in accordance with a US licence.
The mere fact of launching a space rocket by South Korea in June
1993 clearly proves its superiority in missile-building
technology over the North.
The principal difference between strategic position of two
Korean states lies in the fact that while South Korea enjoys a
US "nuclear umbrella" protection, North Korea has to create such
an "umbrella" on its own.
As is known the US troops deployed in South Korea are armed
with aircraft and missile launchers capable of delivering nuclear
weapons. The US forward deployed forces in Japan as well as in
the Pacific (including the 7th fleet) are armed with nuclear
weapons which may be used in accordance with the US decision. It
is well known that this US nuclear capability is far superior to
any military capability of North Korea or even to its nuclear
capability if it really exists at all.
What is actually known, however, is the following:
a) North Korea has seven nuclear sites at the Yongbyon
complex capable of producing nuclear weapons. After the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) carried out several
inspections of nuclear installations there in accordance with
the provisions of the NPT its experts voiced certain
suspicions regarding two nuclear storage sites. However the
DPRK not only declined the IAEA request to conduct special
inspections of these two suspected nuclear sites but in March
1993 declared its withdrawal from the NPT.
b) At about the same time numerous reports appeared in the
South Korean and international press about an allegedly
increasing military and nuclear threat coming from North Korea.
According to these press reports Pyongyang after creating the
second nuclear reactor has developed a capability of producing
annually up to seven nuclear war heads. It has been also reported
that the North possesses enough facilities to produce also
chemical weapons and means of their delivery.
c) At the end of December 1993 the New York Times published an
article which contained a leak from the US secret sources about
North Korea having 12 kg of plutonium which was sufficient for
production of two nuclear bombs.
Leaving aside for a while an issue of reliability of these
press reports let us assume that the DPRK indeed possesses a
small amount of plutonium and is capable to increase its
production for the creation of nuclear weapons. Let us also
consider the military aspects of the possible deployment and use
of such weapons by the DPRK.
Acting on these assumptions one must state that from the
military point of view the North Korean army command should
undertake such actions that would prevent the South Korean
from carrying out successful landing operations in major South
Korean ports and military bases (as it happened during the
Korean war). For that purpose the North Korean armed forces
should demolish such ports and bases in the South as well as
establish a blockade of the US forward deployed forces in Japan
(see endnote 1).
It is quite obvious that such a task is unattainable for the
DPRK. The number of major military bases and sea ports in South
Korea, such as Pusan and Masan sea ports, Chinhae, Mokpo, Pohang,
Cheju, Inchon naval bases and air force bases in Pusan, Pohang,
Chinhae, Kunsan to name only a few of them, is far more and above
the possible (two) number of nuclear bombs in possession of North
Korea. And that is without mentioning Seoul since it is located
within the range of North Korean artillery fire.
As of now North Korea is capable of arming only tactical missiles
and - at the most - tactical aircraft with nuclear war heads and
bombs. However the range of those tactical missiles is
insufficient to reach most of the South Korean bases located at
the Southern tip of the Peninsula, i.e. over 300 km from the DMZ.
Neither small naval vessels can be used for deployment of nuclear
weapons, nor available artillery is capable of launching
In other words, even if the DPRK indeed has only two nuclear war
heads at its disposal, its armed forces are unable from the
military point of view to carry out successfully the principal
strategic task. And if, as it is discussed now by Seoul and
Washington, the United States are actually going to deploy
Patriot air-defence missiles in South Korea, then a possibility
of an effective nuclear attack by the North against the South is
reduced almost to zero.
North Korea can possibly change this balance of forces in its
favor only if it attains a capability of manufacturing at least
seven nuclear warheads annually. However the reaction of
neighboring countries, and above all Japan, to such a
situation is quite predictable.
According to the information coming from official Japanese
sources the total amount of processed plutonium available in
Japan in 1993 amounted to 1.6 tons. Besides 2.9 tons of
Japan-owned plutonium is stored for reprocession in France and
Britain. The total amount of unprocessed plutonium in the form of
nuclear fuel already used
or still being used at nuclear power stations in Japan is
estimated to be 27 tons. It is quite clear that to reprocess
this plutonium to weapons-grade form will present no problem
for Japan. And one must not forget that Japan already possesses
modern missile technology.
Having said that one logically reaches a conclusion that if
North Korea is indeed in the process of creating its nuclear
weapons capability it is doing so because one (or both)
of two following reasons. The first one of them is dictated
by a desire to create a situation preventing any
reasonable possibility of an outside military attack on North
Korea and thus defending the existing political regime from an
overthrow by force by a potential aggressor. Creation of the
North Korean nuclear deterrent capability is thus aimed at making
a military conflict between the North and the South a virtual
impossibility given the relatively small size of the Korean
Peninsula and a very high degree of exposure of its
population to the consequences of a nuclear war.
The second reason behind an alleged North Korean nuclear
program may be of a completely different nature, i.e. formed by
the desire of Pyongyang to use it as a political threat or
pressure in order to achieve better political and economic terms
in its dealing with Seoul as well as with the United States and
other Western countries.
The DPRK and Republic of Korea signed a Non-Nuclear
Declaration in December 1991 which was aimed at creating an
atmosphere of mutual trust between them on the nuclear issue.
However almost immediately talks between the two Korean states on
practical measures to realize this Declaration came to a dead
end because of fundamental differences between the North and
South on the problem of bilateral control measures over the
implementation of nuclear safeguards.
Thus Republic of Korea believed that in order to create a
nuclear-free zone on the Peninsula it would be insufficient to
hold only the IAEA inspections and demanded the right to inspect
not only nuclear but also military bases and installations in
North Korea. This approach to the nuclear issue was
interpreted however by the DPRK as an attempt by the South to
conduct military intelligence operations in the North while
withholding inspections by North Korean authorities of the US
military bases in the South. The North Korean approach on
the nuclear issue stemmed from its belief that the issue itself
was originally created by the United States when they deployed
their nuclear weapons in South Korea in the 1970s. Therefore
inspections of the US military bases in the South were necessary
especially since the US authorities neither denied nor
confirmed the existence of nuclear weapons there.
On the other hand the DPRK after joining the NPT in 1985
spent over six years instead of mandatory 18 months on discussing
conditions of regular IAEA inspections before actually allowing
them. Moreover when the IAEA raised suspicions about two nuclear
sites at Yongbyon and demanded their special inspections
Pyongyang, as it was already mentioned, declared its withdrawal
from the NPT in March 1993.
After that and especially after the resumption of the US-ROK
joint Team Spirit military exercises in 1993 negotiations between
the North and the South were completely broken. The ROK together
with the United States tried in response by every political means
at its disposal to bring the DPRK back to a negotiating table and
to accept its conditions for nuclear safeguards. On top of that
Seoul explored various scenarios of applying economic pressures
on Pyongyang that might have included coordinated actions with
Japan and even China. However Seoul was prepared to make
concessions too, such as, for instance, scaling down the size of
Team Spirit exercises that normally involved up to 100 thousand
US and ROK troops, large number of aircraft and naval vessels.
Also political guarantees of nonaggression were offered to the
DPRK as well as the development of economic relations with Japan
and the United States much sought after by Pyongyang (see endnote
It is a clear case of a stick and carrot policy to which the
DPRK is now much more vulnerable than ever before when it enjoyed
a powerful support of the Soviet Union and China. There is no
more Soviet Union now while China though remaining an ally of the
DPRK follows a very cautions policy towards North Korea and does
not support its intention to acquire nuclear weapons.
The political vulnerability of the DPRK has been increased by its
deteriorating economic condition. Poor harvests in the last few
years have severely depleted its food stocks. A sharp decline of
oil imports from the former Soviet Union has resulted in a
steep decline of production of fertilizers, reduction in the
number of aircraft flights and disruption of transport services.
Though the share of military expenditures exceeds half of the
total GNP of North Korea, even the army faces now increasing
difficulties that include more severe food rationing of soldiers
and imposition of strict limits on fuel consumption.
The economic and external political difficulties have been
further increased by the growing domestic political tension and
unpredictability of Kim Jong Il, a new North Korean leader, of
whom very little is reliably known while he has come now in
control of many vital spheres of the DPRK domestic and foreign
policy. Some observes even believe that under present
deteriorating political and economic conditions and without
former restraining influence of the Soviet Union and China on
the decision making process in Pyongyang the new leadership
there may indulge into a risky game of using its nuclear program
as a means of political survival.
Thus acting on a seemingly correct assumption that the United
States was prepared to make serious concessions in order to
prevent the DPRK withdrawal from the NPT Pyongyang engaged
Washington into a direct dialogue leaving aside not only South
Korea but even its negotiations with the IAEA. In its dialogue
with the United States the DPRK set down several conditions for
the resolution of the nuclear issue, that included:
a) a formal obligation of the United States not to use
nuclear weapons against the DPRK;
b) a formal declaration by the United States of the complete
withdrawal of the US nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula;
c) a discontinuation of Team Spirit exercises;
d) conclusion of a peace treaty that would replace the
present armistice agreement;
e) a denunciation by Washington of its treatment the DPRK as a
f) support by the United States of the Korean unification on
the basis of a confederation.
These conditions appeared to be quite realistic or at least
much more realistic than earlier ones with a probable exception
of the last one. Thus the DPRK does not demand any longer an
immediate full diplomatic recognition by Washington or the speedy
US troops withdrawal from South Korea or the US assistance in
replacing its outdated nuclear reactors.
As to the US response to the DPRK policy on the nuclear
issue it may be characterized as a combination of diplomatic
efforts with economic and military pressures on Pyongyang. Thus
the US government agreed to start a direct dialogue with the DPRK
at a critical moment when the DPRK-ROK negotiations were broken
and North Korea declared its withdrawal from the NPT. The first
round of the US-DPRK talks was held in New York in June 1993.
As the result of this and subsequent rounds of talks an
agreement was reached between Pyongyang and Washington in
February 1994 which envisaged the resumption of the IAEA
inspection of North Korean nuclear sites while the United States
promised not to hold Team Spirit exercises in 1994.
However this agreement was shortlived. Already in March 1994
representatives of the IAEA who arrived in North Korea to conduct
inspections accused Pyongyang of refusing to allow them to visit
some of its nuclear sites. The reaction of the US government to
this was violent though predictable. The US authorities
confirmed their plans to deploy Patriot missiles in South Korea
and to hold Team Spirit exercises as originally planned.
The US government actions included also a suspension of US
troops withdrawal from South Korea, an intensification of
intelligence data collecting as well an appeal to the UN
Council to condemn North Korea.
At the same time the US administration started preparations for
a more active defence support to South Korea in accordance with
the provisions of the mutual defence treaty of 1954.
Moreover Senators Nann and Lugar were reported to propose the
re-deployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea.
As to the reaction of another great power, China, to the
developments in and around the Korean Peninsula, it is more
cautious and ambivalent. Though remaining a formal ally of the
DPRK and refusing to support any economic sanctions against it
China regards negatively nuclear proliferation and does not
approve any steps of North Korea in this direction. A positive
role can be played by China in the current crisis not by joining
possible economic sanctions against North Korea but by using its
political influence on the DPRK in the classical style of quiet
At the first glance Japan takes a very clear and unambiguous
stand on the Korean nuclear issue. It supports its principal
allies, i.e. the USA and ROK, in their political efforts and
favors an establishment of a nuclear-free zone on the Korean
Peninsula. At the beginning of April 1993, a delegation of the
Japan Socialist party visited Pyongyang and criticized the North
Korean decision to withdraw from the NPT (see endnote 3).
However after the test flight of the Rodong missile in the
direction of Tokyo the Japanese government has changed some of
its previous attitudes towards the nuclear issue. Thus it has
been announced that Japan is going to reconsider its position on
the long-term prolongation of the Non-proliferation Treaty when
this problem will be raised in 1995.
What may become even more serious is Japan provoked by North
Korea beginning the development of its own nuclear weapons. So
far Japan has refrained from undertaking its
own military nuclear program because its security has been
adequately guaranteed under the USA-Japanese Treaty. The
Japanese government continues to regard this Treaty as a
mainstay of its foreign policy. However the Treaty security
provisions may be considered insufficient under emerging new
geopolitical conditions and challenges, such as a nuclear threat
from North Korea.
As to the Russian policy on the Korean nuclear issue it
passed through several stages during the last two years. While
continuing to remain highly critical of the North Korean
approach to that issue and of Pyongang intentions to withdraw
from the NPT, Moscow moved from being merely supportive to the
United States, South Korea, Japan and other nations in their
condemnation of North Korea to assuming a more active
stand on the evolving situation. That change of policy
approach resulted in the proposal to hold multilateral
negotiations on the Korean nuclear issue that would include not
only North Korea and the United States but also other
parties whose national interests are directly involved, such
as Russia, China, Japan and, of course, South Korea. The
reasoning behind this proposal may be explained by a serious
disillusion felt in Moscow with the results of the US-North
Korean dialogue on the issue which is considered to be highly
sensitive to Russian security concerns (see endnote 4).
2.2. The changing role of nuclear-free zones under changing
The idea of establishing nuclear-free zones (NFZs) dates
back to the period of Cold War. At first there was an increase in
the number of nuclear zones (i.e. zones where nuclear weapons
were deployed) followed by a movement in favor of creating NFZs.
the world was put on the brink of a nuclear war as a result
of the Cuban crisis. Fortunately a prompt political
compromise was reached between Moscow and Washington. Soviet
nuclear weapons were withdrawn from Cuba in return to the US
guarantees of Cuban sovereignty. One of the positive results of
this compromise to the outside world became the re-emergence of
Latin America as a nuclear-free zone which was formally recorded
in 1967 in the Treaty of Tlateloco.
So far it remains to be one of the very few examples of a NFZ
the status of which has been respected by nuclear powers (the
only other two successful examples of NFZs known to the author
of this paper are Antarctica and Greenland). In other parts of
the world - South Pacific, South-East Asia, Middle East, etc -
that aspired to become nuclear free the actual results were far
less satisfactory or even completely negative.
One such example is the story of the South Pacific NFZ. In August
1985 Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and other members of the
Pacific Forum agreed to create a nuclear free zone and as a
result the South Pacific NFZ Treaty was signed in Raratonga. This
Treaty prohibited deployment of nuclear weapons on the
territories or within territorial waters of member states as well
as dumping of nuclear waste and conducting of nuclear tests in
the zone area. The five nuclear powers were asked to support the
Treaty, to sign corresponding protocols to that effect as well as
not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any of the
parties to the Treaty.
However in the still prevailing atmosphere of the Cold War a
reaction of the nuclear powers to the Raratonga Treaty was far
from uniform. Thus the Soviet Union and China signed protocols to
the Treaty as requested while the United States and Britain
refused to do it and France completely disregarded the Treaty
continuing its nuclear testing program at the Muroroa attol.
Similarly a proposal to create a NFZ in South-East Asia put
forward by the ASEAN states as far back as in September 1984
could not be realized until the Cold War was finally over and the
US military bases at Subic Bay and Clark Field in the Philippines
where the US nuclear weapons were reportedly deployed were
closed. As to the Middle East or the Mediterranean Sea area
where creation of NFZs was also proposed many years ago no
progress has been achieved so far.
With all those differences among NFZs prosed or realized
during the Cold War period their major similarity lies in the
fact that their status centered on prohibition of nuclear tests
and deployment of nuclear weapons. As can be seen in the case of
the South Pacific NFZ, however, such, zones, even if created,
remained handicapped unless all five
nuclear states agreed to respect it. Therefore lately it has
been realized that NFZs may be much more effective is they
become an integral part of collective or cooperative security
2.3. Prospects of a NFZ on the Korean Peninsula.
The analysis of the political and strategic situation on the
Korean Peninsula made earlier brings us to the conclusion that
after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the DPRK lost a very
powerful political, economic and military support and seemed to
have chosen a nuclear option to compensate this loss as a
guarantee of its security. If that assumption is correct then one
must unequivocally state that such a policy is extremely risky,
highly adventurous and in fact futile. Our analysis of possible
scenarios of future developments brings us to the only conclusion
that North Korea cannot under any conditions achieve a military
victory over South Korea in the event of an open conflict. But
even if the DPRK-ROK conflict remains in the present latent form
it creates an atmosphere of a dangerous unpredictability on the
Korean Peninsula and in North-East Asia that may result
in a nuclear proliferation and even a nuclear conflict.
One may safely predict that if Japan, provoked by the
developments in North Korea, decides to go nuclear, Russia and
China will react with the utmost concern. One may express
serious doubts that such a course of events would correspond to
the national interests of the USA.
To prevent such undesirable developments the concerned
countries should apply more pressure on the DPRK leadership
but only up to a certain point since introduction of
comprehensive economic sanctions to say nothing about threats
to use force against Pyongyang may become politically
counter productive. Therefore a continuation of the direct US-
DPRK dialogue seems to be one of the most feasible and effective
instruments of bringing the DPRK leadership to desired results.
Without doubt a promise of an economic assistance coming from
the USA on certain very concrete political conditions may be
very helpful in the negotiation process especially since the
DPRK now is in a very serious economic situation.
However, if this dialogue fails, as the present situation
suggests, in order to reach an acceptable and lasting agreement
on peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, that will involve
a creation of a NFZ there, more energetic multilateral efforts by
both Korean states, the USA, Russia, China and Japan should be
undertaken that may finally result in an international conference
on Korea and establishment of a cooperative security system in
1. Here as elsewhere, I have tried to convince readers that the
DPRK is unable to launch a conventional or nuclear attack with
any reasonable chance of success; this view is also expressed by
General Kolesnikov, chief of the Russian Army GS.
2. After the second round of the US-DPRK talks (February 1994)
was concluded with a four-point agreement on the resumption of
the IAEA inspections and of the North-South dialogue as well as
on discontinuation of Team Spirit exercises, the first deputy
Foreign Minister of North Korea made a statement on March 4 which
called the USA to stop nuclear threats and hostile policies
against the DPRK; to assist it with light water reactor
technology; and to improve the US-DPRK relations.
3. Indeed, at the beginning of 1994 there were reports in the
Japanese press accusing Russia and its nuclear and missile
experts in assisting the DPRK in its nuclear military program.
To make these accusations credible a certain secret document
allegedly issued by the Russian Defense Ministry was referred to.
However, the Russian government rejected these press reports as
4. As to Russian nuclear forces in the Far East, their size and
structure are maintained in accordance with principles of the
national doctrine of defense sufficiency as well as with the
provisions of the US-Russian START agreements. Their purpose is
to serve as a nuclear deterrent to either of three major possible
threats to Russian national security that may come from North-
West Pacific, Russian-Chinese border or Korean Peninsula. The
backbone of this nuclear deterrent is constituted by SSBNs
equipped with long-range SLBMs that can operate successfully not
only from the open sea but also from Russian coastal waters.
Since this nuclear force is now practically the only effective
deterrent against possible security threats it makes, in my
opinion, the Japanese proposal of a NFZ in Northeast Asia that
will encompass among other areas Littoral Siberia completely
unacceptable for Russia.