Benefits, costs, impediments and outcomes

The Nautilus Institute is implementing an initiative to realize a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

Specific benefits

If implemented, the Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone will:

  • Devalue North Korea’s (DPRK) 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;
  • Increase the non-nuclear commitment of Japan and Korea beyond their current status as non-nuclear weapon states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to more deeply engrained “forever” status without hedging;
  • Remove the need for the United States of America to supply nuclear extended deterrence by replacing it with a combination of existential nuclear deterrence (that is, residual nuclear deterrence that arises from the mere existence of nuclear weapons outside the Zone), United Nations Security Council (UNSC) guarantees, and conventional extended deterrence;
  • Push China to go beyond its no-first use policy to provide a much stronger commitment to not use nuclear weapons against Japan;
  • 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.

Possible Costs

The Zone could have some possible costs.  It could:

  • Lead to a conventional arms race based on superior conventional forces;
  • Lead to involvement of forces from the zone in extra-zonal conventional force deployments and interventions under US leadership that destabilize perceptions of Korea and Japan as non-threatening states;
  • Result in divisive discussions between Japan and Korea over an integrated nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear manufacture and exports, and combined space access activities. This could undermine, rather than build, trust and confidence;
  • Disrupt American alliances with Japan and Korea in ways that lead to a reduction rather than an enhancement of a constructive American presence and leadership role for security affairs in the region. This might result from the greater security generated by the zone and underlying Japanese and Korea security on the one hand, and domestic pressures in the United States to reduce its alliance commitments on the other;
  • Distract policymakers from other strategies to deal with North Korea and/or to activate regional security mechanisms and institutions;
  • Reduces pressure on North Korea to denuclearize and not pursue nuclear weapons state status by distracting states from enforcing or inducing DPRK compliance with its non-nuclear obligations, or by enabling states to accommodate a de facto DPRK nuclear weapon state outside the zone;
  • Provoke North Korea into more aggressive political and military use of its nuclear and other military capacities;
  • Destabilize Chinese perceptions that such a zone signals reduction of American leadership of the US-Japan alliance in ways that will “unleash” Japan to become more independent from the United States of America, and even resume old bad habits from the era of colonialism and imperialism;
  • Discomfort other American allies observing the substitution of tacit existential nuclear deterrence for explicit nuclear extended deterrence.


The Zone could confront  a variety of obstacles that make it impossible, whatever its apparent rationality.  Such show-stoppers might include:

  • Koreans and Japanese policymakers and civil society organizations are simply uninterested and do not see nuclear weapons or such a zone as a priority;
  • A powerful and concentrated interest group or stakeholder that might be constrained by a stringent Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone mobilizes to oppose it. For example, the US 7th Fleet and Russian Far Eastern Fleet will be especially concerned about transit in and out of the Sea of Okhotsk and/or Sea of Japan/Eastern Sea;
  • North Korea escalates its nuclear weapons activities over the next two years leading to unilateral American or joint allied military and political action to restrain its actions (for example, export of fissile material or test data);
  • No integrated arrangement to achieve co-equal status with regard to the nuclear fuel cycle and/or space access can be identified or implemented that is acceptable to Korea, Japan and the United States of America.

Early traction

Conversely, “show-starters” may also arise.  These might include:

  • Early endorsement or support for a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone by key eminent security or political leaders in Korea, Japan, and the United States of America;
  • Strong support from an international agency such as the United Nations Secretary General’s office or the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs;
  • A strong showing for this concept at the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference or other international events;
  • Early strong support from key civil society, influential think-tanks and media analysts;
  • Resumption of the Six Party Talks and immediate introduction of an expanded Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone that includes North Korea earlier than envisaged in this proposal.


We will judge our work to be a substantive success to the extent that the proposed Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone is active consideration by key policymakers in Korea, Japan, and the United States of America by 1 January 2012. This may include:

  • Support by eminent persons and “champions”;
  • Policy maker statements and declarations;
  • Official deliberations and senior official meetings in either official, semi-official, or private (track 1, 1.5 or 2) channels;
  • Substantial media coverage;
  • Emerging leaders from different sectors and across generations; and
  • Think-tank and pundit response in key sectors in Japan, Korea, and the United States.