Requirements of a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone

There are certain legal requirements that apply to all nuclear weapon free zones. There are also special requirements that should be considered for a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

Many Koreans and Japanese are startled when the idea of a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone is raised. They have a profound underlying assumption that animosity between the two countries precludes such cooperation on the one hand, and the related assumption that their security is assured by bilateral nuclear extended deterrence from the United States on the other.  It is now time to question these assumptions and to examine the pros and cons of a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in detail.

The zone must meet the standard and conventional requirements of a treaty-based nuclear weapon free zone.

  1. Effective prohibition of the development, manufacturing, control, possession, testing, stationing or transporting of any type of nuclear explosive device for any purpose;
  2. Effective verification of compliance;
  3. Clearly defined boundaries;
  4. Legally binding commitments to the zone by the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the zone parties;
  5. Legally binding commitments by the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China not to fire nuclear weapons from within or into the zone against third parties.

A Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone would also need to address the following region-specific issues:

  1. 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;
  2. The possibility of the entry of the 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;
  3. 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 and state parties to a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, especially with Japan and the United States of America. Such issues might include the implicit shift from nuclear extended deterrence to different combinations of enhanced conventional deterrence and to what is termed below “existential nuclear deterrence” in American alliance relationships with Korea and Japan, transit through exclusive economic zones, the Taiwan Straits, and theater missile defences.

Two crucial derivative issues must also be addressed to achieve the bilateral trust between Korea and Japan needed for a bilateral zone to be feasible:

  1. Restriction of nuclear-capable missile delivery systems in the zone, how to distinguish nuclear-capable missiles from space-launch vehicles, and how to ensure Japan-Korea equality of access to civilian space-launch capacities.
  2. Korea’s goal of achieving full “nuclear sovereignty” on a par with Japan and other states, and ensuring that they are treated co-equally with Japan in any divergence from full nuclear sovereignty — that is, that the zone incorporate some basis for integrated nuclear fuel cycle activity that includes enrichment and reprocessing.

Whether these issues would be included in a Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone or could be treated in separate but related agreements that support such a zone is an open but important question.

In addition to establishing new nuclear weapon free zones in conflict regions such as the Middle East—and in this case, East Asia—other “state of the art” issues for both existing and new nuclear weapon free zones include:

  • Inter-zonal cooperation;
  • The restriction or elimination of delivery systems;
  • Evolution into  “weapons of mass destruction-free zones” to cover chemical and biological weapons;
  • Revision of nuclear weapons state (NWS) reservations filed at time of signing specific nuclear weapon free zones that often qualified obligations with regard to using nuclear weapons in or out of the zone;
  • Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions on nuclear terrorism and non-state actor proliferation; and
  • Advancing peaceful nuclear fuel cycle cooperation and integration which the United Nations Disarmament Commission views as inherent to the concept of a treaty-based nuclear weapon free zone.

Korea-Japan Nuclear Weapon Free Zone must address at least some of these new issues.