North Korea and the Risks of Coercive Nonproliferation

May 4, 1993 • Foreign Policy Briefing No. 24

North Korea’s abrupt withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) understandably alarms the United States, but proposals by some U.S. policy experts to launch preemptive military strikes are reckless. That step could easily trigger a major war on the Korean peninsula, engulfing the 36,000 U.S. troops stationed there and causing the deaths of tens of thousands of Koreans. Similar proposals for coercive nonproliferation when the Soviet Union and China joined the global nuclear‐​weapons club were wisely rejected.

Instead of resorting to high‐​risk military options, Washington should work with Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul to draw North Korea into the web of international diplomatic and economic relations and persuade Pyongyang to honor its commitments to the NPT. The current crisis also underscores the urgent need to withdraw all U.S. military personnel from South Korea. There are no U.S. security interests at stake in Korea that are important enough to risk making American soldiers nuclear hostages.

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