The Future of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Northeast Asia

Part of the Asia Today book series (ASIAT)


In this chapter Peter Hayes explores the relationship between nuclear weapons in existing, emerging, and prospective regional communities. First, the author outlines how nuclear threat is woven into inter-state relations in the Northeast Asian region and constitutes a defining dimension of what may be termed a regional “anti-community” based in part on the threat of nuclear annihilation. Next, he identifies sources of strategic instability that could disrupt nuclear command-and-control systems and increase the propensity of one or more nuclear-armed states to escalate to nuclear attack.

He argues that the US-DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) conflict relationship poses the most serious threat that nuclear war could occur, involving not only these two parties, but other nuclear and non-nuclear states in the region, suggesting the DPRK’s nuclear strategy at this early stage is primarily political in nature, and might be turned around, but could also lead to some terrible outcomes if not forestalled and reversed in the near future.

A Northeast Asian comprehensive security settlement and a regional nuclear weapons-free zone could bring about an end to such nuclear threats, suggests Hayes. It is in the interests of all states in the region to create a NWFZ, he argues, as it is the only way whereby states can create a stabilizing framework within which to manage, reduce, and eventually abolish nuclear threat in Northeast Asia, including those aimed at and coming from the DPRK.

Unless a comprehensive security system and a regional NWFZ induce these nuclear weapon states to reduce their nuclear armaments over time, Hayes fears the region will remain trapped in Cold War dynamics, with each country unable to transcend the identities defined by realist, military dominated nation-states, in spite of burgeoning cultural, social, economic, and ecological interdependence.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nautilus InstituteBerkeleyUSA

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