SWJ Book Review – The Strategic Causes of Proliferation –
NORTH KOREA – MAKING THE DEAL
by Dr. Oscar L. Ware
Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro in Nuclear Politics "The Strategic Causes of Proliferation" (2017) provide a robust body of research into why nation-states seek nuclear proliferation and others counter proliferate. Debs and Monteiro present a complex scholarly view of predictive patterns of nuclear proliferation and their political implications through the psychology of diplomacy and military policy. The authors take great care in navigating the effects of nuclear proliferation by reviewing the rise and fall of several states who have sought but were unsuccessful in developing effective nuclear weapons or technology and those that have been successful in developing, safeguarding, and employing them. The authors contend that the more states are aligned with a nuclear security sponsor, its capability to secure domestic interest and gain international prestige, the greater willingness to proliferate diminishes.
Debs and Monteiro use a theoretical trinity to explain the interactions of nation-states, their allies, and adversaries in the determination to proliferate or acquiesce. The authors highlight the fear of abandonment by security guarantors as seen with Ukraine; second, the promise of additional security incentives; and finally, the need to curtail their ambitions to meet emerging domestic concerns such as energy and agriculture development.
Today many nations grapple with security concerns, and nuclear weapons have given rise to the way militaries protect their nation's independence and sovereignty through credible deterrence options. In particular, states seeking to acquire nuclear weapons (North Korea and Iran) have viewed the associated benefits nuclear states maintain internationally and want the same protections. Throughout history, countries have gone to war over "honor, interest, and fear. Managing rising fear is the greatest challenge for the United States as it seeks to align interests and preserve the honor of dictators or rogue regimes. The calamitous consequences of not managing fear might inadvertently lead to irrational responses by a nuclear state to wage a preventive first strike.
The brutal dominance of Islamic terrorists to reestablish a 9th Century Caliphate, which includes Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Spain, created a significant security threat for foreign powers who view nuclear weapons as a deterrent. These organizations are by default non-state actors, maintain no borders, and are not beholden to treaties or regimes. As once aspiring nuclear states fail, or rogue nations such as Iran, North Korea, and Russia seeks to improve their nuclear weapons capability, the potential for nuclear material on the open market increases the odds that a terrorist organization could obtain and use these weapons materials to further their cause, thus creating an international security crisis.
The probability of nuclear weapons use diminished with the introduction of the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), however sustaining the current state of affairs is proving to be fraught with pitfalls as North Korea, Iran and Russia have been beset by a slew of U.S. sanctions aimed at dissuading their aspirations of continued nuclear weapons development, and in the case of Russia, curtailing its aggression in Ukraine.
Although there is no credible evidence of a premeditated tactic by the West to strike first, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un believes his country is in the gun sights of the United States. If he were to acquiesce and agree to nonproliferation, as did the Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, he would endure a similar fate. Kim Jong-un sees the call to disarm the impetuous for an invasion in an attempt to overthrow his government. Kaddafi reluctantly disarmed and took the economic incentives, which left his nation defenseless against the West, and it was internationally punished.
There are many reasons why states have curtailed the pursuit of nuclear weapons and technology; however, domestic security and international prestige form the nexus for introspection. Countries such as North Korea, Iran, and Libya - until its government was overthrown in 2011 by NATO forces under United Nations (U.N.) Security Council Resolution 1973 has viewed the NPT as a conspiracy of the nuclear haves to regulate the membership of smaller states in the nuclear club. Moreover, the recent advances in North Korea's ballistic missile test program appear to be directed at developing capabilities to defeat or degrade the effectiveness of missile defenses deployed in the region: Patriot, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). These tests have demonstrated growing success and coupled with increased operational training exercises, suggest a pattern designed to strengthen the credibility of its regional nuclear deterrent strategy.
The "Nuclear Revolution," although technologically driven, demonstrates the invention of nuclear weapons constituted a fundamental shift in the nature of warfare and fostered new international contractual relations. Following WII, the central role of nuclear weapons has been aligned with deterrence, which was heralded as a critical factor in diminishing the possibility of state-on-state conventional warfare. The nuclear dogma of second strike constitutes a sense of security for nuclear states and, fortunately, instigated cooperation among the militarily weak and strong. After WWII, states that possessed a large number of nuclear weapons (the United States and USSR) maintained strategic interdependence and were keen on each other's interests outside their respective borders, which ushered in a "Cold War' (1947 – 1991). Ironically, you do not have a Cold War without the existence of nuclear weapons. Since then, the U.S. and Russia (formerly USSR) have mitigated potential threats against allies and themselves through the notion of extended deterrence to security-seeking nations who have the technology and infrastructure to develop nuclear weapons or its byproducts and satellite countries which contain strategic incentives. Following the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the United States maintained a military advantage while Russia sought to use its nuclear capabilities to counter NATO, and the United States perceived expansion eastward. No doubt understanding the fact that nuclear weapons had become a conventional force multiplier - equating to increased security through deterrence has proven a valid concept as NATO appears to be sidelined in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
To the layperson, Kim-Jong-un has every reason to consider the possibility that the United States and its allies would take advantage of a similar situation should the opportunity arise. There are other mitigating factors at play here also, such as Kim Jong-un's view of the United States' willingness to withdraw from the Iran disarmament agreement the P5+1 negotiated in 2015. If Pyongyang believes the U.S. is keen to renege on a negotiated deal, why would it not renege on a similar deal with them? In light of what is taking place in Ukraine, what economic incentives are at play, and for how long would the international community be willing to nurture another welfare state back to life. It would be rational for Kim Jong-un to believe his nuclear weapons are the deterrence that keeps the U.S. and its allies from deposing his regime. Moreover, for those that believe the North Koreans will jump with glee at the sight of more food, the internet, iPhones, and shopping malls is way off base. One only needs to look at Iraq or Libya and see the vacuum which was created once the government was deposed and how an insurgency gained momentum to understand what is just over the horizon.
The trinity of Debs and Monteiro has great strategic application today as the United States seeks to negotiate for a non-nuclear North Korea and Iran. The U.S. and its allies must assure each country of its willingness to offer binding security guarantees should they abandon all nuclear weapons aspirations. It appears in the short-term that North Korea and the United States deescalated the possibility of an accidental first strike by agreeing to engage in denuclearizing talks in May 2018. Here Russia and China have an opportunity to play a significant role; however, President Biden will undoubtedly be called upon to open additional channels of communication whilst not instigating a change of heart by Kim Jong-un based on increasing fears after observing the fate of Ukraine. Second, the promise of additional security incentives must be seen to meet the country's security concerns of the present and future, most notably how to provide for the military-industrial complex that sustains his rule. Finally, the need to provide additional resources to meet internal ambitions to address emerging domestic concerns such as a stable economy, human rights modeling, and infrastructure development.
Debs, A., & Monteiro, P. A., (2017). Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Proliferation. Cambridge Studies in International Relations. New York, NY. Cambridge University Press.
Series: Cambridge Studies in International Relations (Book 142)
Paperback: 648 pages
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (2017)
ISBN-10: 1107518571 (hard back)
ISBN-13: 978-1107518575 (paperback)