Pyongyang's recent nuclear tests have hawks in neighboring South Korea and Japan clamoring for nuclear weapons of their own and China jittery about its own stockpile. The US is caught in the middle.
President Obama may have dreams of advancing his ambitious nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament goals in his second term, but North Korea’s third nuclear test this week risks spoiling that vision by setting off a nuclear race in an increasingly uneasy Northeast Asia.
In the wake of Pyongyang’s latest nuclear blast – and its hints that it intends to carry out additional nuclear tests in the coming months – political leaders and media in both South Korea and Japan are suggesting that the pressure to fight fire with fire and go nuclear may be too hard to resist.
And any moves in the region to build nuclear arsenals in response to a belligerent North Korea would no doubt have repercussions in China, nuclear experts say, especially since Beijing – already involved in a tense territorial dispute with Japan – would likely respond by augmenting its own nuclear arsenal.
“There are a lot of clocks running here, but they’re all counting down towards the same outcome, and that’s the nuclear cliff,” says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) in Arlington, Va..
Both Japan and South Korea have security treaties with the United States that place them under the US nuclear umbrella. In effect that means they shouldn’t need their own nuclear arsenals because the US is obligated to defend them in the case of an aggression.
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