You are on page 1of 8

King 1

Mason King
Professor Zhen Wang
Comparative Asian Politics
October 28th, 2015
Can Non-Democratic Countries be Trusted with Nuclear Weapons?
Nuclear proliferation is a trending topic in todays political discussions. Due to the
tremendous responsibility that comes with declaring a country a nuclear power, the subject
matter is quite sensitive in terms of deciding who will be allowed to have a nuclear arsenal and
who will not be granted the same privilege. When world powers look around and decide who
will be allowed to have a nuclear arsenal the types of governments these countries have is often
looked at as a key characteristic. It seems as though that non-democratic models of government
have gotten a bad reputation of not being able to handle the responsibility of having a nuclear
arsenal. Through research I plan to determine if there is a correlation between non-democratic
governments and how the world views their right to have nuclear weapons. If is not a correlation
I seek to discover what it is that makes it okay for a non-democratic nation to have nuclear
Through comparison of China and North Korea, two non-democratic countries in Asia, it
can be seen that the level of involvement in international institutions on the topic of nuclear
weapons, is paramount to the type of government a nation has when determining whether or not
a country would be able to responsibly handle having nuclear technology.
The level of involvement in these international institutions is important because it creates
a platform where nuclear powers can discuss their views on nuclear weapons and what role they

King 2
should play in defense. This is important because not everyone is in agreement on what exactly
that role should be. With something as important as nuclear weapons on the line it is important
for everyone to have the same, if not similar views on what role nuclear weapons should have in
national defense. An example of these contrasting views can be seen when comparing China and
South Korea. China has a strict no-first-use policy and only sees nuclear weapons as a deterrent
from other nuclear powers, however South Korea views nuclear weapons as the key to its
national security.
After close look at Chinese and North Korean nuclear history; a correlation appears that
points to the conclusion that the use of soft power politics is becoming an increasingly important
tool in the international system. This tool is one in which China seems to have decent
proficiency; while on the other hand North Korea continues to use outdated hard power tactics.
China has been on the forefront of the creation of multilateral agreements on the topic of nuclear
proliferation and has shown itself reliable by following through with several international
agreements. However, North Korea has a history of agreeing to treaties and agreements and then
changing the conditions as soon as it sees an opportunity to come out on top.
Chinese Nuclear Reputation
China has begun to update and expand its nuclear arsenal. This statement may seem
frightening at first but several Chinese scholars claim that China has no interest in seeking
nuclear parity with the United States. (Tompkins P.12) However, China is making
improvements to its older weapons to be able to stay in nuclear balance with countries like the
United States and Russia. The origin of nuclear weaponry in China began with the Chinese
acquiring nuclear weapons because of the repeated threats against them by the United States and

King 3
the Soviet Union between 1950 and 1969. In response to these threats China decided to maintain
a small, off-alert nuclear force. (Bin P.17)
This decision is actually one of the most important differences between China and North
Korea. China considers nuclear weapons to not have military use on the contrary, China
considers nuclear weapons to occupy more of a nuclear coercion role. China states that its
nuclear weapons are to be used in a retaliatory fashion, going on to state that it will follow a
strict no-first-use policy. Interestingly enough, although China has offered information that
suggest that it has nuclear weapons, it has never released how many nuclear weapons it has. This
non-disclosure is not merely accidental. China specifically keeps other countries in the dark
about the size of its nuclear weapon arsenal because it sees this lack of information as a critical
part of it retaliatory nuclear policy. The Chinese believe that since other nations are unaware of
the quantity of its nuclear arsenal it creates a stable unbalanced nuclear relationship (Tompkins
P. 11). However, as will be stated later, China has made vast improvements to the international
community in terms of the creation of multilateral agreements on nuclear proliferation. The push
for multilateral agreements by the Chinese has been the main reason other countries are so
comfortable with China having nuclear weapons.
North Korean Nuclear Reputation
China has shown throughout its brief nuclear history that it can be responsible with the
weapons and that it has a genuine interest in pursuing multilateral agreements. North Korea on
the other hand as almost done the polar opposite. North Korea began to have an interest in
nuclear weapons once it became concerned with the nuclear threats delivered by the United
States during the Korean War. Since then North Korea has shown that it can not be responsible
enough to have a nuclear arsenal.

King 4
There have been many treaties and agreements signed by North Korea on the topic of
nuclear weapons, and North Korea has managed to violate almost all of them. North Korea has
even been found guilty of attempting to acquire dual-use equipment from Europe and Japan,
both legally and through its extensive illegal smuggling operations. (Roehrig P. 164) Adding to
North Koreas rap sheet; since 2000, North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, ejected international inspectors, removed monitoring devices, and declared
itself a nuclear-weapons club member by testing with marginal success a rudimentary nuclear
device. (Moore P.10)
North Korea seems not not care about any of the potential consequences of these actions,
and why should they? The United States as well as the rest of the world basically have their
hands tied behind their backs. This is because North Korea has put the United States in a position
to only continue forward diplomatically. The reason that the United States can only continue
diplomatically is that North Korea has stated that any economic sanction placed on it by the
United States would be tantamount to war. (Roehrig P.157) As most people would imagine this
makes the situation in North Korea a little difficult to handle. The only problem with handling
situations diplomatically is that both parties must agree and abide by the agreement and as
previously stated; North Korea doesnt like to play by the rules.
In 1994 the Agreed Framework was signed by North Korea and the United States. The
Agreed Framework stated that North Korea would disable its nuclear reactors and a third-party
organization would monitor and seal North Korean nuclear facilities. In return for the
cooperation of the North Koreans the United states would provide two light-water reactors and
would provide annual deliveries of fuel oil. This agreement was established because enriching
the byproduct from light-water reactors is considerably more difficult than the coal-gas reactors

King 5
the North had been previously utilizing. The theory was that the United States could lower the
risk of North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons while allowing them to utilize nuclear energy as a
legitimate power source.
However, after a dispute involving the removal of fuel rods from North Korea after a
certain percentage of the light-water reactor was completed; North Korea decided to remove
itself from the Agreed Framework and began to explore its own nuclear program. North Korea
shocked the world again shortly after by being the first country to remove itself from the Nuclear
Non-proliferation treaty and reopening its plutonium production facilities. North Korea stated
Though we pull out of the NPT, we have no intention to produce nuclear weapons and our
nuclear activities at this stage will be confined only to peaceful purposes such as the production
of electricity. (Roehrig P.161) This statement is rather contradicting since it goes against the
aggressive behavior North Korea displayed by violating not one but multiple international
Unfortunately for North Korea, the defense of only using the nuclear program for
electricity doesnt really hold up either when more closely examined. This is because North
Korea has much more to gain from nuclear proliferation than it ever would from the legitimate
use of nuclear power. North Korea has essentially found the answer to all of its problems, nuclear
proliferation. Through nuclear proliferation North Korea has been able to capture the attention of
the international political community, has created a bargaining chip with the Americans
(Moore P.12) and has enhanced their security against other nations by showing to the world that
they are willing and able to use nuclear weapons if need be.
International Institutions

King 6
North Korea has not shown itself to be a large threat to the world, however it has more or
less depicted itself as an annoying younger sibling. What North Korea plans to do with its
nuclear weapons is generally a mystery among political elite, however North Korea has shown
signs that it wants peace and stability in Northeast Asia. (Roehrig P.156) However, the only
way North Korea believes that it can have the world's attention, and receive the economic and
political benefits is if it continues to threaten nuclear proliferation. As long as North Korea
views nuclear weapons in terms of its national security, the issue will not go away. (Roehrig
P.172) As previously stated the United States has decided the only way to try to get North Korea
to cooperate is through diplomatic relations. One way the United States and North Korea can
speak diplomatically is through international organizations like the 6PT. The goal of the 6PT for
it to be used as a forum to promote dialogue and avert disaster on the Korean Peninsula.
(Moore P.19)
The 6PT is not only important because South Korea would be involved in diplomatic
discussion but also because the 6PT is yet another international institution that China has
developed and pushed for. The 6PT isnt the first time China has found itself in this diplomatic
mediator role. China, although not a large supporter of multilateral agreements, has been fully
involved in almost all international institution on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear security.
(Bin P.17) China generally likes to stay away from international agreements, but is a big
proponent on international organizations. Chinas reluctance to enter into multilateral agreements
can make some people anxious at first, however China is only reluctant to enter these agreements
because of its inexperience in disarmament policy.(Bin P.17) Essentially, China sees itself as
fairly vulnerable due to the reliance on other economies and would rather not be in a position to

King 7
step on anyone else's toes that China might need help from. This does not mean that Chinas
participation in international organizations is all for not.
The introduction of a forum such as the 6PT allows nuclear states to sit down and discuss
each others views on nuclear weaponry. It has been stated that Chinas self imposed constraints
on its nuclear policy may be recognized better by other nuclear-weapon states and therefore spur
those states to adopt a similar or reciprocal constraints. (Bin P. 18) Given the opportunity, China
could potentially secure political and economic stability for itself as well as influence other
nuclear nations to reduce their nuclear arsenal. If all nuclear states were to have the same selfrestrained, no-first-use policy as China, other countries could feel secure while reducing their
As explained above there is not a correlation between countries that are non-democratic
and countries that can not be trusted to responsibly have a nuclear arsenal. However, a nondemocratic country can be trusted with this responsibility if they have shown that the are
reputable and that they have a strong interest in international collaboration on the topic of
nuclear weapons. Just as an individual would assume, the more aggressive a country is in terms
of its nuclear policy the less reputable and trustworthy that country seems. This can be seen in
the difference between China and South Korea. With a majority of the world's nuclear powers
being okay with China having a nuclear arsenal almost everyone is against South Korea having
one. In conclusion in order to be seen as competent to have nuclear weapons a nation must show
a large interest in cooperation and openly state that it does not intend to initiate any attacks.

King 8
Works Cited
Bin, Li. China's Potential to Contribute to Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament. Arms
Control Today 41.2 (2011): 1721. Web.
Moore, Gregory. Americas Failed North Korea Nuclear Policy: A New Approach.
Asian Perspective 32.4 (2008): 927. Web.
Roehrig, Terence. "One Rogue State Crisis at a Time!" The United States and North
Koreas Nuclear Weapons Program.. World Affairs 165.4 (2003): 155178. Web.
Terry, Su Mi. "The Wrong Lessons From North Korea." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 06 Oct.
2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Tompkins, Joanne. How U.S. Strategic Policy Is Changing China's Nuclear Plans.
Arms Control Today 33.1 (2003): 1115. Web.