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IR Working Paper 1992/9
Andrew Mack, ‘Nuclear Dilemmas: Korean Security in the 1990s’, IR Working Paper 1992/9, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, December 1992.
Whether or not North Korea is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons is still unclear despite four inspections of the North’s controversial facilities at Yongbyon by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This paper argues that a shift in the conventional military balance on the peninsula that strongly favours the South, plus the loss of the North’s major ally, Russia, and the perceived nuclear threat from the US, have created a perceived vital interest for the North to acquire nuclear weapons. However, the growing crisis in the North’s economy creates a vital interest in gaining economic assistance. The paper argues the North’s central dilemma is that if it is perceived to be seeking nuclear weapons it will receive no economic assistance, but if it gives up the nuclear option it becomes vulnerable to the perceived threat from the South and the US. The paper argues that the North may be seeking to resolve this dilemma by opening its Korean nuclear facilities to the IAEA while pursuing a clandestine nuclear program – most probably underground. The paper concludes with an analysis of various policy options for breaking the current deadlock.