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2017-10-25 17:52
By Ranjit Kumar Dhawan



In the famous words of African-American leader Malcolm X, “The only thing power respects, is power.” This is true not only among individuals, but also in international relations. Therefore, the possession of nuclear weapons provides assurance against foreign invasion and plays a pivotal role in maintaining regional stability. The renowned scholar of international politics Kenneth Waltz has recognized the importance of nuclear weapons in maintaining regional stability and reducing the chances of war.

This is evident in the fact that one of the reasons for stability in the international system during the Cold War period was the “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) that deterred the superpowers from confronting each other directly. It is indeed ironic the post-Cold War era has brought more instability and frequent armed conflicts across the world.

Nevertheless, despite its tremendous destructive power, nuclear weapons have provided regional stability in some parts of the world. The best example can be found in South Asia, where India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998. This has brought greater stability in the South Asian region as the chances of a full-scale war between the two neighbors remains minimum because of MAD. Similarly, the recent China-India military standoff at Doklam was resolved “peacefully” because of MAD.

The conflict on the Korean Peninsula has remained one of the most complex issues in the world. The devastating 1950-53 Korean War was not able to solve this issue and in the absence of any peace agreement the two Koreas have remained at war with each other for the last 64 years. The heavy militarization of the two Koreas and presence of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula have maintained the status quo and peace in East Asia.

According to some analysts the latest testing of a hydrogen bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) by North Korea are a dangerous development as it has increased the chances of war on the Korean Peninsula. But contrary to this view, the chances of a full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula have become minimal because of MAD. Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in the United Nations that his country would totally destroy North Korea, he would certainly not start any war on the Korean Peninsula. This is because the retaliation by North Korea would also be highly devastating to Americans.

There are few experts who argue a second Korean War may be triggered due to miscalculation or misperception. This is also not completely true. There would be skirmishes and minor clashes but all parties would avoid intensifying the conflict, because after the full-fledged war the use of nuclear weapons would lead to complete destruction of everyone in the region.

However, stability on the Korean Peninsula would also mean the continued survival of the Kim dynasty in North Korea and continued division of the Korean Peninsula for an indefinite period. But the continued division and status quo on the Korean Peninsula is in the interest of the big powers in the region. China needs a buffer against the U.S. _ that is North Korea _ the U.S. needs an excuse to maintain its troops in Asia _ that is South Korea _ and Japan would certainly not tolerate a strong and unified Korea which was once its colony.

Therefore, the acquisition of nuclear weapons and ICBMs by North Korea is condemnable but it has brought stability on the Korean Peninsula and the chances of another Korean War remain minimal. 


Ranjit Kumar Dhawan (rkdhawan13@hotmail.com) is assistant professor at the Department of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Delhi, India. 


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