Proliferation: The Danger Signs

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North Korea’s nuclear saber rattling is raising concerns about further proliferation in the region.  There is a risk that should they feel sufficiently threatened by developments in neighboring states, the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea), Japan, and/or Taiwan (the Republic of China) could take steps in the direction of developing nuclear weapons.  All three are publically committed to global nonproliferation norms and treaties, and there is no reason to suspect that any are evading their obligation to forgo nuclear weapons.  Nonetheless, each has civil nuclear capabilities that give them varying degrees of latent capacity.

There is a history of concern about the nuclear potential of all three democracies.  Seoul began a covert nuclear weapons development effort in the early 1970s, largely in reaction to withdrawals of some U.S. forces from the peninsula.  Taiwan began a similar effort after mainland China’s first nuclear test in 1964.  Both efforts were shut down at an early stage after the U.S. learned of them, and both tried again later with the same result.  Japan, for its part, has periodically considered the merits of using its advanced nuclear capabilities to develop a nuclear deterrent and consistently decided against it. 

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