In This Review

North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Entering the New Era of Deterrence
North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Entering the New Era of Deterrence
Edited by Sung Chull Kim and Michael D. Cohen
Georgetown University Press, 2017, 240 pp

Although the United States insists that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons, most analysts agree that won’t happen. Nor is the regime in Pyongyang likely to solve the problem by collapsing. A military attack to end North Korea’s nuclear program is close to unthinkable because of the huge cost it would impose on South Korea, which would face immediate retaliation from the North. What remains as the most likely scenario, this book’s contributors argue, is nuclear deterrence. Although deterrence theory is highly developed, few have discussed how it may apply to this case. The contributors warn that deterrence between Washington and Pyongyang may be less stable than it was between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War. North Korea would likely take advantage of the standoff to proliferate nuclear technology and to increase its nonnuclear provocations, and the lack of communication between the two sides would generate a higher risk of escalation than existed during the Cold War. Because a nuclear strike on North Korea would damage China, fear of Beijing’s response would make U.S. resolve less credible. Japan and South Korea might not trust the United States to protect them to the same degree that Washington’s European allies did, and they could go nuclear themselves. Deterrence may be the least worst option for dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea, but it would be no panacea.