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Debate: Is a nuclear-armed North Korea unacceptable?

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Background and context

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on May 30th, 2009 that a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable: "We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region -- or on us," said Gates, speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. Our goal is complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state."[1]

This and similar statements from many politicians and leaders around the world have created a debate surrounding whether a nuclear North Korea is truly unacceptable and whether decisive measures should be taken to denuclearize the country.

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Irrational actor: Is North Korea an irrational actor?

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Pro

  • North Korea is not rational, nucs are especially threatening. North Korea has demonstrated that it is not a fully rational actor. Kim Jung Ill, the country's leader, has consistently placed the acquisition of nuclear weapons over the most basic human needs of the North Korean people. As such, North Korea poses a particularly hazardous risk with nucs, as nuclear deterrence cannot be fully relied upon to ensure that North Korea does not launch wanton nuclear strikes against other countries.



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Con

  • Although totalitarian, North Korea is still a rational actor. Despite the fact that the North Korean leadership has not looked after the basic needs of its own people, it has consistently acted to ensure it retains control over the country. Carrying out an aggressive nuclear strike against another nation is therefore not in the interest of the state, as such an action will dramatically increase the willingness of the international community to enact regime change through military action.



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Hypocrisy: Are nuclearised countries right to complain about North Korean?

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Pro

  • Nuclear North Korea weakens efforts internationally to denuclearize. It is true that other countries in the world have nuclear weapons. Indeed, this is unfortunate. Yet, the world has been denuclearizing for years. This is the important fact, and North Korea's nuclearization runs contrary to these efforts, as it creates pressures on other countries to build nuclear arms, creating an arms race. Complaints by nuclear countries, therefore, are justified in the sense that a nuclear North Korea runs contrary to global denuclearize efforts.


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Con

  • Other countries have nucs, criticizing North Korea is hypocritical. Why is the US is authorized to have nucs? Why any other countries? Why not North Korea? If we don't want North Korea to have nucs, then, nobody should have them. Yet, until then, criticisms from nuclearized countries are simply hypocritical.


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Can non-military measures be taken to denuclearize North Korea?

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Pro

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Con

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Pro/con sources

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