Is it accurate to compare the nuclearization of North Korea with that of Pakistan and India? Why or why not?

  • I heard a prominent university professor say on the radio the other day that we shouldn’t worry about North Korea going nuclear, because Pakistan and India both went nuclear peacefully - is this an accurate comparison? Why or why not?

    It seems to me that there are many differences between DPRK and Pakistan and India, both in terms of their internal politics and in terms of their relationships to the US...

    That might depend on which group you consider "we".

    Good point. Who do you think is in a position to NOT worry about North Korea?

    Let me clarify- to my knowledge India and Pakistan were(are) both US allies, so were willing to accept externally imposed restrictions on the use of nuclear weapons. I don’t see the same applying to DPRK

    Europe, Africa and South-America don't care that much about the NK situation. It's mostly the problem of South Korea, the United States and China (and to a lesser extend Japan). Some people in the middle east might in fact benefit from the tensions, because it diverts the attention of the United States and might give another precedent case for getting away with nuclear proliferation.

    Well, people can feel free to answer from any country’s perspective on this, but I guess I am mostly interested in how the concerned parties view the comparison (and I believe Russia might count as a concerned party at least as much as Japan).

    Is blowing up another country, directly, the only risk? One might not say that everything was okay with Pakistan, for example, since a lot of their technology made their way to more belligerent or less stable actors.

    @Philipp China in many ways benefits from NK's nukes and position. They can play both sides. I also would say that Japan is in the first tier, not "to a lesser extent". Japan is pretty spooked by NK. Their prime minister has called it the greatest threat Japan has faced since WWII.

    @Philipp I think Japan might disagree with you about the "to a lesser extent" part.

  • Gramatik

    Gramatik Correct answer

    4 years ago

    It is important to understand the vast geopolitical differences between the two situations of India and Pakistan developing nuclear weapons and North Korea developing nuclear weapons.

    India/Pakistan Nuclear Development

    Following Indian defeat in the Sino-Indian War, India decided that it needed some unconventional arms - nukes - to counter China's stronger conventional war resources and deter China from engaging in similar future conflict. The USSR was more than happy to provide resources for this nuclear development, having earlier tried to bring India into the Asian Collective Security System, which was an effort by the USSR to balance against Chinese influence in the region. Thus India conducted its first nuclear test, "Smiling Buddha", in 1974.

    Pakistan, which has been at odds with India since the two countries were created, especially concerning border disputes in the Kashmir region, was understandably frightened by its neighbor acquiring nuclear weapons and wanted its own for deterrence against potential Indian aggression. China was more than happy to help to counterbalance Indian influence, so in 1998, Pakistan conducted its first nuclear test.

    So the important takeaway from this is that both India and Pakistan developed their nukes for defensive purposes, with support from great powers trying to balance against each other for influence in the region. Both maintain a No First Use policy.

    North Korean Nuclear Development

    After Japan surrendered in WWII, the Korean peninsula, formerly under Imperial Japanese control, was split between the US (South Korea) and USSR (North Korea). When the Cold War got underway, tensions flared. The Soviets provided some research-based aid in nuclear development, as did China later on (source), but after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, they had to turn to more clandestine means of advancing their program. There have been allegations against Pakistan, Libya, Ukraine, and others in helping the DPRK develop their weapons. (See the link above.)

    During the Cold War, the US had placed nukes in South Korea, but withdrew them in 1991. Compare this to the first North Korean nuclear test being far later in 2006. The DPRK has continually stated that its nuclear program is for self-defense. Any opinions about the validity of this statement or North Korean nuclear ambitions are subject to the unknowable motives of Kim Jong Un.

    Similarities and Differences



    • Indian and Pakistani nuclear arms were developed for reasons of self-defense, and they demonstrate this by maintaining a "No First Use" policy.
    • India and Pakistan received ample support from great powers attempting to balance influence in their region, whereas a sizable portion of North Korean development was purely pursued independently, with aid coming from clandestine sources.

    Differences between countries that are pertinent to the nuclear issue:

    • India and Pakistan are democracies, which for a variety of reasons which I believe to be outside the scope of this question, greatly decreases the chance of the decision being made to use nuclear arms. North Korea is a hereditary dictatorship, a system in which the head of state is less accountable to their people.
    • North Korea is considered to be a rogue state and has little in the way of ties to other countries, and thus has less to lose by being aggressive. India and Pakistan by contrast have heavy economic and diplomatic ties around the world, which would be forfeit in the case of nuclear aggression on either side.

    In the end the greatest difference between the countries is that India and Pakistan demonstrably use their nuclear arms for deterrence, while North Korea uses theirs in combination with an unstable dictator (or at least, a dictator who believes it is to his advantage to appear unstable) to garner concessions from the world in what one could call blackmail. Whether this posturing has been beneficial to the DPRK in light of recent sanctions, especially those from China, upon whom the DPRK relies greatly and perhaps wouldn't have suspected of opposing them so strongly, is up for debate.

    I feel that this answer most directly addresses the question without getting side-tracked. Though each of the answers has been helpful :)

    Good answer. One nitpick: As far as I can tell, Pakistan does _not_ maintain an official No First Use policy, only a general No First Attack policy. See e..g. for a detailed overview.

    While this is a good answer with solid background and references, I strongly dispute that North Korea is pursuing this for anything other than defence, and that the Kim dynasty is mentally "unstable". The former because North Korea has been behaving rationally (which is **not** the same as ethically) to ensure its own survival, and knows what happens to rogue states without WMD (Iraq, Libya). The latter is a western caricature because of widespread unwillingness to understand non-democratic societies, and write them off as mad (Iran, DPRK), just because they do not conform to our values.

    The biggest problem in understanding North Korea is that we can't tell which threats against other countries are genuine and which are made only to impress own citizens.

    @inappropriateCode I agree that it is likely that Kim is acting rationally though not ethically, and that the west overreacts to his posturing, but it is impossible to tell without him saying whether his threats are merely a rational calculation to get what he wants on the world stage or legitimate threats.

    @Gramatik If they are otherwise behaving rationally to protect themselves against being the next Iraq/Libya/Ukraine, it stands to reason their nuclear weapons are part of that strategy. We then need some evidence to suggest they would actually want to use them for a first strike. Considering that they'd lose any war: offensive, defensive, with or without nukes... what possible benefit would a first strike have? What could they possibly gain? If you see what I mean. We don't know, but some things are far more or less likely.

    *India and Pakistan are democracies* However India has had a certain element of "hereditary" leaders, and the caste system is very strong. Pakistan was a military dictatorship until a decade ago, and it is still unclear how far the civil government can control the military. Both countries also have massive corruption, and strong religious elements which constrain (or influence) policy. So it's very dubious how genuinely democratic they are.

    @inappropriateCode, Whereas I grant that North Korean policy and behavior can be *interpreted* as being arrived at through a rational process, that is by no means the only viable interpretation. Inasmuch as I am doubtful that DPRK policy, however it was decided, is in fact its best course or even a *good* course for ensuring its survival as a country, or for ensuring its government's survival as a government, I'm not prepared to accept it as evidence of dispassionate and rational decision making.

    Great answer! small quibble: How does North Korea have less to lose by being aggressive? The United States pursues aggressive sanctions, and were the DPRK to actually use their nukes they would most certainly be subject to massive retaliation, and essentially lose everything.

    Great answer, but could you clarify the point on "great powers support" vs "clandestine sources" in acquiring WMDs? I guess the problem is in that we know what, for example, China gets out of helping Pakistani, but we don't know who supported DPRK and what they got from it (for a crazy example - ISIS getting a completed nuke for some unrefined uranium)?

    @SteveS The majority of North Korean trade is with China, who have been reluctant until very recently to place really painful sanctions on North Korea, western sanctions alone only did so much. I agree that an use of arms would result in total destruction though. Danila In addition to what you said it shows the differences in motivations between India-Pakistan and North Korea, but also that China and Russia did not themselves feel threatened helping Pakistan and India respectively get nukes, whereas you'd be hard pressed to find a non-criminalistic sponsor for North Korea.

    Nuclear arms are never developed for self defense, since they are not in any way defensive. At most one could claim they are developed to deter a potential attacker.

    Yeah, that's what all states claim. "we're just defending ourselves". That spin doesn't impress me when coming from India or Pakistan just like it doesn't impress me coming from the US.

    @Graham Right you are. Pakistan is designated a Hybrid Regime and India a flawed democracy in World Democracy Index (US is was also downgraded to flawed Dem status in 2016). However, the National Command Authority) under civilian PM of Pakistan is responsible for Triggering a nuclear response and the trigger codes are distributed in Civilian and military authorities so neither can unilaterally decide to launch nukes. India has a similar Nuclear Command Authority.

    "Any opinions about the validity of this statement or North Korean nuclear ambitions are subject to the unknowable motives of Kim Jong Un." DPRK's nuclear program was developed under Kim Jong Il.

    as far as i know, the only country known to use a nuclear weapon, is the US witch is a democracy. so maybe it's not a very good point to make.

    @senaps All members of nuclear club have developed delivery systems and tested them. So they all know _how to use a bomb_, even though they have never actually done it.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM