U.S.-China Competition over Nuclear North Korea


Insight Turkey Volume 19 No. 3, 2017

The latest flare up of U.S.-DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) nuclear confrontation in mid-April 2017 is a sobering reminder that the Korean Peninsula remains the last stronghold of the Cold War. Even today, almost six and a half decades after the Korean War “ended” with an armistice accord, the Korean DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) stands out as the most heavily fortified conflict zone in the post–Cold War world. Indeed, the DMZ has acquired such security-deficit monikers as “the fuse on the nuclear powder keg in Northeast Asia,” “the scariest place on earth,” and “the last glacier of Cold War confrontation.”

With the Korean peninsula as its kinetic center, Northeast Asia (NEA) is the only international region or sub-region where the world’s four great Powers (China, Russia, Japan, and the United States) uneasily meet and interact, and where their respective interests coalesce, compete, or clash. The world’s heaviest concentration of military and economic capabilities is in NEA: (1) the world’s three largest nuclear states (the United States, Russia, and China), one small nuclear state (North Korea), and three threshold nuclear states (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan); (2) five of the world’s top ten military budgets (U.S., China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea); (3) the world’s three largest economies (U.S., China, and Japan); and (4) three of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (U.S., China, and Russia).

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