Extended Deterrence and the Future of NPT Countries

Richard McNitzky
March 21, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Delegation representatives speaking at the 2015 NPT Conference. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Global nuclear tensions are at an all-time high right now, predominantly due to the strain between the United States and North Korea. Yet, the impact among these two countries goes beyond just themselves. Both Japan and South Korea have also been targets of North Koreas threats, and per agreement with the NPT, do not possess any assembled nuclear weapons. Instead they have extended deterrence from the United States, meaning that in the case of a nuclear attack, the United States would respond by launching a nuclear attack of its own on the aggressors. As the world wide push for nuclear non-proliferation increases due to treaties such as the NPT which is an agreement overseen by the United Nations, states relying on extended deterrence are paying close attention. In 2016, 6 non-nuclear countries (Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa) reached out to the U.N. General Assembly requesting legally binding agreements to permanently rid the world of these missiles. With so many members, the NPT has immense power when it comes to nuclear proliferation. All of these countries meet once every five years for a NPT conference to further discuss Nuclear Disarmament, as shown in Fig. 1. The increase in interest by non-nuclear weapons states at these conferences to implement a global ban on all nuclear weapons has increased as of recent; however, so have the nuclear threats from North Korea, who as explained later has failed to abide by the rules under the NPT. [1]

NPT and North Korea

While the NPTs ultimate goal is for a nuclear weapon free universe, this process has been underway for some time. Global powers including the United States and Russia have expressed their disapproval of ridding the planet of nuclear weapons. President Trump has even gone as far as saying that we now live in a nuclear world, although there have only been 8 countries that have reported as to have tested a nuclear bomb. In the specific case of North Korea, both Japan and South Korea are weary of a specific date of complete disarmament of nuclear nations as this would cease the extended deterrence they receive. This is a problem because rogue states such of North Korea would then be able to strike without any fear of nuclear retaliation. [2] The possibility of being nuked back is known as nuclear deterrence, and plays a large role as to why no countries have engaged in nuclear warfare since the 40s. A bilateral deal with the United States since the 50s has provided South Korea with extended deterrence, and increased their safety along the way. While both Japan and South Korea have yet to see a nuclear attack so far while under this extended deterrence, some South Korean citizens believe further safety measures should be in place. In 2017, a poll run by Gallup Korea found that nearly 60 percent of South Koreans wanted to possess their own nuclear missiles, showing the increasing distrust in their northern neighbor. As sanctions against North Korea have increased, so have Kim Jong Uns threat, resulting in more and more talks regarding a nuclear war. [2]

What the Future Holds

Although tensions are soaring, the case for South Korea took a positive step recently. In January of 2018, North Korea extended a rare olive branch offering of diplomatic talks aimed towards peace among the peninsula. Although the relations between the United States and North Korea have continued to erode, South Korea's opportunity to have peaceful talks with North Korea should be noted. While the 2018 olympic games will hold valuable conversations between the Korean peninsula, as we saw earlier through the Gallup Korea poll, the belief that one is entitled to their own defense, or in this case deterrence is prevalent in South Korea. As the NPT continues to evolve over time, it will be interesting to see how countries relying on extended deterrence change with it. Whether or not they create their own nuclear arsenal in large part will depend on the status of North Korea, and the legally binding material passed by the NPT. [3]

© Richard McNitzky. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. K. Sovacool, "What Are We Doing Here? Analyzing Fifteen Years of Energy Scholarship and Proposing a Social Science Research Agenda," Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 1, 1 (2014).

[2] L. A. Niksch, "North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program," Congressional Research Service, RL33590, 5 Jan 10.

[3] G.-H. Park, "A New Kind of Korea: Building Trust Between Seoul and Pyongyang," Foreign Aff. 90, No. 5, 13 (September/October 2011).