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Nuclear Posture, Proliferation, and North Korea

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Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Time: 2pm-3:15pm

Location: SPP 2202 (and live on Zoom; please contact for info)

Presenter: Ariel Petrovics (Assistant Research Scholar, School of Public Policy, UMD)

Existing research on nuclear proliferation finds that the possession of nuclear weapons by one country can create incentives for another country to develop nuclear weapons. But beyond the mere possession of nuclear weapons, can a nuclear-armed state’s posture also affect proliferation incentives in its neighbors?

This paper addresses this gap by examining the effects of North Korea’s nuclear posture on public demands for nuclear weapons development in South Korea. While Pyongyang has yet to clarify when and how it envisions using its newfound capabilities, South Korean public support for an indigenous nuclear weapons program has grown to a notable majority in recent years.

Through a survey experiment on the South Korean public, we argue that North Korea’s evolving nuclear posture can affect public proliferation incentives in South Korea through two mechanisms. One is by impacting public and leader threat perceptions; the other is by impacting the risk of crisis escalation. Our findings shed new light on the risks of nuclear proliferation and has important policy implications for the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

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