Nuclearization and De-nuclearization Debates: The Asia-Pacific Security Paradox

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The Asia-Pacific region is one of the most important regions where global security fault lines are crossing. In this context, the nuclearization in the region has undoubtedly an important impact. North Korea is the country where this nuclearization is most intensely implemented. As a matter of fact, the country is in a structure that completely rejects foreign dependence within the scope of the “Juche Policy”. Through this policy, Pyongyang aims for complete independence in military, economic, strategic, political and security fields. In this scope, it is possible to consider a Pyongyang administration that prioritizes the development of military and nuclear capacity as the first priority. This is because North Korea poses the greatest nuclear threat to the Asia-Pacific region in particular and the entire global system in general.

At this point, the United States of America (USA) and the Western Alliance, which was established on the basis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and includes countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, seem to be acting together. In particular, the anti-North Korea maneuvers conducted jointly by Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have played a critical role in this regard. It is known that these states especially want de-nuclearization and have called on Pyongyang to do so.

On the other hand, the West, and especially states such as Japan and South Korea, are looking for alternative ways to combat this threat due to the increasing number of North Korean exercises, the West’s unresponsiveness to calls for dialogue and the failure of the alliances to create a deterrent effect on Pyongyang. Even though they are demanding a serious de-nuclearization, they also aim to carry out nuclearization activities as an alternative deterrent and precautionary measure. Japan is particularly prominent in this regard.

Indeed, it is noteworthy that Randall Schriver, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security Affairs for the Asia-Pacific Region under former US President Donald Trump, stated in an interview on February 2, 2023 that the security conjuncture in the region created space for Japan to open the issue of nuclear weapons deployment. Although Schriver later stated that “given the legacy of Japan’s history of using nuclear weapons on Japanese soil and citizens, this is still a very difficult issue. .”[1] – it’s also notable in the sense that it opened the door to nuclear work for the first time.

Japan is a Western-based state in the Asia-Pacific region. This brings Japan closer to the US and NATO. At the same time, Tokyo is pursuing an increasingly proactive and hardening foreign policy stance. This has pushed Tokyo to take a stand against Moscow in the Russia-Ukraine War and to be tougher on China in both action and rhetoric.

In addition to this proactivity, Japan is also moving closer to the West and the Washington perspective. It can be said that this situation has already seriously polarized the balances in the Asia-Pacific region and escalated tensions. It can be argued that the polarization in the Japan-China-North Korea triangle is increasing day by day.

Therefore, it is quite interesting that a former Pentagon official advised Japan to develop nuclear power. This is because the US has rejected a similar proposal by South Korea in the past. For this reason, approaching Tokyo with a similar proposal can be interpreted as a distinction among Washington’s allies in the region.

On the other hand, Japan is becoming increasingly important for the confrontation against North Korea and for the Western alliance in the Asia-Pacific. For example, on April 17, 2023, US Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis congratulated the Tokyo administration for increasing defense spending during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo. DeSantis said that the US-Japan alliance is important for the security of the region. At the same time, DeSantis added that “A strong United States is good for Japan and a strong Japan is good for the United States.” [2] This statement is extremely important in terms of showing Tokyo’s importance in the eyes of Washington and the West.

However, even though it is known that Japan is one of the prominent powers in the region, nuclear-based cooperation between Washington and Tokyo may evolve into a threat to regional and global security rather than a deterrent effect on North Korea. In other words, it is possible that Tokyo’s actions may not only create a deterrent effect, but may also have a provocative one.

In conclusion, regional states are looking for new and alternative ways to respond to Pyongyang’s moves beyond military buildup, exercises and calls for diplomacy. This search has reached the level of nuclearization. Indeed, in a future projection in which neither side backs down, tensions and security dilemmas could increase and, at some point, conflict may become inevitable.

[1] “Japan Should Discuss Nuclear Option: Ex-Pentagon Official”, kkeı Asia,, (Date of accession: 29.04.2023).

[2] “U.S. Presidental Hopeful Ron DeSantis Praises Japan Defense Buildup in Visit to Tokyo”, The Japan Times,, (Date of accession: 29.04.2023).

Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan Gülten graduated from Yalova University, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of International Relations in 2021 with his graduation thesis titled "American Foreign Policy" and from Anadolu University, Open Education Faculty, Department of Foreign Trade in 2023. Gülten, who is currently pursuing her Master's Degree with Thesis at Marmara University Institute of Social Sciences, Department of International Relations, was a student at the Faculty of International and Political Studies at Lodz University for a semester within the framework of the Erasmus+ program during her undergraduate education. Working as an Asia-Pacific Research Assistant at ANKASAM, Gülten's main areas of interest are American Foreign Policy, Asia-Pacific and International Law. Gülten is fluent in English.