An Alternative to Nuclear Deadlock and Stalled Diplomacy
Special Reports

An Alternative to Nuclear Deadlock and Stalled Diplomacy

Pandemic-Nuclear Nexus Scenarios Project

An Alternative to Nuclear Deadlock and Stalled Diplomacy: Proposals, Pathways, and Prospects for the Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone

Michael Hamel-Green

The current nuclear deadlock with North Korea remains unresolved as the initially promising 2018-2019 three-way diplomacy between the DPRK, US and ROK stalls. More widely in Northeast Asia, nuclear confrontation between China and the US is mounting, with increased deployment of nuclear-weapon-capable forces in and around the region, including land and sea- based missiles, missile defence systems, and deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons on mobile platforms.

The paper proposes that an alternative to continuing nuclear escalation, and the increasing threat of a nuclear catastrophe, does exist in the shape of a phased establishment of a regional Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) negotiated in tandem with a regional comprehensive security agreement. The comprehensive security agreement would involve a final peace settlement of the Korean War, establishment of a regional security forum, economic and energy assistance to the DPRK, and legally binding security guarantees for the NWFZ from the US, China, and Russia. The paper discusses the precedents of successful NWFZ establishment in other regions, and the history of past proposals for such a zone in Northeast Asia. It examines the special NWFZ features that would be required in this region, including the need for rigorous verification of the dismantlement of existing nuclear weapons and facilities in the DPRK, a Korean War peace settlement, a flexible NWFZ entry into force mechanism that gives time for DPRK to assess the security guarantee benefits of the NWFZ zone, and provisions for preventing forward deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons within the region. The paper concludes by presenting NEANWFZ proposals emerging from a recent Northeast Asian workshop of regional experts, and identifying potential pathways, advocates, and prospects for its successful negotiation in the current global context.


Nuclear weapons free zones, treaties, allies, prohibition, disarmament, arms control, Northeast Asia, DPRK, Korea, China, Russia, United States, diplomacy

About the Author

Michael Hamel-Green is Emeritus Professor in Social Inquiry in the College of Arts, Victoria University Melbourne, Australia. He was previously the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Education and Human Development at Victoria University; and taught in in international security, conflict resolution, and community development subjects.


Image: Alpha Stock Images, Nick Youngson.