Guest Lecture: Exploring the Motivations for North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

Courtesy WBIR
Courtesy WBIR

Recent events have focussed international attention on North Korea and its emerging nuclear weapons capability.  Pyongyang’s nuclear programme is highly important to the political economy of the DPRK state and the perpetuation of the Kim regime.

Two observations give rise to this conclusion: First, the development of North Korea’s nuclear programme has been a long-term project spanning several decades.  North Korea has compelling strategic reasons to maintain a nuclear deterrent, surrounded as it is by great powers amidst a half-century of uneasy truce with the United States and South Korea.

Second, denuclearisation negotiations have followed a cyclical pattern in which the North has provoked crises to make new demands and gain leverage in negotiations. By inference, it is clear that the nuclear programme has great intrinsic value to Pyongyang. This paper argues that the nuclear programme has value as a bargaining chip in international diplomacy to extract economic inputs for its moribund economy, in domestic politics as vehicle for bureaucratic interests and as a rallying symbol of the country’s hyper-nationalist ideology, as well as its role as a defensive deterrent and important cog in Pyongyang’s offensive asymmetric war strategy.

I discussed these themes in a guest lecture for the first year undergraduate subject States, Security and International Relations (POL1SNS) at La Trobe University on Thursday 2nd May, 2013.


Special thanks to States, Security and International Relations coordinator Dr Jonathan Symons for the invitation to present this lecture, and to the POL1SNS student cohort for their warm reception.

Additional Reading:

Habib, B. (2013). “Escalation Gambit: North Korea’s Perilous Play for Security and Prosperity.” e-International Relations. 10 April 2013.

Habib, B. (2011) ‘North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program and the Maintenance of the Songun System’, The Pacific Review, 24(1): 43-64.

Habib, B. (2010) ‘Rogue Proliferator? North Korea’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle & its Relationship to Regime Perpetuation‘, Energy Policy (38) 6, 2826-2834.

Habib, Ben and O’Neil, Andrew (2009) ‘North Korea’s emergence as a nuclear weapons state and the end of the disarmament paradigm‘, Global Change, Peace & Security 21(3): 377-387.

Revolutionary monument at Mansudae.

Further Information:

38 North


North Korean Economy Watch

North Korea Leadership Watch

North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Korean Central News Agency

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