Students probe the history of nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence. They examine arguments for and against nuclear weapons, and the challenges of leftover Cold War arsenals, proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism.
This lesson was published in June 2009.
On May 25, 2009 North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear weapon. This was its second nuclear test in the last three years. Later that same day, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the test, claiming it was a “clear violation” of an earlier agreement in which North Korea promised to disable its nuclear facilities. U.S. President Obama has stated that the action is a threat to international peace. Experts believe that North Korea has not yet developed the capacity to launch a nuclear weapon via missile, but this test has increased fears that North Korea is closer to becoming a full-fledged nuclear state.
The following videos are from Choices’ online video library. Before watching the videos, you might want to have your students read “Part II: Three Challenges—Cold War Arsenals, Proliferation, and Terrorism” in The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons. Alternatively, you might wish to use this activity as an introduction to the topic.
Ask students what they know about North Korea’s recent nuclear test. Why is the international community so concerned? Why do many consider nuclear proliferation, or the spread of nuclear weapons, a major threat to international security?
What are the issues around North Korea’s nuclear weapons program? [1:29] *
What are the consequences in Asia of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program? [2:01] *
*Joseph Cirincione’s interview was conducted in late 2006, a few months after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. Cirincione is now president of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation dedicated to funding projects related to security, peace, and nuclear weapons.
While watching the videos, have your students consider the following questions:
According to Thomas Nichols, how have weapons of mass destruction changed the international balance of power?
According to Joseph Cirincione, why does North Korea want nuclear weapons?
Are there other reasons North Korean leaders might want these weapons?
What are some possible consequences of North Korea’s nuclear testing? For example, how might it affect further proliferation, nuclear terrorism, or the strength of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty?
Questions for Discussion:
What are the consequences for the United States of North Korea’s nuclear weapons?
What are the consequences for the world?
What role do North Korea’s neighbors have in addressing this issue?
What should U.S. policy be toward North Korea? Toward its neighbors?
What role should the United States play in the world today?
Additional Online Resources
“Q&A: North Korea Nuclear Test”
PBS’ Online NewsHour
“North Korea: Nuclear Standoff”
This site provides the NewsHour’s in-depth coverage of the topic, with links to analysis, an historical overview, a map, and further information about nuclear proliferation.
Al Jazeera’s Asia-Pacific Homepage
Recent articles about North Korea provide links to other Al Jazeera resources on the topic, including additional articles, a timeline, and videos.