Conventional Counterforce Dilemmas: South Korea’s Deterrence Strategy and Stability on the Korean Peninsula

In this online seminar, we disuss Ian Bowers and Henrik Stålhane Hiim's paper: "Conventional Counterforce Dilemmas: South Korea’s Deterrence Strategy and Stability on the Korean Peninsula".

Speakers: Ian Bowers, the Royal Danish Defence College; and Henrik Stålhane Hiim, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI)

Respondent: Vipin Narang, MIT.

If you would like to participate, please register here. All participants will receive a Zoom invitation in advance.


In response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, South Korea is quietly pursuing an independent conventional counterforce and countervalue strategy. This strategy is novel and unique: Few, if any non-nuclear states have sought to rely on advanced conventional capabilities to deter a nuclear-armed adversary. This article examines why South Korea is pursuing a conventional counterforce and countervalue strategy and its impact on the strategic stability on the Korean peninsula. We argue that South Korea’s approach should be understood as both a short- and long-term hedge against U.S. abandonment. Its deterrent effect, no matter how uncertain, acts as a short-term stop gap if the US abandons South Korea, while over the long-term, capabilities such as advanced ballistic and cruise missiles bolster South Korea’s nuclear latency. At the same time, we highlight that the strategy poses numerous technological and operational difficulties and has negative implications for arms race and crisis stability. Given South Korea’s approach and North Korea’s response, we further highlight that disarmament efforts focused purely on the bilateral US-North Korea relationship will not succeed. Rather, any agreement will now need to address the growing gap in the conventional balance of forces on the Korean Peninsula.

Speakers bio:

Ian Bowers is an Associate Professor in the Centre for Joint Operations at the Royal Danish Defence College. Prior to holding this position, he was an Associate Professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. His research focuses on deterrence, the future operational environment, seapower and East Asian security. Bowers most recent publication is the co-edited volume, Grey and White Hulls: An International Analysis of the Navy Coastguard Nexus (Palgrave, 2019). He has also published a monograph on the modernisation of the Republic of Korea Navy. His research has been published in the Journal of Strategic Studies, the Naval War College Review, Pacific Review and the Korean Journal of Defense Analysis. Bowers holds a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London.


Henrik Stålhane Hiim is a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, where he is coordinating a three-year research program on strategic stability and the future of arms control in Asia. His research focuses on Chinese foreign and security policy, as well as nuclear strategy and non-proliferation. His monography Strategic Assistance: China and International Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (Routledge 2019) analyses the evolution of China’s policies towards the nuclear programs of Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran. His research has appeared in journals such as Asian Security and Survival. Hiim holds a PhD in Political Science from Oslo University (2016). From 2014 to 2015, he was a Stanton Nuclear Security predoctoral fellow at MIT.

Respondent bio:

Vipin Narang is an Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT and a member of MIT’s Security Studies Program. He received his Ph.D. from the Department of Government, Harvard University in May 2010, where he was awarded the Edward M. Chase Prize for the best dissertation in international relations. He holds a B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering with distinction from Stanford University and an M. Phil with Distinction in international relations from Balliol College, Oxford University, where he studied on a Marshall Scholarship. He has been a fellow at Harvard University’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, a predoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and a Stanton junior faculty fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. His research interests include nuclear proliferation and strategy, South Asian security, and general security studies.

His first book Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era (Princeton University Press, 2014) on the deterrence strategies of regional nuclear powers won the 2015 ISA International Security Studies Section Best Book Award. He is currently working on his second book, Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation (Princeton University Press, under contract), which explores how states pursue nuclear weapons.  His work has been published in several journals including International Security, Journal of Conflict ResolutionThe Washington Quarterly,and International Organization.


Published Feb. 9, 2021 9:48 AM - Last modified Feb. 9, 2021 9:48 AM