Nuclear umbrellas in East Asia and the Middle East

China must act forcefully to stop North Korea and Pakistan from expanding their nuclear arsenals

The Obama administration tasted its first—and crunching—diplomatic defeat at the hands of the North Korean regime last week. After threatening to interdict North Korean ships, just about the only action the US government will take in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests is that the US navy will effectively merely tail those ships around, not stop, board or seize them.

Washington might be helpless in stopping North Korea from expanding its nuclear arsenal or periodically threaten its neighbours, but it can protect South Korea (and quite likely Japan) under the US nuclear umbrella. Yesterday, Mr Obama signaled just that. According to Yonsei University’s Chung Min Lee “This sent a strong signal to North Korea. The move should also allay concerns in some quarters that South Korea and Japan may need to pursue their own nuclear options.” Unfortunately, even this is insufficient to create a stable nuclear balance based on mutual deterrence.

The missing factor is China. Continue reading Nuclear umbrellas in East Asia and the Middle East

Parties, interests, leaders and legacy

Leadership will not go unrewarded

Merely ten years after declaring itself a nuclear weapons state, will India’s nuclear future turn into a grand Greek tragedy? K Subrahmanyam’s analysis of the India-US nuclear deal and the interests and payoffs for political parties and their leaders is brilliant.

Ready to play a part in nuclear disarmament

India is in

At IDSA’s tenth Asian Security Conference, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said

On the demand side, the best way to address the dilemmas in the nuclear domain is to focus our efforts on the goal of global nuclear disarmament…The vision of Shri Rajiv Gandhi continues to guide India’s approach to nuclear disarmament. Personalities such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn and William Perry who were at the center of crafting nuclear policy and who thought that nuclear weapons were essential to the security of their state are having a rethink today. We welcome this development and hope it leads, as envisaged in the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan, to a commitment by all states to a nuclear weapon free world. As a responsible nuclear weapon power, India is ready to play its part in the process leading to global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons. [MEA]

That’s exactly what my piece in this month’s Pragati argues.

Aside: Mr Mukherjee’s keynote speech covers a wide range of international security issues, but the name of one country is conspicuously absent. Such are the diktats of diplomacy.

Nuclear disarmament? Great idea…

But talk is cheap, but let’s see some credibility first

Some of America’s foremost strategic experts have proposed that nuclear weapons are a threat for the entire world, and it is time for everyone to get rid of them. Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn have gone beyond the vision thing and actually outlined policy directions to achieve nuclear disarmament. [More on this from Lawrence Wittner over at HNN]

As K Subrahmanyam reminds us, disarmament, non-use of nuclear weapons for warfighting and no-first use have been the longstanding hallmarks of India’s nuclear policy. Moreover last time universal disarmament was proposed seriously at the highest international level was by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. Mr Subrahmanyam argues that it is in India’s interests to participate in discussions that might arise from this new American initiative.

And why not? Maintaining a dynamic minimum credible deterrent is not inconsistent with India being an active participant in international discussions aimed at universal disarmament.

Realists like Dr Kissinger would recognise, though, that the idea of getting states to proceed towards universal nuclear disarmament is contingent upon three things. First, not only the destination but the process of getting there should reflect geopolitical realities. It would be futile to expect nuclear disarmament when say, the UN Security Council and other international organisations remain reflective of geopolitics of the last century [Related post: The tragedy of climate change geopolitics]. Second, international fuel supply and energy markets must be made more competitive. Cartelisation of uranium or crude oil supplies and locking up of supplies at source has implications for the nuclear industry. Reforming the international civilian nuclear trade is therefore crucial.

Finally—and crucially—the call for the extraordinary goal of universal disarmament requires an extraordinary amount of credibility. India, for instance, won’t be misplaced in calling for the US, Russia, China and others to reduce their warhead and feedstock inventories to the same levels as India’s before taking any such steps of its own. For instance, India can commit that it will sign treaties banning nuclear tests or cutting off fissile materials after all states have reduced their arsenal to an equivalent level.

And let’s not forget that even the new Kissinger-Shultz-Perry-Nunn plan for universal disarmament applies only to states. Without overstating the risk of nuclear weapons and materials falling into the hands of non-state/quasi-state actors, it would be incorrect to assume that this is sufficient to protect the world from the risk of nuclear attack.

From the archives: Why the NPT is bunk, why it cannot prevent proliferation and what might.