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

Nuclear terrorism is already here

And Pakistan is at the centre of it

The world’s strategic analysts worry about the how the “intersection of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction” poses the biggest threat to international security. [See these reports]

The truth is that the intersection has already occurred. In Pakistan.

Much of the discourse linking terrorists and nuclear weapons revolves around the question of preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into terrorists’ hands. A terrorist organisation can use a nuclear weapon for compellence—to force governments and people to yield to their demands—with or without actually using it first. Mercifully, by all accounts, this scenario is not upon us yet.

But terrorist organisations are already using nuclear weapons for deterrence—exploiting the nuclear umbrella to carry out attacks without the fear of punitive action by its adversaries. That nuclear umbrella is provided by Pakistan’s arsenal, which today protects both Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership and the likes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. And here’s the rub: the terrorists need not own it or even have their fingers on the trigger. There is enough to suggest that the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States and the November 26th attacks on Mumbai were both conducted with the knowledge and connivance of the Pakistani military establishment. But even if the Pakistani Army were less complicit, its provision of nuclear cover for terrorist organisation makes it part of the world’s terrorists-with-nukes problem. Why would it extend them protection were it not for the fact that such protection promotes its interests?

The Zardari government, as indeed the Pakistani people who elected it, must contemplate on whether they too wish to be part of the same problem. Antagonism against India and national pride are fine, but they should spare a care for their own future. It is impossible for the Pakistani people to escape the consequences of allowing the military-jihadi complex to engage in international nuclear blackmail in their name.

The world’s great powers have already seen how the military-jihadi complex turned against the United States, its former ally. So Pakistan’s current allies won’t, therefore, rest easy merely on the basis of the military-jihadi complex’s current, non-threatening intentions. It is the capability and the willingness to use that they will be concerned about.