The rise in global demand for nuclear energy is heavily concentrated in emerging and aspiring Asian powers. While nuclear power may alleviate energy shortages and climate change concerns, the promotion of nuclear energy compounds Asia’s nuclear weapon proliferation problems alongside nuclear power safety risks. All this is exacerbated by rising geopolitical tensions in Asia with more assertive policies – especially from China – in the region testing regional stability.
Against this perilous setting, Nuclear Debates in Asia: The Role of Geopolitics and Domestic Processes – a new book by the Rising Powers Initiative (RPI) at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies – questions the extent to which we can infer nuclear thinking simply from external conditions and instead considers policy thinking on nuclear power and proliferation in Asia to be more complex and variegated than often posited. In this Asia Report, we present analysis offered at a recent RPI book launch event at the Elliott School for International Studies at George Washington University (GWU) with commentary by several of the authors on South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. You can also listen to the event’s audio on the Sigur Center’s website.
Five Important Findings in the Book
The Nuclear Debates in Asia book found several illuminating common features across Asia:
- First, decision making on nuclear issues is still largely centrally controlled in a process dominated by elites in both democratic and authoritarian states.
- Second, this stranglehold on nuclear decision making has at times been confronted by grassroots level movements often focused on a specific nuclear question (e.g. protests against nuclear power plants or reprocessing facilities, anti-nuclear weapon groups) especially as pluralism is on the rise in parts of Southeast Asia, Japan, India, and even China.
- Third, nuclear weapons policy has been remarkably consistent despite tremendous external security challenges (particularly China’s ascendancy) and the rise of so-called “resource nationalism” alongside growing energy demands. Instead, nuclear policy appears to be relatively insulated from the whims of populist Nationalism.
- Fourth, the overall center of gravity in most of the countries studied shows the dominance of a Realist-Globalist coalition.
- Finally, Pakistan remains the outlier in this trend with nuclear debates essentially dominated by elites with Nationalist
How do Asia’s rising powers perceive their security environment and the role of theU.S. in regional politics? Have the divergent historical experiences of Asian countries shaped their identities and consequently the range of options they consider in their foreign policies? These questions were debated by an expert group of American and Asian scholars, as well as current and former government officials, at a recent Rising Powers Initiative conference held on April 16, 2012 inWashington,D.C.
Whereas Americans “have come to see security issues in predominantly military and coercive terms,” Asian countries may have a very different view, said Chas W. Freeman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. In his keynote address to the conference, Ambassador Freeman pointed out thatU.S. military presence in Asia “is only one aspect of national security and influence,” and that “concepts of both power and security in and aroundEurasia are far less uni-dimensional.”
Understanding these concepts of power and security has important implications for formulating policy and for exploring the possibilities of regional cooperation. For example, said former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard, “In Korea there are two states and what both sides continue to see as a single nation. And this has played itself out very much inKorea’s foreign policy and domestic policy over the last several years.”
Altogether, the conference examined these questions with regard to India, Japan, South Korea, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The agenda, speaker biographies, and audio recordings of the presentations and discussions are available here. The conference was supported by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
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Yesterday the Sigur Center hosted a policy briefing on “Worldviews of China, India and Russia: Power Shifts and Domestic Debates,” drawing an audience of over 200 academics, journalists, and policymakers. The event was moderated by Henry R. Nau, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, and featured the following experts: Andrew Kuchins, Director and Senior Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Deepa Ollapally, Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, and David Shambaugh, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University. Read more about the event in the GW Today.
NEW: Watch the video of the event here.Continue Reading →