Spotlight on Nuclear Issues During “Strategic Asia” Book Launch

Spotlight on Nuclear Issues During “Strategic Asia” Book Launch

Christopher Clary speaks at Strategic Asia book launch on October 2, 2013.

Christopher Clary speaks at Strategic Asia book launch on October 2, 2013.

Over the past two decades, Asia has been a hotspot of nuclear weapons proliferation activity with several countries in the region improving on their established arsenals, some acquiring new ones, and others advancing latent capabilities. How nations have managed the impacts of these developments on regional and international stability is the focus of a recently published volume by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). The book – Strategic Asia 2013-14: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age – was launched on October 2 at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and features chapters by leading experts examining the “historical, strategic, and political factors that drive a country’s calculations vis-à-vis nuclear weapons and draws implications for American interests.”

The book launch event was co-hosted by the Sigur Center for Asia Studies, which is conducting its own study – Nuclear Debates in Asia – that tracks domestic debates on nuclear power and nonproliferation in eight countries in Asia at varying stages of nuclear power planning and acquisition. Project authors Mike Mochizuki and Christopher Clary spoke in various capacities at the event. This blog post highlights some of the major themes related to the Nuclear Debates in Asia project raised at the event.

You can listen to the audio by clicking the following links: Event Audio Part I and Event Audio Part II.

All Eyes on Asia

The major theme underscoring the event was the importance of Asia in nuclear proliferation and strategic analysis. Panelists discussed China’s on-going nuclear modernization activities, Pakistan’s emerging battlefield strategy using tactical nuclear weapons, India’s pursuit of a true and effective triad-based deterrent, developments on the Korean peninsula, nuclear decision-making in Japan, and the challenges of U.S. extended deterrence in Asia.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) delivered a morning keynote that warned Washington “cannot be in the business of yielding U.S. primary” by neglecting to fund modernization efforts as several countries in Asia move forward with expanding their nuclear arsenals. To do so, Senator Sessions argued, would create uncertainty in the minds of our allies in Asia who depend upon the extended security guarantee of an effective and credible U.S. nuclear arsenal. While other panelists expressed less pessimistic views on the trajectory of the U.S. stockpile, they recognized that current budgetary pressures mean tough choices will need to be made on the size and composition of the nuclear force, decisions that will closely watched by U.S. allies in Asia.

Established Nuclear Weapon States in Asia

NBR’s Abraham Denmark presented on the chapter on China written by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ Jeffrey Lewis. Some of the major points discussed include:

  • -Despite on-going modernization efforts, China continues its policy of “strategic restraint,” meaning a relatively small but capable nuclear force, a No-First Use doctrine, and an emphasis on second-strike capability.
  • -China manages a complex regional nuclear dynamic, including plans for a possible conflict with the United States over Taiwan, a nuclear-armed India, and U.S. security guarantees to its allies in Asia. China’s efforts to signal resolve during a possible crisis, however, may inadvertently lead to further instability.
  • -Due to the size and doctrine of China’s nuclear force, Beijing is unlikely to join arms control negotiations between the United States and Russia any time soon.

Gaurav Kampani, RAND Corporation and Norwegian Institute of Defense Studies, spoke on India’s challenges as it tries to operationalize its nuclear strategy. Some of the major points discussed include:

  • -India is primarily concerned with being “caught flat-footed” in a crisis because of discontinuities between its war fighting plans and its command and control systems.
  • -Even as India boasts its emergent nuclear-powered submarine fleet, New Delhi will need an even more advanced generation of subs if it wants to move beyond today’s limited capability.

Nuclear Debates in Asia author Christopher Clary wrote a chapter for Strategic Asia on the future of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Some of the major points discussed include:

  • -Pakistan is assembling the pieces it needs for a battlefield nuclear weapons capability, but it has not yet operationalized those elements into a working system.
  • -Pakistan considers its primary threats to be India’s conventional and nuclear counterforce capability, India’s emerging ballistic missile defense system, and concerns that the United States would forcibly eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
  • -Based on these threats, Pakistan is currently undergoing a push to develop advanced short range ballistic missile and producing vast quantities of fissile material to build more warheads.
  • -There are only two ways Pakistan would likely cease this trend: a significant improvement in Indo-Pakistani relations or a crippling resource crunch.

Charting the Path of Emerging and Latent Nuclear Powers in Asia

John Park, Harvard Kennedy School, covered nuclear ambitions on the Korean Peninsula. Some of the major points discussed include:

  • -The primary drivers for the North Korean nuclear arsenal are to: 1) deter adversaries, 2) procure income from the sale of nuclear technology, and 3) improve cost efficiency of its military budget by investing in relatively cheaper nuclear weapons rather than a much larger conventional force.
  • -As South Korea considers its own nuclear arsenal, leaders question the value of conventional military superiority if North Korea continues its dangerous and deadly provocations. Reassurances by the United States that it will protect Seoul in the event of a crisis with North Korea are necessary but no longer sufficient to keep South Korea from considering other options for its own defense.
  • -While North Korea is not interested in disarmament talks, it remains eager for arms control negotiations that leave it with a minimal nuclear deterrent.

James Schoff, Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, spoke on Japan’s nuclear hedge and its potential for an indigenous nuclear arsenal. Some of the major points discussed include:

  • -Japan has the option to relatively quickly build an indigenous nuclear arsenal. Tokyo will maintain this “nuclear hedge” – including a robust nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear energy industry – to keep the United States engaged in the region and a protector of Japan’s security interests.
  • -“Nuclear allergy” in Japan against building an indigenous nuclear arsenal is real, but “not genetic” and not an unbreakable barrier.

The Challenges of Managing the Security Trilemma in Asia

The final panel featured a discussion on the future of U.S. extended deterrence in Asia by Linton Brook, former head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Mira Rapp-Hooper, Columbia University. Some of the major points discussed include:

  • -Primary challenge for United States is managing a three-fold dilemma: 1) securing the tools and strategy to extend a security guarantee for its allies in Asia, 2) reassuring those allies of the credibility of the deterrent and U.S. willingness to follow through on those promises, and 3) convincing China that those extended deterrence decisions are not primarily directed at Beijing.
  • -Japan and South Korea are looking more at how to step up their contributions to allied deterrence mission as the United States reduces the role of nuclear weapons in defense planning.
  • -Alliance management during current budgetary pressures will be more difficult, but not impossible. Alliances are primarily political relationships that need to be carefully maintained through regular and genuine consultations; simply having the right mix of weapon systems and numbers of nuclear arms is insufficient.


The latest volume of Strategic Asia covers a timely and important topic that will continue to challenge foreign policymakers and thinkers in the years to come. How the United States responds to pressing nuclear issues in Asia – and how it coordinates those actions with its allies in the region – will shape the second nuclear age. Be sure to follow the Rising Power Initiative’s Nuclear Debates in Asia project on Twitter @westmyer and this blog as events develop for more news and analysis.

You can learn more about Strategic Asia 2013-14: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age at NBR’s website by clicking here.