Monday, May 09, 2016

Nuclear Proliferation among Regional Powers Shall Never Work as Deterrence

Some people in the world believe that nuclear possession would boost independent deterrence of their countries. In reality, nuclear arms are no guarantee of deterrence, but simply intensify tensions among regional powers. In order to make nuclear deterrence reliable, sufficient second strike capability and effective systems like hotlines are necessary. However, except nuclear superpowers like the United States and Russia, most of the regional powers cannot afford to possess a huge amount of nuclear weapons, and thus, they are vulnerable to the first attack by the enemy. How these regional powers, including potential nuclear possessors, pursue reliable deterrence against the rival, with limited capability? I would like to mention some cases below.

Currently, the Indian subcontinent is the only place where antagonistic nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, are located side by side along the border. Tensions can arise anytime. Particularly, terrorists’ acquisition of nuclear materials from Pakistan is a critical concern, for fear of a dirty bomb attack in India. In the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament by Laskar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, India failed to react quickly to deploy troops against Pakistan, which was supposed to sponsor these terrorists. In order to manage such fragile nuclear security environment, the Indian government contrived the Cold Start doctrine, which is a massive and quick response with conventional forces to prevent nuclear attack by Pakistan. In response, Pakistan developed tactical nuclear weapons to stop Indian aggression. The problem is, this mutual deterrence is quite feeble, compared with the US-Soviet or Russian MAD, despite the hotline between two countries. If terrorists plotted to attack India from Pakistani territory, this would trigger India’s Cold Start attack and Pakistan’s response with tactical nuclear weapons, in theory (“Are Pakistan's Nuclear Assets Under Threat?”; Diplomat; April 28, 2016). As shown in the tension after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, mutual distrust between India and Pakistan is still deep. Only an external power, notably the United States, is the last intermediary to prevent a nuclear war between both nations.

Likewise, possible nuclear arms build up of Japan and South Korea would not be helpful deterrence against North Korea, as their second strike capability would be limited. More importantly, both Japan and South Korea would have to rely on American satellite for surveillance against North Korea. In addition to deterrence capability of Japan and South Korea, their bilateral relation is a serious problem. The Japanese-South Korean relationship is not the Anglo-French relationship. No one expects nuclear tension across the Dover Strait, but diplomacy across the Tsushima Strait is extremely sensitive. As commonly known, both countries frequently bicker over colonial history, and seemingly trivial gaffes could easily intensify bilateral tensions. Moreover, South Korea still sees Japan a kind of threat. In other words, Japanese-South Korean relations are more like Indo-Pakistani relations. American security umbrella has made a significant contribution to prevent the conflict across the Tsushima Strait from growing too serious. Therefore, if both countries were to have independent nuclear arms, they might target each other, rather than deter North Korea. Donald Trump is extremely incognisant of such sensitive Far Eastern affairs.

As I mention some cases here, it would not help boost deterrence, if the global community permitted regional powers to possess nuclear weapons. They pursue nuclear arms, because the security environment in their neighborhood is unstable. If not, they do not have to spend on these arsenals. This is typically seen in South Africa’s denuclearization after the fall of apartheid. But regional nuclear rivalries simply make their own security worse. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where ethno-sectarian conflicts are intertwined with terrorism. As India invented an indigenous strategic theory of deterrence, others would do. However, I can hardly imagine that their strategies will be reliable deterrence as those of established nuclear powers like the Big Five, notably the US-Russian MAD. Therefore, it is our imperative to sustain and strengthen the NPT regime, and America should revitalize its role as the world policeman.