Monday, September 21, 2009

Role of Nuclear Weapons in Asian Security Landscape

In the nuclear arena, the US remains the only country that is capable enough to “disarm the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a nuclear first strike.”

Scholars like Lieber and Press believe that a pre-emptive strike by the US on Russia during a “peacetime alert” and on China even during a “crisis time alert” can be reasonably successful. These scholars argue that China and Russia cannot claim to have a “survivable nuclear deterrent.” It should, however, be noted despite major technological gap, Russia and China in the last few years have been forced to improve their capabilities for two reasons. One, Russia and China want to eliminate their existing vulnerabilities; and second, because the US has continued with a policy of maintaining nuclear primacy.

Of course, China’s nuclear capabilities have been expanding also because it is not limited by any international arms control agreements, unlike the US and Russia. This could lead to a nuclear arms race, potentially reducing US security and increasing regional insecurities, particularly that of Japan. China and Russia could improve their nuclear capabilities by expanding their nuclear arsenals, dispersing their nuclear forces, pre-delegating the launch authority to local commanders, thus avoiding delay in decision-making, and possibly also adopting hair-trigger nuclear retaliatory doctrines. Japan also believes that China could move away from its current nuclear posture of minimum deterrence to developing a “robust second-strike capability, perhaps with Japan as a primary target.”

However, the more worrying aspect for Japan is that US nuclear primacy could be eroding with projected reduction in US nuclear capability and an increase in the Chinese capabilities. In such a scenario, the US might enter into a bilateral arms control agreement with China that “endorses protection of a Chinese limited nuclear strike capability against the United States, with a decoupling effect that would be devastating for Japan.” Also, if a nuclear arms race recurs, the chances for an accidental nuclear war cannot be ruled out. For instance, an accident involving the US and China during a Taiwan crisis cannot be overlooked. The impact on Japan in any of these situations can be nightmarish.

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