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Nuclear Proliferation Among Regional Powers Shall Never Work as Deterrence

Posted on the 08 May 2016 by Shahalexander

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 attacked 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 trust between India and Pakistan is still insufficient. Only an external power, notably the United States is the last intermediate 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 Korean still sees Japan a kind of threat. In other words, Japanese-South Korean relations are more like Indo-Pakistani relations. Therefore, if both countries were to go nuclear, their arms might target each other, rather than deterring 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 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 their ideas will be reliable to maintain peace as those among established nuclear powers like P5, notably the US-Russian MAD. Therefore, it is our imperative to sustain and strengthen the NPT regime, and America’s role as the world policeman.


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