New dynamics – nuclear relations in Northeast Asia

New dynamics – nuclear relations in Northeast Asia

Ken Jimbo: Well thank you so much for inviting me to this public forum. During the morning session, there has been much talk about the global abolition initiatives–political and technological trajectory of the deeper reduction of the strategic forces. But I’m very glad that this public forum is also paying attention to the regional implication, especially to Japan, of the implication of these debates. Because I believe that the concept of the nuclear disarmament, the arms control and the concept of the extended deterrents, have regional variations, reflecting the different regions’ strategic conditions. And I have to mention that there has been significant development surrounding this debate, which may cause, unfortunately, growing concerns and dilemma in the nuclear stability in east Asia.

Of course, the first development is the Obama Administration’s formal commitment to the world free of nuclear weapons. And to that extent, the United States will significantly de-emphasize of nuclear deterrents in the security and its military strategy, which are the things debated in the first session.

Accordingly, the United States and Russia will pursue a deeper cut in strategic arms to ever smaller levels as we have discussed during previous sessions. But contrary to the global upheaval for this disarmament, the nuclear dynamics in Asia–it’s becoming more severe, and believed to be further severe in the coming years.

North Korea has conducted its second nuclear test on May 25th, this year, and it was reported to be much bigger and sophisticated than the last test in October 2006. And we believe that North Korean nuclear capability is still limited in the terms of size of nuclear devices and its possible operations. It is still unknown whether they have succeeded in miniaturization of devices, which would enable them to equip those devices to their missiles, and whether they have acquired re-entry and targeting technology for their delivery system.

Although US, Japan, and Korea’s official acknowledgments were that miniaturization has yet to be achieved, there are growing numbers of experts and scientists mentioning that it is only a matter of time before North Korea manages to do that.

North Korea also announced earlier this month that it is in the final stages of enriching uranium. It was the first time since October 2002 that they officially acknowledged the existence of highly enriched uranium program. It is still unknown how far they have acquired the enrichment technology, but it has certainly complicated the issue a step further.

As we have discussed this issue in the northeast Asia regional grouping called Six-Party Talks, in September 2005, North Korea has pledged to abandon all nuclear weapons and its programs in return for gaining the security guarantee from the United States. They officially mentioned that United States affirmed that it has no intention to attack or invade  Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) with nuclear or conventional weapons. And a lot of emphasis has been made during the late Bush administration toward the disabling of the production capacity of Yongbyon nuclear facility.

However, it seemed like we have somewhat overestimated the collective efforts made by the five parties, since it obviously lacked the force to keep North Korea at the right track, and to punish them if they do not abide by the agreements.

So it is still important to maintain the Six-Party Talks for the framework to provide North Korea an assurance, whenever the North Koreans would like to come back to the table. However, it is also important to reinvigorate the understanding among the five parties to reach further assurances of taking the risk to pressurize North Korea for denuclearization.

Now, let me also mention about China. Chinese nuclear forces have still been kept in the moderate numbers, comparing to the numbers acquired by the US and Russia, and it has signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), also. However, China is modernizing its strategic forces.

And also, they are diversifying their offensive tools. Most significantly, they have dramatically increased the number of short-range ballistic missiles to Taiwan, but recently paying more attention to the medium-range ballistic missiles that can target northeast Asian countries and India as well. And also, with some cruise missiles.

China has been working hard to ensure the deterrents against the United States, under which we believe that the basic doctrine of minimum deterrents, from our perspective. So far, at least, no US Administration has taken a definitive position on this issue.

There seems to be, whether the Chinese nuclear force have a kind of clear, second-strike capability towards the United States has not been recognized by any US President or officials, in a direct sense.

But, however, as far as I’m concerned, I do not think that the United States can avoid doing so, which means that they are recognizing Chinese forces as a more credible deterrent force against the United States, because of the following reasons:

Number one is that the US and Japanese missile defense is gaining new operational capabilities for Chinese medium- and long-range missiles, which China concerns that they’re deterrence will be deteriorated, which means that currently, of course, the Japanese possess the missile defense whose main target will be the North Korean Rodong missiles that can target Japan.

But we are also having the scientific experience and also the joint developments for the upgrading of the missile, that can also intercept the longer range missile that includes the Chinese medium-range ballistic missile, which the Chinese are very much concerned about. That is number one.

The second is from the Chinese side. Although their developments of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) has been moderate, as the number of the CSS4 (which is the liquid propellant that has been stalled since 1980) remain in the 2000’s, 24 to 30, for the last ten years. They are seemingly developing highly-modernized strategic forces such as land-based DF31A (long-range, three stage, solid propellant intercontinental ballistic missiles), DF21 (solid-fuel land-based JL-1 missile), and also submarine-based JL2 (second generation intercontinental-range submarine-launched ballistic missile).

So, these are the points, exactly the points for your thoughts, on the outline of changing the nuclear dynamics in Asia. And also that will have, I think, the very important strategic impact towards the US perception on the nuclear relations between US and China.

So, let me–with having those kind of new nuclear dynamics in Northeast Asia–now let me make a few points about Japan and the question of the extended deterrence. When President Obama mentioned about the world free of nuclear weapons, he also mentioned that the United States maintains the adequate deterrent as long the nuclear weapons remain.

And Japanese responses, as Gareth Evans mentioned in the first session, have been doubled-folded. While number one is that Japan wishes an ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons–because of historically embedded reasons–but at the same time, number two, is that we would like to maintain the credible nuclear extended deterrence provided by the United States.

And many could mention that this is a kind of very contradictory status which the Japanese government could take, but it’s kind of a reality–that we wish the nuke elimination, but as long as North Korea and China take the stance in the new nuclear dynamics which I have mentioned, we need to maintain, for some extent, the credible nuclear deterrent provided by the United States.

Then what are Japan’s preferences? Number one, Japan wants the United States to pursue its double commitments by the Obama Administration, without damaging the extended deterrence and general security ties with Japan. In this regard, Japan wants more visible nuclear commitment by the United States, both by doctrine and its capability. And the nuclear dimension of the US commitments and capability in Asia should be addressed, in my eyes, in more concrete terms.

Ironically, in the time of de-emphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in the global scale, we need to re-emphasize the role of nuclear deterrence in Asia. However, it does not mean that the role of nuclear weapons is dramatically increased in the deterrence and the war fighting in Northeast Asia.

The central role of the extended deterrence continues to be played by the United States in the conventional force presence in Asia. It is quite logical to say that in order to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons, the stronger and wider role of conventional forces that can respond to the multi-layer contingency scenario will be, I think, pretty much necessary.

We must think how much that the conventional forces can play the role of deterrence and response and possibly to replace the role played by the nuclear weapons. But until the time the concerned parties understand the role of conventional weapons, nuclear weapons and nuclear extended deterrence should be maintained in a minimum, but very visible manner.

It is quite favorable for Japan to have a nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts in Northeast Asia as well. The targets are very clear. We need to take the political risks of having a grand deal with North Korea to make them give up its nuclear weapons. The deals involve the passage to invite North Korea, by insuring their regime survival, but at the same time have access to greater deals with funds and resources, if they give up the nuclear weapons.

However, they will face the severe consequences if they do not do so. These are the kind of package of the grand bargain we need to take a further step. The second target is to invite China to a multilateral arms control negotiation, favorably in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) follow-on process. It is quite important to include China into the global arms control framework, then that the level of the confidence and trajectory towards less numbers of nuclear weapons will become more salient. I will stop here. Thank you very much.

About Ken Jimbo

Ken Jimbo is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University.

He presented this speech at a public forum on nuclear disarmament, Who Will Stop Nuclear Next Use? The forum was organized by the Nautilus Institute at RMIT. It was held on Sunday 20 September 2009 at RMIT Storey Hall.