1 year ago




A SHIFTING ASIAN NUCLEAR ORDER What, if anything, can Australia do to address the looming shifts in Asia’s nuclear order? We can’t stop the power shifts from unfolding or do much to alter the pace of technological churn. Still, we might be able to shape the political relationships within which those things are happening. To do that, we would want the regional nuclear order to be a topic of leadership discussion in Asia. At the moment, it isn’t; it’s the subject of academic and think-tank enquiry but not of official policy. That’s evident even from looking at the nature of the debate – most of it’s confined to 1.5-track and 2-track discussions, reflecting the lack of official buy-in to the issues. It might be that Australia could usefully stimulate official discussion of the issues through a series of specific regional summits, with attendance at the ministerial level. Attendees at those summits should include representatives from the regional nuclear weapon states – including North Korea – and states enjoying extended nuclear assurances or high nuclear latency. The summits’ agendas should focus on order-building, not on an evangelical campaign against nuclear weapons. We’ve worked jointly with Japan in this field before, and Tokyo might also be a willing partner in such a venture this time around. Secondly, even though the case studies explored here cover what we might think of as the ‘barking dogs of the regional nuclear order’, we can’t ignore the dogs that don’t bark in the night. We should do what we can to maintain and reinforce Southeast Asia’s nuclearweapon-free status. It’s true that a sudden wave of nuclear proliferation is more likely further afield, in Northeast Asia, the Middle East or Europe. But we shouldn’t take for granted the non-nuclear status of our near neighbourhood. Proliferation there would be of immediate strategic significance for us. Further, we have a direct interest in Southeast Asian countries continuing to exercise high levels of security over their existing civil nuclear programs, and in acting vigorously to police the possible transhipment of nuclear-related materials through the region. Thirdly, as other US allies in Asia look for options to strengthen US extended nuclear assurances in the region, we would be well advised to do the same. If the Australian Government hasn’t already done so, it should begin a more comprehensive set of discussions with the US about the ways in which the ANZUS alliance might be strengthened in that regard. As Asian strategic transformation unfolds, it will be important to ensure that the nuclear side of our alliance remains relevant to the shifting strategic environment. That might include the introduction of nuclear sharing arrangements similar to those already existing in Europe – especially if US allies in Northeast Asia start to head down that track. Then there are the policy options that we should approach with genuine caution. Selfabnegation has to be the basis of fresh signals of restraint in Asia. But voluntary abandonment of our own tie to nuclear deterrence would do little to improve the situation and might easily make it worse. Some have suggested that we should forswear the defence of Australia by nuclear weapons, setting aside the position of extended nuclear deterrence in Australian strategic policy. Such commentators believe that because nuclear weapons play no great role in the protection of our own continent we could make such a change at an acceptable cost, and hope thereby to generate a wider regional rejection of nuclear weapons. In fact, though, such a rejection seems unlikely to follow. The region won’t reject them while the rest of the globe retains them. And our abandonment of our nuclear relationship with the US might easily spur debates elsewhere in the region that would be the reverse of what we intend. Some Asian policymakers would interpret such a move by Australia as an attempted appeasement of a rising China; others might see it as evidence that we no longer DIPLOMACY 18/2016 175

A SHIFTING ASIAN NUCLEAR ORDER believed Washington assurances were credible. Further, US nuclear weapons provide a useful backstop to Australian security, one which we should be reluctant to abandon in any event. It’s unrealistic to believe that our security turns solely upon continental defence. Rather, it turns upon a secure region and a stable, favourable set of force balances along the Eurasian rimlands. Those balances would be harder to sustain in the absence of nuclear weapons. But if nuclear weapons are here to stay, and if Asian nuclear relationships are destined to become more complicated and – probably – contentious, Australia should do what it can to make sure that regional deterrence policies don’t become shrill. As this paper has argued, there’s long been a degree of shrillness to North Korean nuclear policy – softened only a little by a more responsible pledge at the recent party congress – and it’s unclear whether Canberra can do much to alter that tone. Pakistan’s nuclear policy, shaped like North Korea’s on the premise of a considerable power differential with a likely adversary, turns increasingly upon a promise of early use of nuclear weapons in conflict. Finding ways to draw Pakistan towards nuclear normalcy will be one of the key challenges of the emerging order. The US-China relationship constitutes a different sort of problem. Managing the tone of the relationship is clearly important, but both players sense a flattening of the power gradient between them, and that makes for a set of new challenges to the current strategic order and not merely the nuclear one. Both orders seem likely to tangle together: it will be hard to insulate the US-China nuclear relationship from the broader bilateral strategic one, and vice versa. Beijing, in particular, having only a thin record of formal nuclear arms control and no record at all of formal nuclear weapons ceilings and reductions, might well be uncomfortable with any attempt to move the bilateral relationship from one based on voluntary restraint to one based on formal commitments. But its willingness to do so seems likely to be an emerging test of China’s regional leadership. Australia can’t redesign the nuclear order to its will. But we should do what we can to support the continuing pre-eminence of deterrence in regional nuclear doctrines, work where we can to enhance crisis-stability arrangements, and advocate the continuing importance of the principle of voluntary restraint in Asia’s pre-systemic, pre-managed nuclear order. Finally, even with such efforts, we must accept that nuclear weapons could spread quickly in Asia. Worries among US allies about the continued willingness of the US to offer extended nuclear assurances – something previously taken for granted but now less certain – could be a particularly important driver of near-term regional proliferation. Such an outcome would leave Canberra with a series of complex and unattractive choices, not merely over how to respond to proliferation by US allies in Northeast Asia, but in thinking through what a fundamental shift in the regional order meant for Australia’s own nuclear identity. NOTES 1. See, for example, Devin Hagerty, The consequences of nuclear proliferation: lessons from South Asia, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1998. 2. Muthiah Alagappa (ed.), The long shadow: nuclear weapons and security in 21st century Asia, Stanford University Press, California, 2008, pp. 13–21. 3. Ashley Tellis, ‘Overview’, in A Tellis, AM Denmark, T Tanner (eds), Strategic Asia 2013–14: Asia in the second nuclear age, National Bureau of Asian Research, Seattle, p. 23. 4. Toby Dalton, Michael Krepon, 2015. ‘Nuclear mainstream’, Dawn, 27 August 2015. 5. The terms ‘extended nuclear deterrence’ and ‘extended nuclear assurance‘ are used here, and throughout the paper, to refer in particular to the nuclear elements of US extended deterrence and assurance policies. Washington offers in support of its allies a range of capabilities that deter adversaries and assure friends. Some 176 ДИПЛОМАЦИЯ 18/2016

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