America's security alliances with Japan and South Korea made headlines last month. In addition to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's address to a joint session of Congress, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited both Japan and South Korea. Their main focus was on how to fortify Seoul's and Tokyo's security alliance ties with the US against possible Chinese and North Korean military threats.
Publicly, Abe and Carter spoke of improving US trade ties and strengthening alliance conventional defenses. What did not get discussed, however, was a deeper worry: How badly might nuclear weapons proliferate in East Asia?
If North Korea's and China's arsenals continue to grow, might Japan and South Korea go nuclear? Technically, how difficult would it be for either of these countries to get their first bombs? What would they target them against? How might North Korea and China respond to such proliferation? How many hundreds or even thousands of warheads, ultimately, would Japan and South Korea have to acquire just to maintain their security? Are there not better non-nuclear, military alternatives to ensure Japan's and South Korea's defense?
Recently, NPEC showcased two major reports that address these questions. The first is a paper by Ian Easton of Project 2049, "Japanese Strategic Weapons Programs and Strategies: Future Scenarios and Alternative Approaches." Mr. Easton examines why Japan might go nuclear, what its initial warhead requirements might be, why these would likely grow, and what alternative nuclear strategies might provide better security for Japan than acquiring nuclear weapons. The second paper is by Charles Ferguson of the Federation of American Scientists, "How South Korea Could Acquire and Deploy Nuclear Weapons." Dr. Ferguson examines how South Korea might acquire its first weapons, what type of weapons it would likely employ, and which targets it would aim these weapons against. One of the themes in both papers is how both countries would likely exploit their civilian nuclear infrastructure to develop their nuclear weapons options.
To access Mr. Easton's paper on Japan, click here.
To access Dr. Ferguson's paper on South Korea, click here.
NPEC's purpose in releasing these papers is to clarify just how technically feasible and quick further nuclear weapons proliferation in East Asia could be. Certainly, if America's ability to manage events in the region either remains static or declines and China, North Korea, Japan, and South Korea produce much larger quantities of nuclear weapons-usable fuels, the prospects for preventing further Asian proliferation are hardly bright.