29 Jul 2022Britain’s official National Security Advisor, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, has warned that the risk of nuclear escalation is greater today than it was during the Cold War, particularly with respect to China.Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C., the former top bureaucrat at the Ministry of Defence
China’s ‘breathtaking’ nuclear arms push a rising challenge, Stratcom chief saysChina is expanding its nuclear forces at a “breathtaking” pace, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command warned in urging for strengthened U.S. nuclear deterrence against the danger.
Jack Montgomery 29 Jul 2022 Britain’s official National Security Advisor, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, has warned that the risk of nuclear escalation is greater today than it was during the Cold War, particularly with respect to China.”likely succeeded in making tactical advances in the Donbas around the Vuhlehirska Power Plant,” adding that some Ukrainian forces have”likely withdrawn from the area.“We must acknowledge that existing nuclear states are investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new warfighting nuclear systems, which they are integrating into their military strategies and doctrines and into their political rhetoric to seek to coerce others,” U.Follow Us.
Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C. — Blinken to speak with Russian counterpart about Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan release Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about US policy towards China during an event hosted by the Asia Society Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on May 26, 2022., the former top bureaucrat at the Ministry of Defence argued that the West “face[s] a much broader range of strategic risks and pathways to escalation” than during the Cold War, not least because, during that long-simmering conflict, the Soviet Union and its satellites reached something of a “shared understanding of doctrine” which made the threat of nuclear conflict more manageable — some notable flirtations with destruction notwithstanding. “For example, we have clear concerns about China’s nuclear modernization program that will increase both the number and types of nuclear weapon systems in its arsenal. He highlighted both “Russia’s repeated violations of its treaty commitments” and, perhaps more significantly, “the pace and scale with which China is expanding its nuclear and conventional arsenals and the disdain it has shown for engaging with any arms control agreements” as particularly dangerous, saying that nuclear doctrine today “is opaque in Moscow and Beijing, let alone Pyongyang or Tehran” — referring to the capitals of North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran.S. A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said China is pursuing a “substantial expansion” of its nuclear arsenal, including the development of new delivery systems and the construction of hundreds of additional missile silos.
“If the south Korean regime and military ruffians think about confronting us militarily and that they can neutralize or destroy some parts of our military forces preemptively by resorting to some special military means and methods, they are grossly mistaken!” the North’s state-controlled media Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Kim as saying in his speech at the 69th anniversary of the armistice for the 1950-53 Korean War.
Since he took office in May, Yoon has reiterated the importance of strengthening military ties with the United States and its allies to cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. During his presidential campaign, Yoon brought up the possibility of striking North Korea preemptively when there is an explicit sign of Pyongyang launching missiles toward the South’s soil. Also, he once said that he would ask the U.S. to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea or sign a nuclear-sharing agreement. However, Washington killed this initiative right away and Yoon has not spoken about tactical nuclear weapons or nuclear sharing again.
Such remarks were interpreted as political rhetoric to garner support from South Korean conservatives as the U.S. has not supported such moves on the basis of its extended deterrence policy. Also, it is impossible for South Korea to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons or develop its own indigenous nuclear programs as it is a member state of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
However, Yoon’s military has been working to readopt the “three-axis” defense system, which includes preemptive strike scenarios against North Korea. Kim directly called this a “very dangerous self-destructive action.”
“Such a dangerous attempt will be punished at once by a powerful force and Yoon Suk Yeol regime and its army will be annihilated,” Kim said.
Hours after KCNA published the transcript of Kim’s speech, the South Korean Presidential Office of National Security expressed “deep regret” over Kim’s direct criticism of Yoon, saying that the government is holding a strong and effective readiness posture against any provocation from North Korea. While reiterating its stance to strengthen its self-defense under the ironclad military alliance with the United States, Seoul urged Pyongyang to return to dialogue for denuclearization and peace construction.
Washington and Seoul have not ruled out diplomatic overtures on North Korea issues. However, since then-U.S. President Donald Trump walked out of his 2019 summit with Kim in Hanoi, North Korea has been crystal clear that it will only consider returning to the negotiating table once Washington makes concessions first.
However, Kim likely views denuclearization as a suicidal move, as there is no reason to fear a Pyongyang with no nuclear weapons. Kim has never expressed interest in Yoon’s “audacious plan” but ignored it by continuing the power game.
American and South Korean negotiators urged Pyongyang to return to the table without any conditions, but the leaders of the two countries have implied that the dovish overtures could be made when North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons – which is the old school policy that has long failed to entice North Korean leaders to denuclearize the country.
Kim pointed to the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises as proof of the so-called “double standard” of the United States. He also accused the U.S. of demonizing his country to justify its “hostile” policies toward his country.
The South Korea-U.S. joint military drills, one of the “hostile” policies that North Korea has demanded Washington withdraw, are expected to be held in late August. Compared with the previous military drills for the past few years, the upcoming military drills are going to be conducted on a larger scale. Both Seoul and Washington have raised the necessity of reinvigorating the drills in a bid to respond to the unprecedented spate of the North’s missile tests this year.
Months ago, U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets were deployed in the region and conducted drills with the South Korean military. As more and more powerful U.S. weapons are expected to be deployed for the joint military drills, even while North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test, the arms race on the Korean Peninsula will intensify in the coming months.Authors
Mitch Shin is Chief Koreas Correspondent for The Diplomat and a non-resident Research Fellow of the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP), Stockholm Korea Center.
Iran’s nuclear program, oil, and human rights dominated Biden’s much-anticipated first presidential trip to the Middle East earlier this month. But there is one topic President Biden chose not to showcase during his visit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud—the Kingdom’s most recent interest in nuclear energy—and the nuclear weapons proliferation concerns that come with it.
And then, there’s this: Any Korean sale would be covered by a generous 2011 South Korean nuclear cooperative agreement with Riyadh that explicitly authorizes the Saudis to enrich any uranium it might receive from Seoul. Under the agreement, Riyadh could enrich this material by up to 20 percent, without having to secure Seoul’s prior consent.
That should set off alarm bells.
Do the Saudis want a bomb? In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” As if to prove the point, late in 2020, word leaked that the Saudis have been working secretly with the Chinese to mine and process Saudi uranium ore. These are steps toward enriching uranium—and a possible nuclear weapon program.Unlike the Emirates, which legally renounced enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel to separate plutonium, the Kingdom insists on retaining its “right” to enrich. Also, unlike most members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Saudi Arabia refuses to allow intrusive inspections that might help the IAEA find covert nuclear weapons-related activities, if they exist, under a nuclear inspections addendum known as the Additional Protocol.Will Putin go nuclear? A timeline of expert commentsSaudi Arabia’s enrichment program and refusal to adopt the Additional Protocol, doubled with a possible permissive South Korean reactor sale, could spell trouble. South Korea currently makes its nuclear fuel assemblies using imported uranium, which mainly comes from Australia. This ore is controlled by Australia’s uranium export policy, which requires that the uranium be monitored by the IAEA and that materials derived from it not be retransferred to a third country without first securing Australia’s consent. Yet, if Seoul decides to pass Australian uranium on to Riyadh, the Saudis are free to enrich it up to 20 percent at any time without having to secure anyone’s approval. In addition, Riyadh could proceed to enrich this material without having to agree to intrusive IAEA inspections under the Additional Protocol, making it easier for Riyadh to enrich beyond 20 percent uranium 235 without anyone knowing.Can Washington block the reactor export? In Washington, the US nuclear industry understandably is miffed that Riyadh excluded Westinghouse from bidding on the Saudi reactors. Meanwhile, State Department officials say that KEPCO can’t sell Riyadh its APR-1400 reactor because it incorporates US nuclear technology that is property of Westinghouse. KEPCO, they insist, would first need to secure US Energy Department approval under US intangible technology transfer controls (known as Part 810 authorizations). This requirement, they argue, gives Washington the leverage it needs to impose nonproliferation conditions on South Korea’s reactor export to Riyadh.This sounds fine. But there’s a catch. South Korean officials insist that its APR-1400 design, which uses a Combustion Engineering data package that Westinghouse now owns, is entirely indigenous. Focusing on the matter of technology transfer authority also begs a bigger question: Does the Republic of Korea need Washington’s blessing to begin enriching uranium itself or to transfer enrichment technology to other countries, such as Saudi Arabia?Why the Ukraine war does not mean more countries should seek nuclear weaponsThe short answer is no.South Korea has always been free to enrich uranium and transfer uranium enrichment technology to other countries so long as the uranium it enriched or the enrichment technology it shipped wasn’t of US origin. America’s veto over South Korean enrichment only applies to uranium that comes from the United States. As I learned from a recent interview of the two top negotiators of the 2015 US-Republic of Korea civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, Seoul has always known this. Yet, South Korea asked that Washington explicitly grant it authority to enrich uranium in the 2015 agreement—something Washington has yet to grant. According to the negotiators, South Korean officials preferred to have political permission from Washington to do so, even though they did not legally need it.South Korea and the United States have a choice. South Korea’s previous administration under President Moon Jae-in announced in 2021 that South Korea would not export reactors to countries that had not yet agreed to adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. Is this pledge one that President Yoon Suk-yeol will uphold? Or will Yoon reverse this policy in his effort to go all outto secure the reactor sale to Riyadh?Similarly, how committed is the Biden Administration to prevent Saudi Arabia from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent reactor fuel? Previous administrations have tried to keep Riyadh clear of such activities. Will Washington keep Seoul’s and Saudi Arabia’s feet to the fire on this or will the administration’s desire to close ranks with South Korea and Saudi Arabia push these nonproliferation concerns to the sidelines? Anyone interested in preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East should want to know the answers.
Off-peninsula developments are equally sobering. Russia has successfully ring-fenced its February invasion of Ukraine by threatening nuclear use against any nation that dares to cross its red lines. As a result, while Kiev receives moral, financial and arms support from Western partners, it stands alone on the battlefield.
South Korea, unlike Ukraine, has a national insurance policy: The US is treaty-bound to defend it. However, there is the question of US resolution: The credibility of that insurance is untested in the face of real-world nuclear aggression.
Some fret that – if push came to shove – Washington would be unwilling to risk losing one or more of its cities to a North Korean reprisal, leaving South Korea exposed to potential perdition.
One of the highest-profile proponents of that possibility put a stark question to Asia Times on the sidelines of a recent conference. “How can we sleep at night?” asked political heavyweight and Hyundai Heavy Chairman Chung Mong-joon.
Currently, institutes are churning out research showing that the public overwhelmingly supports the national acquisition of nuclear arms. It is increasingly a hot topic at conferences and in media.
But with the Yoon Suk-yeol administration cleaving tightly to a US that is still strongly attached to non-proliferation, there is no tangible momentum. And any South Korean leader who decided to go critical would need to first answer the multiple questions that hang over the issue.
Technically: Is South Korea capable of creating both nuclear arms and their delivery systems? And if it built a nuclear weapon, where would it test it?Intercontinental ballistic missiles at a military parade celebrating the 70th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is a key – but not the only – issue prodding South Korea to follow suit. Photo: KCNA via Reuters
The case for going nuclear
That the Korean public is in favor of a domestic nuclear deterrent is clear.
“So that begs the question: ‘If North Korea does go ahead, what are we to do? More condemnation, more UNSC resolutions, more sanctions?” Lee continued. “That has not worked for two decades.”
America is strongly attached to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT, raising worries that Washington would crack down if Seoul decided to go nuclear. But other friendly power players would not be likely to sanction Seoul beyond lip service.
Moreover, Article 10 of the treaty would allow South Korea to exit the NPT in good faith.
“Acquiring nuclear weapons is not a violation of international law – only for those countries who are members of the NPT,” said Daryl Press, an associate professor at Dartmouth College. “South Korea could do it in a legal fashion by exercising its Article 10 legal rights to withdraw…there is no need to be a pariah.”
For a South Korean diplomat, explaining the necessity of the step would be “an easy day on the job,” Press suggested.
In fact, signaling an NPT withdrawal could be a legitimate step on Seoul’s response ladder, Lee proposed. “If [North Korea] conducts a seventh nuclear test, the least we can do is withdraw from the NPT,” he said. “That would put a lot of pressure on the international community to do more.”
“China will strongly oppose this step,” Press said. “But the South Korean position is eminently reasonable: South Korea should hold open other options and say, ‘If there is some way the international community, perhaps led by China, [could] get North Korea to denuclearize, we would happily rejoin the NPT.’”
He added, “I would not phrase this as a threat to the Chinese, but a reach out of the hand.”
Others say that not even Beijing – a key source of fuel, food and medicine for North Korea – can reign in Pyongyang.
“North Korea has already demonstrated that they don’t give a damn about the US, the UN and China,” Chun In-bum, a retired South Korean general told Asia Times. “The North Koreans will eat each other before they give up nuclear weapons.”
A key argument for Seoul’s nuking up is the possibility of the US backing down if faced with a truly locked-and-loaded North Korea.
“The core issue is that North can strike US with an ICBM and in doing so you introduce the classic dilemma: [French President Charles] De Gaulle asked [US President John] Kennedy if he would exchange New York for Paris,” Kelly said of the 1961 discussion between the two leaders. “Kennedy waffled. I think the answer is probably ‘no.’” I don’t believe the US would fight a nuke war solely for non-Americans.”
In this sense, South Korean nuclearization would not just aim a close-to-home deterrent at North Korea but could also lower risks for the US. And the nuclearization of US allies France and UK during the Cold War provides a European benchmark that could be applied to Asian allies South Korea and Japan, Kelly said – warning the US not to act in “hegemonic” fashion.
America’s public, he guessed, would be supportive. “My sense is that the issue of North Korea is so obvious it will move US public opinion, and the US foreign policy community will come around,” he said.
Policy cleavages between Seoul and Washington provide another rationale for independent nukes, according to Press. The rise of China and the “wedge” being driven “between South Korean and US priorities” is not yet “catastrophic” but is a “growing strain,” the American scholar said.
Rising fears are also hovering over not American strengths but rather its weaknesses.
In war, Washington is acutely casualty-sensitive and in recent conflicts has arguably lacked the political will to win. Moreover, US society and politics are deeply – some say dangerously – polarized. These chinks in America’s armor may be leveraged by a wily foe.
“[South] Korea needs a very stable US, but right now the US is trying to find itself or to be reborn,” Chun said. “As they do this, enemies will see an opportunity.”
Cheong Seong-chang, who directs the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute think tank, argued that the nuclearization of South Korea and/or Japan would rebalance Northeast Asia’s off-center strategic geography.
“There is tilted ground that will be more and more tilted…Russia, China and North Korea all have nuclear weapons,” he told the ALC. Conversely, among Japan, South Korea and the US, only the latter possesses a nuclear deterrent.
Chun agreed. “The US faces such a variety of challenges now,” he said. “It is only natural that Korea should have the ability to help the US in whatever situation.”
So could South Korea pull it off?President Yoon Suk-yeol gives a speech at the construction site of a nuclear power plant. Yoon is upping atomic power production, but has made any move on nuclear arms. Image: Twitter
There is no question about the “what” of the issue. South Korea, a highly-educated G10 economy that is home to a competitive nuclear power sector that exports reactors, could independently create atomic arms.
While Cheong did not specify kilotonnage, that would be a massive armory: World leader Russia is believed to field fewer than 6,000 nuclear warheads. The six-reactor Wolseong, in the country’s southeast, started operations in 1983.
It is not just plutonium South Korea could leverage. “Korea also has uranium enrichment technologies held by only a handful of countries in the world,” Cheong said.
The question then is “when” – how long would the process take if the political will was mustered? Experts differ on the question.
The 2016 article estimated it would take six months to produce fissile materials and six-nine months to develop a detonation device – an overall timeline of approximately 18 months.
Others believe it could be done more quickly. In a widely quoted comment, Suh Kune-yull, a professor of nuclear engineering at the elite Seoul National University told the New York Times in 2017, “If we decide to stand on our own feet and put our resources together, we can build nuclear weapons in six months…the question is whether the president has the political will.”
A more recent June 2022 commentary in the military website War on the Rocks by Lami Kim, who directs the Asian Studies Program at the US Army War College, found, “Although South Korea has advanced nuclear technologies…Seoul would still need three to five years to acquire a workable nuclear arsenal.”
It was unclear if Kim was discussing device production or a full nose-to-tail system. The latter would include the development of nuclear doctrine and leadership protocols; the creation of a dedicated command-and-control net; and the marriage of atomic devices with delivery systems.
Addressing a full-program scenario, Cheong was more optimistic. “If we pursued it at very high speed, we could have fully usable and deployable weapons within two years,” he said. “At slow speed, three years would be enough.”
In terms of delivery systems, South Korea looks to be good to go. Given that North Korea borders the country, tactical nuclear devices could be fired via tube or rocket artillery. But Seoul has ex-peninsular reach, too.
There is one hole in this otherwise impressive armory of capabilities. To be a credible deterrent, any nuclear device must be physically tested. So where could South Korea potentially conduct one?
North Korea has tested devices in underground tunnels in a remote, mountainous area. That is near-impossible for South Korea for reasons of population densities and politics.
The South has nearly double the population of its northern rival – 52 million versus the North’s 26 million – all compressed into a smaller land area – 100,210 square kilometers versus the North’s 120,540 square kilometers.
And authoritarian Pyongyang does not have to consider popular push back against its policies, while democratic Seoul must contend with street politics and NIMBYism related to defense, energy and other issues.
In recent years, there have been high-profile protests against a naval base on Jeju Island, nuclear reactors and the placement of a US anti-missile battery.
Still, Cheong hinted – tantalizingly – that the issue has been discussed.
“Where a nuclear test would be done is a very sensitive question – there are few candidate [locations] where tests are possible,” he said. “If this was tabled, the residents would protest, so I cannot disclose.”
One possibility could be a Bikini Atoll-style seafloor test off of one of the uninhabited islands that ring South Korea’s coast.
Despite energetic discussion in specialist circles, the acquisition of a nuclear deterrent is currently not on the national political agenda.
One reason – counter-intuitively – is that it has customarily been liberal Seoul governments that have pursued independent defense capabilities.
The process of moving wartime operational control (“OPCON Transfer”) of the South Korean military from Washington’s grip to Seoul’s was initiated by the leftist Roh Moo-hyun government that was in office from 2003-2008.
Subsequently, the Moon Jae-in administration (2017-2022) oversaw the lifting of US-set range caps on South Korean missiles and tested submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It also tabled the acquisition of an aircraft carrier, while pressing ahead with (still incomplete) OPCON transfer.
The latter program is costing the Korean taxpayer billions – and adding a nuclear capability would add to the burden.
“An indigenous nuclear program would consume and divert enormous funding from South Korea’s defense budget,” Bruce Klinger, senior fellow for Northeast Asia at US think tank The Heritage Foundation told Asia Times. “South Korea’s defense funding would be better spent augmenting conventional force requirements as stipulated in South Korea’s Defense Reform Plan 2.0 and the bilateral plan” for OPCON transfer.
Conservative administrations, such as Yoon’s, have historically been unadventurous on defense, preferring to place maximum trust in the US. Hence, Seoul is not courting Washington’s displeasure by initiating a nuclear deterrent.
“The Yoon administration, like its predecessors, has declared it will not pursue an indigenous nuclear weapons program,” Klinger said.
This ambiance is reflected in the caution some feel. “We would lose more than we gain,” a person familiar with the topic told Asia Times.
It is sensitive: The moderator of this month’s ALC discussion, Lee, noted that the topic was “…politically controversial and, perhaps, not politically correct.”
“An attempt by Seoul to keep a major military capability separate from the combined and integrated command structure would be antithetical to the foundation of the bilateral alliance as well as long-standing US counter-proliferation policy,” Klinger warned.
“Such a step could lead to calls for reduction or withdrawal of US forces either due to concerns of possible independent South Korean actions or isolationist perceptions that Seoul could now go it alone.”
A further risk is likely sanctions damage – such as the heavy hit Korea Inc suffered from Chinese retaliation after Seoul established a US THAAD anti-missile system on South Korean soil in 2017.
And there is one other issue – one that lurks deep below the surface.
“Advocacy for developing an indigenous South Korean nuclear capability seems grounded more on national prestige rather than strategic considerations,” Klinger said.
Pollsters admit it. “Public attitudes on nuclear weapons do not strongly align with rationales for armament offered by some South Korean politicians and analysts,” the Chicago Council conceded.
The Council found that acquisition of home-grown nuclear muscle in the Korean public mind is not aimed exclusively at North Korea.
“Threats other than North Korea” are a “main driver of support” the Chicago Council found – with 55% of respondents saying China will be the biggest threat to South Korea in ten years.
Meanwhile, 26% of South Koreans considered national prestige as the key reason for their support for nuclear arms, higher than those who see the aim being to counter North Korea, who came in at just 23%.
These findings may reflect deep-seated public emotion.
A 1993 South Korean novel, “The Rose of Sharon is Blooming Again” – the reference is to the national flower – became a best-seller and was turned into a movie in 1995. It depicts North and South Korea joint-developing nuclear arms to take on national bete noire, Japan.
Be that as it may, Chun puts forward a final rationale for going nuclear.
“It’s a volatile world with multiple challenges and we need multiple capabilities and flexibilities,” he said. “There is so much we can prepare for.”
Australia has defended its intention to buy or build nuclear-powered submarines against accusations of nuclear proliferating by separating its use as a power source from that of a warhead.
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Like Australia, China finds the prospect of an almost unlimited reach appealing.
The institute wants to use tiny “disposable” nuclear reactors to power long-range submarine drones. This would drastically reduce the weapon’s size by eliminating the need for bulky fuel storage and making it harder to detect through a quiet, all-electric propulsion system.
China’s researchers say they can deliver wolf-packs of the AI-controlled weapon within 10 years.
After 15 years of dithering over a replacement for the ageing Collins-class diesel-electric submarines, Australia’s earliest possible date for constructing nuclear replacements is in the 2040s.
Atomic power has been harnessed as a propulsion system since the 1960s. It drives enormous aircraft carriers. It allows submarines to stay underwater for as long as their air and food supplies hold out. It’s still powering the Voyager II space probe as it passes beyond the solar system’s edge after 45 years in space.
What’s changed is a fundamental redesign of the technology to make it more stable. And the ability for it to be miniaturised.
Guo says China will build the weapon with “mature and simple technology that is easy to use and maintain, inexpensive and suitable for mass production.”
“We need to think out of the box,” he added.
This involves removing most of the shielding around the reactor. As a result, only sensitive electronic components will be protected from radiation. The torpedo will operate on batteries for half an hour after launch. Only then will the reactor fire up to its 315C operating temperature.
The report also explains the reactor will not use expensive rare-earth minerals in its construction. Instead, it will be built with cheaper materials like graphite — which caught fire during the Chernobyl disaster and contributed to the radioactive fallout.
The result is a power pack needing just 4kg of low-grade uranium fuel. China says this will produce 1.4 megawatts of heat, of which only 6 per cent will be converted into electricity.
The allure of such a small power pack is that it can potentially drive a torpedo or underwater drone at speeds of 30 knots (56km/h). However, the Post gave conflicting reports about how long (200 or 400 hours).
It stated the torpedo would have a 10,000km range — “about the distance from Shanghai to San Francisco”. And Sydney.
Dubbed “Poseidon”, the giant torpedo was unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in 2019 as one of six “super weapons” destined to return Russia’s military to greatness.
The first crewed submarine capable of carrying the enormous device — the K-329 Belgorod — entered service earlier this month.
Unlike the Chinese proposal, Poseidon is huge. But it is reportedly capable of loitering at sea for long periods or travelling great distances before striking its target. A two-megaton nuclear warhead (some 100 times more potent than that dropped on Hiroshima) will then trigger a tsunami large enough to level a coastal city.
This puts the likes of Pearl Harbour in Hawaii and Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia at risk of a surprise nuclear attack.
There’s no reason the standard-sized Chinese torpedo can’t also carry a small nuclear warhead.
But the Post reports China intends to use lurking swarms of the smart torpedo to “strike submarines as they leave a port in home waters that is difficult to reach by manned platforms.”
This would leave the radioactive material outside any blast radius.
“Even if the hull is broken, the interior is filled with water, and the whole body falls into the wet sand on the seabed, the reactor will not have a critical accident. The safety is ensured,” argues Guo.
And the nuclear-powered submarine won’t only be a weapon, Guo says. Its high speed and endurance will enable it to inspect distant waters and track potential targets — such as nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and crewed submarines.
“When the manufacturing cost is low enough, even if the nuclear-powered device can only be used once, the overall cost will be low,” Guo says.
The war in Ukraine called into question many of the fundamental pillars of the international order. The European security system that has developed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact has received a shattering blow. A war of aggression by a major power intent to destroy a neighboring state and annex significant territories has broken with major taboos, not to mention international law.
Apart from the obvious tragedy for the people of Ukraine, another potential casualty is the nuclear nonproliferation system which has existed since 1970. Putin’s blatant breach of the Budapest Memorandum, signed in 1994 by Russia, the UK and US relating to the accession of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has upended security guarantees in Europe.
The memorandum was an assurance of territorial integrity for Ukraine after it agreed to dismantle the large nuclear arsenal that remained on its territory after the break up of the Soviet Union. By signing the memorandum, Russia – along with the US and the UK – agreed not to threaten Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan with military force or economic coercion. This has proved to be worthless.
And there’s the danger. If we now live in a world where major powers are fully prepared to embark on a full-scale war to achieve their territorial ambitions, then the assumptions of the NPT, according to which non-nuclear states can rely on the security assurances from the major powers, may no longer be valid. Many countries may think it prudent to go nuclear to avoid Ukraine’s fate.
Anxiety in Asia
This doesn’t stop in Europe. Allies of the US in Asia are wondering the extent to which the principle of “extended deterrence” (the protection afforded by America’s nuclear umbrella) is still viable. China’s increasingly aggressive pursuit of its foreign policy aims in recent years has been a major concern for Taiwan, where many question Washington’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how and to what extent the US would support the country.
China’s activities in the South China Sea, where it pursues its claims on maritime territories not accepted in international law, have also raised major concerns throughout the region. Japan and China have been at loggerheads for some years over a number of disputed territories including the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.
While the new South Korean government led by Yoon Suk-yeoul does not endorse such a policy and remains committed to the US-ROK alliance, there have been persistent voices in South Korea supporting a shift towards nuclear self-reliance.President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol gives a speech at the construction site of a nuclear power plant. Image: Twitter
There is also considerable pressure in Japan to abandon the post-war “Peace Constitution” which banned the country from maintaining anything stronger than a self-defense force – and the country recently doubled its military budget.
Japan has the technological capacity to develop nuclear weapons quickly – but the experience of US atomic attacks during the second world war remains a powerful restraint.
In March 2022 the late prime minister, Shinzo Abe, called for US nuclear weapons to be based on Japanese territory, presumably to deter both China and North Korea. This – predictably enough – provoked an angry reaction from Beijing, which asked Japan to “reflect on its history.”
For now, the US nuclear guarantee remains credible in the eyes of its Asian partners and the strategic situation on the Korean peninsula remains stable – despite the wrangling already described. It’s a very different situation from what is happening in Ukraine. The US already has forces on the Korean peninsula and is committed to South Korea’s defense.
North Korea is much more vulnerable than the US under any nuclear war scenario. If Pyongyang ever launched a nuclear strike, it would risk rapid and complete obliteration.
An obvious way to address the extended deterrence problem would be to redeploy US nuclear forces in South Korea, similar to Abe’s suggestion for Japan.
That would considerably enhance the credibility of a US security guarantee and would complicate China’s calculations, even with respect to Taiwan – despite all the noises from Beijing about reunification.
But South Korea faces the European dilemma – which is that the more credible its own capabilities become, the less the US will feel the need to commit its resources. While South Korea’s conventional capabilities are more than a match for the North Korean army and its obsolete equipment, it has no answer to the North’s weapons of mass destruction.
So far South Korea seems to have struck a sensible balance – going nuclear could upend all of that as it may cause Washington to withdraw entirely.People at a railway station in Seoul on September 28 watch a television news broadcast showing file footage of a North Korean missile test. Photo: AFP / Jung Yeon-je
It seems that despite the flagrant violations of the security assurances by Russia and the increasing capabilities of the North Korean nuclear arsenal, the commitment to the NPT remains firm.
But this could change if the security environment in Europe and Asia continues to deteriorate and Russia and China become increasingly perceived as serious and realistic military threats.
If the reliability of the US as a security guarantor is weakened it could result in a fatal erosion of the assumptions of the NPT. This would make the pressure for indigenous nuclear arsenals – both in Asia and the Middle East – irresistible. This is something the “Great Powers” have taken pains to prevent since 1945.
BEIJING, July 21 (Xinhua) — A new research report released by Chinese academic entities says the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine collaboration has set a dangerous precedent for the illegal transfer of weapons-grade nuclear materials and thus constitutes a blatant act of nuclear proliferation.
The report, titled “A Dangerous Conspiracy: The Nuclear Proliferation Risk of the Nuclear-powered Submarines Collaboration in the Context of AUKUS”, was released Wednesday by the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association and the China Institute of Nuclear Industry Strategy. It is the first special report on AUKUS submarine collaboration published by Chinese academic entities.
In addition, it ferments potential risks and hazards in multiple aspects, such as nuclear security and arms race in nuclear submarines, with a profound negative impact on global strategic balance and stability, says the report.
According to the report, though the AUKUS countries have been coy about the details of their nuclear-powered submarine collaboration, international arms-control experts have estimated that Australia’s eight planned nuclear submarines will need a total of 1.6 to 2 tonnes of weapons-grade HEU, which would be sufficient to build as many as 64 to 80 nuclear weapons.
“The United States and Britain are directly giving Australia tonnes of weapon-grade nuclear materials. This is without a doubt an act of nuclear proliferation,” said Zhang Yan, president of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
Australia, a non-nuclear-weapon state under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, openly accepted such a large quantity of weapons-grade nuclear materials. This is nothing short of “getting one foot across the nuclear threshold,” Zhang added.
After reviewing nearly 100 declassified nuclear files and related materials, the report finds that post-WWII Australian administrations were keen to develop nuclear weapons. In recent years, there have again been people in Australia arguing the case for nuclear possession, and the possibility of Australia seeking the development of nuclear weapons in the future may not be ruled out, it says.
The report urges the United States, Britain and Australia to immediately revoke their wrong decisions, stop their dangerous acts, and faithfully fulfill their international obligations in non-proliferation.
USS Connecticut File photo: VCGChina on Wednesday released a research report entitled The Nuclear Proliferation Risk of the Nuclear-powered Submarines Collaboration in the Context of AUKUS, the first report published by Chinese academic institutes to objectively analyze the serious risks of nuclear proliferation and multiple hazards caused by the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine collaboration through detailed data and case studies.
Under AUKUS, the US and the UK are anticipated to provide Australia with eight nuclear-powered submarines involving the transfer of tons of weapons-grade nuclear materials which are enough to manufacture nearly a hundred nuclear weapons, experts warned.
Jointly released by the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association (CACDA) and the China Institute of Nuclear Industry Strategy (CINIS), the report said that the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine collaboration has seriously violated the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), marking a blatant act of nuclear proliferation.
The AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine collaboration obviously serves a military purpose, making it a direct violation of the Statue of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the report said.
The proposed AUKUS collaboration also has other baneful effects, including having higher nuclear security risks and fueling a potential arms race in nuclear submarines, plus weakening the existing international missile export control regime because of the transfer of Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to the report.
On the announcement of AUKUS, the three countries emphasized that the US and the UK would not only assist Australia in building nuclear-powered submarines, but also provide it with long-range precision-strike capabilities including Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Tomahawk is an offensive nuclear-capable weapon developed by the US and has been deeply marked by US militarism since its inception. The deal this time will involve the latest version of the Tomahawk, with a range of 1,700 kilometers, far exceeding the maximum limit of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), despite the US, the UK and Australia being members and major advocates of the MTCR.
The report called on the international community to take joint actions to safeguard the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.
AUKUS is a new political and military alliance jointly created by the US and a few countries following the Five Eyes Alliance and the QUAD serving the US’ “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which aims to provoke regional confrontation and splitting-up. It is engaged in a geopolitical zero-sum game, bringing new destabilizing factors to the international and regional situation, said Zhang Yan, president of the CACDA, at a press conference for the release of the report on Wednesday.
AUKUS involves a major and highly sensitive issue, which is the transfer of weapons-grade nuclear materials, Zhang said.
Weapons-grade nuclear materials are the basis for nuclear weapons. Both the US and the British nuclear-powered submarines use weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, Li Chijiang, CACDA vice president and secretary-general, told the Global Times on Wednesday at the press conference.
According to experts’ analyses, the US and the UK will build eight nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, involving the transfer of tons of weapons-grade nuclear materials enough to manufacture nearly a hundred nuclear weapons, marking the first time since the NPT came into force that nuclear-weapon states will transfer a large amount of weapons-grade nuclear materials to a non-nuclear-weapon state, setting a bad example and creating a serious risk of nuclear proliferation, Li said.
The AUKUS collaboration will damage the global strategic balance and stability, encourage other countries to join the nuclear arms race, escalate geopolitical tensions and bring the Asia-Pacific region to a wrong path of confrontation and splitting-up, completely opposite to the common appeal for development and prosperity by countries in the region, Li said.
“It is our hope that this report will facilitate China and the international community to accurately and comprehensively understand the situation, and communicate from an academic perspective the concerns of Chinese think tanks and scholars over nuclear proliferation risks and their commitment to safeguarding world peace and stability,” said Pan Qilong, chairman of the CINIS, at the press conference.
The US, the UK and Australia should respond to the concerns of the international community, carry out international obligations of nuclear nonproliferation, and cancel the wrong decision for the collaboration on nuclear-powered submarines, said Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a routine press conference on Wednesday, commenting on the research report.
North Korea abandoned its previously pledged moratorium on nuclear tests or long-range missile launches this year, even announcing a nuclear first-use doctrine, implying its nuclear arsenal is for offensive purposes against Washington and Seoul. As North Korea now clarifies that its nuclear weapons are not explicitly defense weapons, five things have become very clear. First, North Korea is capable of nuclear strikes. Second, the Kim Jong-un regime will never be willing to denuclearize. Third, South Korean liberals’ appeasement policies, which benchmarked the Sunshine Policy, have failed. Fourth, the Korean Peninsula is facing its worst security crisis in decades. And finally, a nuclear arsenal is a cost-efficient deterrent that overwhelms other weapon systems.
If this regional security trend continues, the most important and highly likely possibilities are that Pyongyang, a nuclear-armed regime that is not internationally recognized as a nuclear power, will continue to ignore non-nuclear South Korea and that Seoul will suffer if it operates under the false hope that it will be protected by U.S. extended deterrence. Even though South Korea has become one of the leading economic and military powers, the country cannot escape from worsening inter-Korean relations as long as it pursues the unrealistic goal of having military superiority over a nuclear-armed regime.
In case of a security crisis, North Korea would be strongly tempted to use nuclear weapons in order to compromise Seoul’s superiority in conventional firepower. Of course, U.S. forces will retaliate in return, as agreed on in the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, but it runs the risk of being trapped by the classic principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Pyongyang could hold the U.S. mainland and Americans hostage by threatening to strike U.S. population centers, leading to a chaotic outcome on the Korean Peninsula. Facing the enemy’s nuclear arsenal right above its head, conventionally-armed Seoul will be left with no options if the United States decides not to uphold its nuclear guarantees due to the expected damage from such threats or for political reasons.
Many South Koreans do not believe that Washington is willing to sacrifice innocent Americans as a cost of waging a war with far away North Korea. These were the very doubts the United Kingdom and France had before they went nuclear themselves. More importantly, the United States never created an equivalent of the nuclear planning group that Washington provides for NATO’s nuclear sharing strategy against Russia, only providing its East Asian allies with the show of power through its strategic assets.
It is quite normal that allies are not able to have full trust in the nuclear umbrella that they have never seen unfolded in war. This is the focal point with which non-nuclear-armed allies have had fundamental questions. America’s willingness to actively engage in intertwined Korean security affairs has gradually weakened since it withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula in 1991, now providing South Korea and Japan with conventional weapons and missile defense systems like bombers and aircraft carriers as guaranteed extended deterrence. Notwithstanding such a show of power, the North Korean regime did not even flinch. Pyongyang dauntlessly chose to expedite its nuclearization, delivering a message that extended deterrence is not as effective as we expected.
Taking a firm stand against Kim Jong-un’s nuclear threat requires flawless dependence on the alliance’s nuclear umbrella, but the concerns and doubts about U.S. extended deterrence have not been addressed, especially now that North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) could now reach the U.S. mainland.
China and Russia are not reliable enough to expect meaningful change from them, as they acquiesced to the North Korean nuclear problem and do not have a red line regarding Kim’s nuclear arsenal. It can be said that they are one step away from acknowledging North Korea as a de facto nuclear state—having given several green lights to nuclear tests and ICBM launches—because they perceive North Korea as a buffer zone to check the United States in the region.
The worst is that the two nuclear powers might grant immunity to Pyongyang’s reportedly upcoming seventh nuclear test. Amidst the clash between the United States and the China-Russia bloc, Beijing and Moscow are predicted to veto any UN Security Council resolution to sanction North Korea. Importantly, China believes the time to dissuade North Korean nuclearization through military means has already passed. In this case, the long-standing non-proliferation principle of Washington would become less convincing, and the U.S. government would rather feel more need to arm its East Asian allies with nuclear weapons.
In the end, there is no choice but to face nuclear bombs with something equivalent. Kim’s family in Pyongyang has already given South Korea such justifications. Ironically, the inter-Korean nuclear balance collapsed after the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula fell apart. That year, the United States withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons from South Korean territory, just as Pyongyang started its nuclear program. Since then, Kim Jong-un has resumed nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches. As North Korea violated all articles of the Inter-Korean Agreements of 1991 and the Joint Declaration, the denuclearization principle of the Korean Peninsula has already become an obsolete echo. The dead statement is no longer alive just because only one side respects it. South Korea and the United States should point out that North Korea completely broke it, and its program is no longer reversible. This will consolidate South Korea’s position to prepare for its own nuclear security strategy.
Unlike the point of view that South Korea will follow the precedent of sanctioned North Korea if it chooses to develop nuclear weapons, the two Koreas are totally different cases, as Seoul’s nuclear armament would be ignited by the possibility of nuclear use by North Korea. South Korea is under the imminent threat of Pyongyang’s atomic bombs, which have been illegally developed. As an exemplary country that has fully respected the international non-proliferation regime, therefore, South Korea should naturally have a right to protect itself and its American ally from northern threats.
It is not an issue for South Korea to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as the treatygives members the right to withdraw if they decide extraordinary events have jeopardized their supreme interests. North Korea’s illegal nuclear acquisition and threats to its neighboring states obviously fall under the defined “extraordinary events,” thus supporting the interpretation that Seoul’s nuclear program would be a rational and proportional response for the protection of its core security interests.
All members of the eastern bloc (Russia, China, and North Korea) possess nuclear arsenals, but the United States is the only nuclear-armed state in the Western bloc of East Asia. South Korea’s nuclearization will contribute to the balance of this uneven playground. Otherwise, the imbalance of nuclear forces will lead to the failure of U.S. Asian security policy, as both Pyongyang and Beijing enhance their nuclear capabilities without pause while Asian allies that only rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella refrain from going nuclear.
Washington should move forward together with Seoul to pursue regional strategic stability and prevent the worst scenario through South Korea’s nuclear armament. The White House does not seem to be ignorant of this, and there will be an inevitable situation where the United States will have to propose nuclear development to allied states in Asia. If Seoul chooses to accept the proposal, the United States should back it up by focusing on the Chinese and North Korean nuclear programs. As arguments for the necessity of allies acquiring nuclear bombs gain traction in the United States, South Korea’s nuclearization would be more indispensable for American interests.
It will still be difficult to find the political determination and persuade the United States, but the option of going nuclear is easier than the complete denuclearization of North Korea, and the majority of Korean citizens are favorable to such a national initiative. A Chicago Council on Global Affairs public opinion poll released this year shows that 71 percent of Korean citizens favor acquiring independent nuclear weapons.
Despite this public support for nuclear armament, the North’s leadership looks down on Seoul by taking advantage of its nuclear weapons and the acquired connivance of China and Russia, well aware that South Korea is not firmly determined to acquire the United States’ approval for nuclearization. Both the United States and South Korea should understand that extended deterrence is merely a stopgap measure at this moment and that it could have been effective only if North Korea had not initiated a nuclear program or it remained in the early stages.