Mapping Asia’s Nuclear Future


With the New START arms reduction agreement between Russia and the United States having entered into force on February 5, the nuclear arms control spotlight is now very likely to shift to Asia.

It’s true that US officials have expressed interest in making one more round of bilateral reductions. However, Russian government representatives have indicated that they want to break with tradition and include constraints on other nuclear weapons states in the next strategic arms control treaty. Either way, both governments are eager to take a close look at how to restrict the nuclear activities of other countries—particularly in Asia.

North Korea aside, China is likely to be chief among the countries of interest. Although it’s never officially stated, Russian strategic analysts have openly acknowledged that China’s rising military strength has made Russian policymakers reluctant to negotiate further deep cuts in their nuclear forces. Russia’s military is still more powerful than China’s, but the disparity in population and economic growth rates is closing the gap. Indeed, the United States will also likely find it hard to reduce nuclear arms further without some indication that China will accept more explicit constraints on its own nuclear potential.

China isn’t the only Asian nuclear state that has remained aloof from strategic arms reduction treaties. But the fact is that while Chinese officials have hinted that they may at some point join nuclear arms control talks, they’ve also made it clear that this would only happen after Russian and US nuclear forces decline to Beijing’s levels.

This would be a missed opportunity. China could help realize deeper cuts in Russian and US nuclear forces if it was itself contributing more directly to the reductions process. But even setting aside the question of its own nuclear arsenal, there are other areas where Washington feels it could benefit from greater co-operation from Beijing. Last month, for example, US President Barack Obama increased pressure on China to do more over neighbouring North Korea, warning visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao that the United States would expand its military power in East Asia unless international efforts to constrain Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities proved more successful.

It’s true that Chinese and Russian diplomats have complained about North Korea’s past missile tests and have tried to persuade Pyongyang to roll back its nuclear and missile activities. Yet both have still refused to apply sanctions against North Korea, in part over fears that they could lead to the collapse of the nuclear-armed country.

Another looming issue is South Asia. While there has been some pointed criticism of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, to date much less has been said about constraining India and Pakistan. Like North Korea, India and Pakistan have tested nuclear weapons and are strengthening their nuclear arsenals. In addition, their nuclear forces are illegal under international law since they weren’t recognized as one of the five states possessing nuclear weapons at the time the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which New Delhi and Islamabad have refused to sign, entered into force in 1970. India and Pakistan have also refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or adopt the comprehensive full-scope safeguards supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

John Chan
February 15, 2011 at 22:45

@anon, you are missing the point. India is doing the same thing as China has been doing, questioning the fairness and justice of the existing world order. But look at what has happened to China, China is being demonized by the West and its allies with all imaginable way. The west and its allies are doing their utmost best to cast China into oblivion.

I just dramatized the reality to demonstrate the point, i.e. the hypocrisy of the West and its allies.

February 15, 2011 at 15:03

John Chan hit you over the head with it rather bluntly Neil but he is correct in that the reason is Might Makes Right in a state of nature. All diplomacy and statecraft at its core is performed in an anarchic state of nature. These nations are allowed to keep their weapons because no one can take them away from them. At this point the only reason to limit the number of nuclear weapons is to lower the possibility of a world ending nuclear holocaust. This inevitably means those who already have the weapon will keep the weapon. Those who were late to the game or don’t have the right friends (those who have the weapons) will have to risk invasion for the same security.

Meanwhile every country that gains nuclear capability is another notch closer to a nuclear holocaust, which may be a perfectly acceptable risk to you.

February 15, 2011 at 07:07

Interesting views on this topic

John Chan
February 14, 2011 at 23:38

By virtual of questioning the world order established by the West, you are guilty of assertiveness, and disobedience of the current international framework. You are being outcaste as rouge and fail state.

Court adjourned, sheriff send the convicted to oblivion.

February 14, 2011 at 16:43

While saying that Pakistan is “right” in complaining about the preferential treatment to India, you forgot to mention the root cause of that treatment. Pakistan has been peddling nuclear technology to most of the rogue nations of the world while India has been a responsible nuclear nation which did it’s first controlled nuclear explosion way back in 1974 much before CTBT and NPT were brought into effect retrospectively. It should have been included into the P5 group but for the nuclear apartheid policies of the then USA and China governments.

February 14, 2011 at 13:29

It is a fact that nuclear threat has become more of reality than dream in South East Asia. But I have a few questions. Why is it that only 5 nations will have the right to possess nuclear armaments? Why are they allowed to keep nuclear weapons? They are allowed to keep their nuclear arsenal as they say it is their right to retain the same to defend their country from threats. So what is wrong with the other nations to defend themselves. What if any of these nuclear nations threten some other nation. Now dont say UN will not allow to do so, we have seen Iraq. Are we not being hypocrites here – 5 nations can have powers/rights to destroy whole nations and the rest of the world (lesser mortals !!) will have to accept their hagemony. Before writing articals like this you should ask this question to yourself and also pose the same to UN. None of the bigger powers abide by what UN says. They can and have been defying UN (Vietnam, Afganisthan, Iraq etc etc etc..) so what do you think, other nations will not follow them ? Preach what you practice.

February 14, 2011 at 10:23

How will India having nukes is illegal? Did we sign? no right? then it is not illegal. Some one please explain why it is illegal. Thanx

February 14, 2011 at 09:38

1.If china wants to achieve parity with USA,Russia before getting on the bandwagon of nuclear weapons control,why should other countries having border disputes with China not have a nuclear deterence?
2.No talk of Israeli Nuclear Weapons.
3.Why only few Haves and others to remain Have Nots for ever?
4.”In addition, their nuclear forces are illegal under international law since they weren’t recognized as one of the five states possessing nuclear weapons at the time the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”
What International Law -Law made by the strong for the weak to follow.
5.Can we call this Nuclear Apartheid-We can have all the nuclear weapons and you can never have because Might is right ?
6.And last of all but not the least,Let us remember what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

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