Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies

Nuclear deterrence in Asia and the Pacific

By Gareth Evans

The Asia Pacific region includes six of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states, and in all of them relevant policymakers, still caught in a Cold War mindset, continue to believe in nuclear deterrence as a force for peace and stability, perceiving nuclear disarmament to be not only unachievable, but undesirable. But—whether the context is major powers seeking to neutralise threats from each other (United States, Russia, China and India), non-nuclear allies seeking nuclear protection from various threat contingencies (Japan, South Korea and Australia) or vulnerable states seeking a ‘strategic equaliser’ (Pakistan and North Korea)—the traditional strategic arguments for nuclear deterrence are much weaker than they may first seem. Whatever may have been the case for the Cold War years, in today’s world the risks associated with the acquisition or retention of nuclear weapons far outweigh any conceivable utility they may have. The financial arguments against them—that they are indefensibly costly—are strong. And the humanitarian arguments are overwhelming: nuclear weapons remain the most indiscriminately inhumane ever devised, and they should be outlawed as chemical and biological weapons have been. Making disarmament happen will never be easy, but—with the right political leadership—is not impossible. Focusing, realistically, in the first instance on minimisation rather than elimination, practical steps can be taken to dramatically reduce nuclear weapon numbers, deployment and alert status, and doctrinal reliance on them. Doing so would dramatically reduce, both regionally and globally, the now ever-present risk of nuclear catastrophe.

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