New Delhi. 09 August 2016. Extended deterrence is inherently less credible than primary deterrence—deterring an attack on one’s own country. An adversary always has reason to wonder whether a guarantor power would really risk the destruction and casualties of war merely to protect an ally or security client. That credibility is especially uncertain when an adversary has the capability to attack the homeland of the guarantor power, but it is in doubt even with respect to a country like North Korea that does not have that ability.
If the U.S. is committed to deterring a second Korean War, it should make it clear to Pyongyang that any North Korean military offensive would be met with a devastating retaliation with the goal of extinguishing the trouble-making North Korean state.
The prospect of a limited, “tit-for-tat” response could actually encourage the DPRK to test whether the U.S. extended deterrence policy regarding South Korea is real. At the same time, the tit-for-tat approach to an incident always entails the risk of unintended escalation that spirals out of control, producing the larger war that it’s supposedly designed to prevent. It is a strategy that has major drawbacks and almost no benefits.
Analysing the degree to which extended nuclear deterrence will continue to play a role in East Asia in the coming decades; noted experts today said that it would depend largely on the nature of the American presence in the region and the evolution of its alliance commitments with Japan and RoK.
Highlighting the prevailing security dynamics in the region, the experts reflected that the prospects for de-nuclearisation in the East Asian region are bleak.
The experts were speaking at a panel discussion on ‘Republic of Korea & Japan: Questions on Extended Deterrence’, organised by the Indian Pugwash Society on August 9, 2016, in remembrance of the 71st year of the atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The panel comprised Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Professor KV Kesavan; former Indian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Ambassador Mr Skand Ranjan Tayal and Director, Institute for Chinese Studies, New Delhi, Professor Alka Acharya.
The experts agreed that extended nuclear deterrence has remained a key component of the U.S.–Japanese bilateral security partnership over the past 64 years. They noted that Japan signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970 but ratified it only six years later.
Extended nuclear deterrence has remained a source of stability for Japan. However, keeping in view Japan’s concerns over U.S. intentions in an increasingly multi-polar and uncertain world, Tokyo needs reassurance. The success or failure of this will strongly influence whether Japan continues its traditional anti-nuclear weapons policy (non-production, non-possession and non acquisition) or embarks on a more adventurous course, added the experts, thus highlighting a possible evolution in Japan’s non-proliferation and security policies.
Observing the nuclear dynamics in the Korean peninsula, the experts noted that the United States was the first to nuclearise the region and extended nuclear deterrence remains the centerpiece of the U.S.-RoK Security alliance.
Commenting on the increasing proximity between South Korea and China, the experts noted that Korea is aware of the declining U.S. economic power and it remains to be seen if Korea is willing to eventually entrust its security to China. Some Koreans believe they could be a mediator between China and the United States.
The experts also noted that the Chinese ‘principled’ nuclear policy lacks credibility due to its continued disregard of global non-proliferation norms and its clandestine aid to nuclear and missile programmes in countries such as DPRK and Pakistan. China’s military and technological assistance to DPRK has been a long-standing security concern for Japan & RoK.