O wow, apparently a Hong Kong author and youngster who is allied with the UK is calling for a latent deterrent, latency detterence, for East Asian non-nuclear states in his article “The nuclear future of Easr Asia”. Southasia and South East Asia not mentioned. . Whether such considerations would arise in Germany if Trump were to be re-elected? Somewhat carelessly, our young pan-Asian milk tea allied drinker and realpolitican for the sake of national interests, speaks of a possible preemptive strike by the PR China against Taiwan, if Taiwan would act as he proposes. Sze Fung-Lee also doesn´t formulate concretely what he means by latency detterence? Can a switch from a latent deterent into a real deterennt happen in hours, days, weeks, months or 1 year or even years? A catch phrase which is sounding as good as sustainable, transparent or other advertisment slogans. Now it is latency. Could a latent deterrent deter a real deterent as the PR China already has and Japan, Southkorea, Taiwan and Hongkong not? And he hopes for Trump as no Democrat and parts of the old Republicans would not allow such new proliferation in East Asia. Wow, what a brilliant new radical thinker.
Researcher, Global Studies Institute, Hong Kong
The Nuclear future of East Asia
In the face of North Korea and China’s continuous expansion and advancement in their nuclear arsenal in the past decade, the nuclear question for East Asian countries is now more urgent than ever—especially when U.S.’s credibility of extended deterrence has been shrinking since the post-cold war era. Whether to acquire independent nuclear deterrent has long been a huge controversy, with opinions rather polarized. Yet it is noteworthy that there is indeed gray zone between zero and one—the degree of latency nuclear deterrence.
This paper suggests that developing nuclear weapons may not be the wise choice for East Asian countries at the moment, however, given the fact that regional and international security in the Asia-Pacific is deemed to curtail, regardless of their decision to go nuclear or not, East Asia nations should increase their latency nuclear deterrence. In other words, even if they do not proceed to the final stage of acquiring independent nuclear deterrent, a latent nuclear weapons capability should at least be guaranteed. Meanwhile, for those who have already possessed certain extent of nuclear latency—for instance, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—to shorten their breakout time whilst minimize obstacles for a possible nuclearization in the future.
The threat is ever-present—The Nuclear North Korea
Viewing from a realist perspective, the geographical locations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have always been a valid argument for their nuclearization—being surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbours, namely China and North Korea—these countries have witnessed an escalation of threat on an unprecedented scale since the cold war.
Having its first nuclear weapon tested in 2006, the total inventory North Korea now possess is estimated to be 30-40. With the misstep of relieving certain sanction during the Trump era, North Korea was able to revive and eventually expand its nuclear arsenal, making future negotiation between the Biden administration and the Kim regime much harder and less effective. Not only has North Korea’s missile test on March 25—which is the first since Mr. Joseph Biden’s presidency—signalled a clear message to the U.S. and her allies of its nuclearization will and stance, Pyongyang’s advancement in nuclear technologies also indicates a surging extent of threat.
For instance, North Korea state media KCNA claimed that the latest missile launched was a “new-type tactical guided projectile” which is capable of performing “gliding and pull-up” manoeuvres with an “improved version of a solid fuel engine”. In addition to these suspected “new type of missiles” that travels in low-attitude, the diversity of launches Pyongyang currently possess—from short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as well as the transporter erector launchers (TELs) and the cold launch system—increase the difficulty in intercepting them via Aegis destroyer or other ballistic missile defense system since it is onerous, if not impossible, to detect the exact time and venue of the possible launches. Indeed, the “new type of missile” could potentially render South Korea’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) useless by evading radar detection system through its manoeuvres, according to a study from 38 North at The Henry L. Stimson Center.
Moreover, the cold launch (perpendicular launch) system used by the North also indicates that multiple nuclear weapons could be fired from the same launch pad without severely damages caused to the infrastructure. Shigeru Ishiba, the former Defense Minister of Japan, has noted that not all incoming missiles would be able to be intercepted with the country’s missile defense system, and “even if that is possible, we cannot perfectly respond to saturation attacks”.
The Chinese nuclear arsenal
According to the SIPRI yearbook 2020, China’s total inventory of nuclear deterrent has reached 320, exceeding United Kingdom and France’s possession of nuclear warheads, of which London and Paris’s nuclear deterrent were considered as limited deterrence. In spite of the fact that China’s current nuclear stockpiles is still far less that what the Russians and Americans have, its nuclear technologies has been closely following the two military superpowers. For instance, the Chinese have successfully developed Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRVs) and Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MARVs)—its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) DF-41 is capable of equipping up to 10 MIRVs while its Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) DF-21D could carry MARV warhead that poses challenges to the BMD systems—these advancement in nuclear technologies are the solid proof that the Chinese nukes are only steps away from Moscow and Washington. Yet China’s nuclear arsenal remains unchecked and is not confined by any major nuclear arms reduction treaty such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), of which US and Russia has just reached a mutual consensus to extend the treaty through Feb 4, 2026.
In addition to China’s expansion of military capabilities and ambition in developing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and new MARVs, there is no lack of scepticism of its no-first use policy, especially with Beijing’s coercive diplomacy and provocative actions in the East and South China Sea, regarding “freedom of navigation” and other sovereignty rights issues. These all raise concerns and generate insecurity from neighbouring countries and hence, East Asia states i.e. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would inevitably have to reconsider their nuclear option.
In spite of having advanced BMD system, for instance, Aegis Destroyer (Japan), THAAD (South Korea), Sky Bow III (Taiwan), the existing and emerging nuclear arsenal in Pyongyang and Beijing still leave East Asian states vulnerable under a hypothetical attack as mentioned above. Future could be worse than it seems—merely having deterrence by denial is not sufficient to safeguard national security—particularly with a shrinking credibility of U.S.’s extended deterrence since the post-cold war era.
America’s nuclear umbrella and the Alliance Dilemma
Theoretically speaking, alliance relations with the U.S. assure a certain extent of deterrence by punishment against hostile adversaries. For example, U.S. is committed to defend Japan under the 1960 Mutual Defense Treaty. Yet in reality, security could never be guaranteed. In a realist lens, state could not rely on others to defend their national interests, especially when it puts America’s homeland security at risk. Is U.S. willing to sacrifice Washington for Tokyo? Or New York for Seoul?
Strong rhetoric or even defense pact would not be able to ensure collective security, let alone strategic ambiguity, which is a strategy adopted by Washington for Taipei that is neither a binding security commitment nor the stance is clear. Regardless of the prospect of a better future than mere war and chaos, state should always prepare for the worst.
Besides, with Trump’s American First policy continuously undermining alliance relations in the past four years, East Asian countries may find it hard to restore mutual trust since diplomatic tracks are irreversible, despite Biden’s administration intention and effort to repair alliance and U.S.’s integrity as the global leader.
Moreover, even if alliance relations and credibility of extended deterrence is robust at the moment, but the bigger question is—could and should East Asian countries shelter under America’s nuclear umbrella forever? If they choose not to go nuclear, these states would be constantly threatened by their nuclear-armed neighbours, without a credible direct (nuclear) deterrence to safeguard national security; and forced to negotiate, or worse, compromise in the face of a possible nuclear extortion.
Undeniably, horizontal nuclear proliferation is always risky. Not only is it likely to deteriorate diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries, but also generates a (nuclear) regional arms race that eventually trap all nations into a vicious circle of security dilemma due to the lack of mutual trust in an anarchical system, which will consequently lead to a decrease in regional, as well as international security.
Yet with the expansion and advancement of Pyongyang and Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, regional and international security is deemed to curtail, regardless of East Asian countries’ decisions to go nuclear or not. As the official members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Japan’s and South Korea’s withdrawal may encourage other current non-nuclear weapon state to develop nukes. However, current existence of the NPT has already proven futile to prevent North Korea from acquiring its own nuclear weapons; or Israel, India and Pakistan, who are UN members but have never signed any of the treaties, to join the nuclear club.
The major concern about nuclear proliferation is never about the amount of warhead one possesses, but if they are in the wrong hands; for instance, a “rogue” state like North Korea. It is almost certain than none of the latent nuclear East Asia states would be considered “rogue” but just developed nations with rational calculation. In fact, the actual risk for these states joining the nuclear club in reality is not as high as most imagined. It may, indeed, help further bolster alliance relations between U.S., Japan and South Korea if they are able to come to some mutual consensuses in advance—developing independent nuclear deterrent is not an approach of alienating America’s presence as an effective ally but to strengthen security commitment with each other, and that US would support her allies in the Asia-Pacific in such attempt. The current existence of extended deterrence should not be a barrier for nuclearization. Rather, it should act as an extra protection for allied states.
Pave the way for future nuclearization
Admittedly, the road for any East Asia countries to go nuclear would be tough. Taipei’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons would imaginably trigger provocative response from Beijing, if not impossible, a pre-emptive strike that could lead to an escalation of war. Same situation goes for Seoul and Pyongyang even though the risk is relatively lower. As for Japan, although direct military confrontation is less likely comparing to Seoul and Taipei, the challenges Tokyo face for its nuclear option is no easier than any of them.
As the sole nation that has suffered from an atomic bomb explosion, Japan’s pacifism and anti-nuclear sentiment is embedded in its culture and society. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Sankei News in 2017, 17.7% of the respondents agreed that “Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons in the future” whilst 79.1% opposed to that idea. Despite having the imperative skills and technologies for an acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent (the breakout time for Japan is estimated to be about 6-12 months), Japan also lacks natural resources for producing nuclear warheads and has to rely heavily on uranium imports. Upholding the three non-nuclear principle since WWII, Japan’s bilateral nuclear agreements with the U.S., U.K, France and Australia specified that all imported nuclear-related equipment and materials “must be used only for the non-military purposes”. Violation of these agreements may result in sanctions that could cause devastated effect on Japan’s nuclear energy program, which supplies approximately 30% of the nation’s total electricity production . These issues, however, are not irresolvable.
Undeniably, it may take time and effort to negotiate new agreements and to change people’s pacifism into an “active pacifism”, yet these should not be the justifications to avoid the acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent as ensuring national security should always be the top priority. It is because in face of a nuclear extortion, the effectiveness of a direct nuclear deterrence guaranteed by your own country could not be replaced by any other measures such as deterrence by denial via BMD system or deterrence by punishment via extended deterrence and defense pact. Therefore, if there are too many obstacles ahead, then perhaps the wiser choice for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan at the moment is to increase their nuclear latency deterrence, shorten the breakout time and pave their way clear for future nuclearization. In other words, to keep their nuclear option open and be able to play offense and defense at its own will when the time comes.
Nevertheless, in addition to strengthening one’s latency nuclear deterrence, as well as obtaining a more equal relationship in the official and unofficial alliance with America, East Asian countries that have similar interest and common enemies should united to form a new military alliance which included security treaty regarding collective defense like the NATO; and focuses more on countering hybrid warfare like the QUAD. If Japan, South Korea and Taiwan ever choose to go nuclear, a common mechanism could be established to ensure that these states would pursue a minimum to limited deterrence capability that do not endanger each other’s security but rather to strengthen it, which would help minimizing the destabilization brought to regional security while constituting a more balanced situation with nuclear-armed rivalries.
After all, proliferation may not be the best solution, it is certainly not the worst either.
About the author:
Sze-Fung Lee is a freelance journalist and a researcher at the Global Studies Institute in Hong Kong. He holds a master degree in International Security at the University of Warwick. His research interests are in security policy, hybrid warfare, nuclear proliferation, and the politics of Hong Kong.
This article was published by The Hill, link: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/557304-the-biden-administration-and-lebanon-keep-up-the-pressure .
North Korea already has nuclear weapons, Iran may still get them, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons may come into the hands of Islamists in the foreseeable future, other states may want to follow suit, after the USA, the Soviet Union / Russia, France, England, China, India, Pakistan and Israel have acquired these. When assessing whether new nuclear weapons are in the hands of so-called rational or irrational commanders, a further distinction is certainly made, but the proliferation of nuclear weapons is viewed by some serious elder statesmen and experts as a likely development. Henry Kissinger sees a further spread of nuclear weapons as an inevitable development, although he supports the Global Zero disarmament initiative in order to slow down the development somewhat, albeit not to stop it. According to Kissinger, the proliferation of nuclear weapons does not lead to a higher probability of nuclear wars, but on the contrary to mutual deterrence, which makes the instrument of the last resort less likely in international conflicts. The fact that India and Pakistan now have nuclear weapons makes wars between them almost unthinkable – which he sees positively. Officially, the USA still adheres to the non-proliferation ideology, but this was already controversial in the highest US circles in earlier times: In view of China’s atomic bomb in 1964, there were already heated discussions within the US administration about non-proliferation: “The President was perhaps convinced of his pathetic words, but not all of his advisors. Six weeks later, McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk discussed government policy at a joint conference on proliferation. Glenn T. Seaborg, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was one of those who was more reluctant to comment. In his little-noticed memoir entitled “Stemming the Tide” from 1987, he reported on the meeting:
“Rusk said he thought it was a fundamental question of whether we should actually have a policy of non-proliferation, according to which no country but the five great powers should have nuclear weapons. Would we all realize that this should be the primary US target; for example, don’t we want India or Japan to meet a Chinese nuclear threat? Rusk mentioned the possibility of a nuclear group of states in Asia, but at the same time stated that this was basically a problem of the Asian countries and not a matter between the northern states and Asia. Mc Namara believed that it would be decades before India or Japan had any significant deterrent potential. Still, he thought the question Rusk had raised was worth considering. He suggested that a policy based on nonproliferation could force the United States to guarantee the security of states that renounced nuclear weapons (…)
Bundy pointed out the need to remain silent on our discussion of this fundamental issue because everyone assumed the US was against proliferation. Any reference to mutual political goals would have to trigger unrest all over the world. ”(Seymour Hersh: Atommacht Israel, pp. 157-158, Droemersche Verlagsanstalt, 1991).
In short: Even then, people were discussing whether the goal of global non-proliferation should be the last US goal at all, as Kissinger himself questions or now Trump, who said that Japan and South Korea should possibly also nuclear arm and defend themselves – whereby he rowed back here again. Nonetheless, the question remains, if the US really wants to hold on to non-proliferation, how it will do this with North Korea and perhaps now with Iran after the nuclear deal has been terminated, as well as prevent other states such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Egypt from following suit . Although it would be less of a problem with US allies, but it would and could be for example with Iran or an Islamist atomic bomb in Pakistan or North Korea or perhaps an AKP Turkey. What should the US do then? Razing these countries with their nuclear facilities and fallout to the ground in the hope that Russia and China will stay out of such conflicts? Perhaps Trump will then also grant Saudi Arabia nuclear weapons against an Iranian nuclear power or other states, as he wanted to admit in the case of South Korea and Japan. And what about European nuclear weapons, which Poland has already called for, including German nuclear weapons, which are already being openly discussed in the context of Trump’s unreliability as a necessity on the part of SPIEGEL and the FAZ?
Saudi Arabia seems to be preparing more and more for its own nuclear armament, especially with the help of the US and Pakistan. It is noticeable how much Saudi Arabia is now giving Pakistan in economic aid and investment, even investing in the New Silk Road through the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC). In addition to geopolitical and economic interests, military interests should also play a role, namely gaining access to Pakistani nuclear weapons technology. The Trump administration is also very active in this direction. Based on the reports of a whistleblower, a committee of inquiry of the US House of Representatives has now presented a report after leading circles in the Trump administration, to which his son-in-law Jareed Kushner belongs, allegedly launched the so-called IP3 / Ironbridge program, a kind of Marshall plan for Saudi Arabia but which is only supposed to be a cloak for supplying Saudi Arabia with nuclear power plants and ultimately nuclear weapons. The front company includes a consortium of General Electric, Siemens, Toshiba and other companies, ex-generals and Trump’s former national security advisor Flynn, but above all his son-in-law Jareed Kushner.
The original report of the House of Representatives can be read at:
Then there was also protests from Congress in the direction of Energy Minister Rick Perry, who was probably driving this project forward, especially since Trump once announced at the beginning of his term in office that he would have nothing against other states having nuclear weapons themselves in order to be able to defend themselves , at that time still more specific to Japan and South Korea. Now he seems to be realizing this regardless of the future of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in the matter of Saudi Arabia. Since Saudi Arabia has not signed the 123 agreement that bans the military use of nuclear technology, the US Congress not only insists on Saudi Arabia signing the agreement, but also on acceptance of the “gold standard” of an identical agreement by the United Arabs Emirates have signed.Under Biden such a nuclear proliferation would not be accepted, but maybe by Trump-if he is reelected or a similar type of politician enters the stage.
Under Biden such a nuclear proliferation would not be accepted, but maybe by Trump-if he is reelected or a similar type of politician enters the stage. And in the meantime it is a good atmosphere to create news and fake news. The report of the Washington Post ( Watergate) is now under scrunity for its report about the built-up of Chinese ICBM silos. News or fake news?
The Washington Post believed it had found evidence of the long-awaited nuclear armament in China. But now it looks as if the supposed silos are just the bases of wind turbines. On June 30, the Washington Post warned of the yellow peril. „China is building more than 100 new missile silos in its Western desert, say analysts,“ was the headline. The message went around the world. What happened? In the Gobi Desert near the city of Jumen, experts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, discovered 119 construction sites. In the deserted Gobi, the 119 construction sites form a mathematically exact pattern. „The 119 nearly identical construction sites have features that correspond to those of the existing launch systems for China’s arsenal of ballistic missiles with nuclear propulsion,“ the Post said. Over 100 silos would be a huge leap for China. The economic giant is a nuclear dwarf and only has an arsenal of 250 to 350 nuclear weapons. China is getting ready to outstrip the US in all areas. In the military sector, this is reflected in the intensive armament of the navy, which is being equipped with carrier groups and the most modern guided missile destroyers in the world. They also have their own stealth jets and missile equipment. Russian and Western experts assume that extensive modernization and expansion of the nuclear arsenal is also planned. The system would come at the right time.
„If you add the silos under construction in other locations across China, that adds up to a total of about 145 silos under construction,“ said Lewis, director of the Washington Post’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies. „We believe China is building up some of its nuclear forces to have a deterrent weapon. They must survive a US first strike in sufficient numbers and then overcome US missile defenses. But from the beginning, individual facts did not fit into the picture. The launching devices are far too close together for a silo farm. Actually, they should be designed in such a way that a nuclear first strike can only knock out one silo. Even if some of the facilities are just fakes intended to deceive the enemy and not house any real missiles, the tight packing would be counterproductive. Correction: Rafael Loss points out that the construction sites are actually 3 kilometers apart, which would be absolutely sufficient as protection for missile silos. It is just as astonishing that the construction of highly sensitive nuclear silos could be observed so easily by commercial satellites and that no effort was made to camouflage anything except that the suspected excavation pits were covered. State media deny Now it looks like the Washington Post fell for a fake report. China’s state media have since denied it. They claim it will be a new zone on a neighboring wind farm. In their pictures, the workers do not dig shafts for silos, they lay foundations on which wind turbines will later be mounted. It is always necessary to cover the actual construction sites in the Gobi, The state-affiliated „South China Morning Post“ did not miss the opportunity to inform the US media about the „real“ background of the project. Instead of armament, the fight of the communist party against poverty in the country is shown here. Indeed, efforts to drastically reduce poverty and develop poor parts of the country are Beijing’s central domestic effort. Gansu Province has the lowest gross national product in the country. For a long time it was unclear how to find a way out of this misery. The province is remote, there is a lack of fertile land and water. The increased development of an industrial agricultural economy as in comparable regions was therefore not an option. For this, electricity could be generated naturally in the Gobi desert. But the first attempts to build large wind farms since 2009 came to a dead end: the electricity could be generated, but there weren’t enough consumers nearby. In 2016, Beijing stopped the further expansion of the wind farms.
A further expansion was announced only a few weeks ago. Now the wind farm is to be massively expanded by 2025 – the equivalent of 15 billion US dollars is to be made available for this. „We finally made it – we turned the lifeless Gobi into an unlimited treasure trove,“ said Jiuquan Communist Party secretary Wu Yangdong, cheering last month. „We’re building a three gorges dam on wasteland.“ Largest wind farm in the world In order to consume the electricity, ultra-high-voltage lines were and are being built to generate wind energy in 20 provinces. At the same time, electricity-intensive data centers are to be located. Nevertheless, the transport of eco-energy will incur costs, and at the same time smaller wind farms will be built near the industrial centers. But it is well known that Beijing has a lot of staying power when it comes to pursuing strategic industrial goals. And green energy is high on the priority list. Perhaps not in the near future, but in the medium-term future, superconductors should also be possible at less extreme temperatures. Then the loss-free transport of electricity over long distances would be possible. This form of industrially usable superconductivity is also a central component of Beijing’s ambitious plans for high-speed trains, where China is to become a global technological leader. The dispute between the Post Office and China’s state media cannot really be decided. The lack of camouflage speaks in favor of the wind farm thesis. And it would be a very crude lie. The West would quickly notice if no wind turbines were built on the pedestals. In about a year you should be able to see whether wind turbines are rising here or just silo lids barely sticking out of the earth’s surface.