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Preface Richard J. Ellings With six of the world’s nine established nuclear powers and most of the near nuclear powers, the Asia-Pacific is the central stage on which the drama of the second nuclear age will be played out. A fundamental shift has taken place in world power, driven by the extraordinary economic growth in this region, of course, but also in part by the broadening distribution of deliverable nuclear weapons among multiple countries there. From the dominance of the U.S.-Soviet competition—the first nuclear age—the strategic environment has transformed into one that is concentrated in Asia rather than Europe and that is fundamentally multipolar rather than bipolar, with a major challenger to the strategic order at its geopolitical center. Europe is no longer the core of great-power contention. Today, the most powerful nations on earth straddle Asia and the Pacific, and the schisms that divide them—over territory and seas, spheres of influence and buffer states, reunification of important nations, diplomatic issues, economic and trade policies, the nature of political systems and political values, and arms races—are the ones most likely to bring the greatest of the great powers into conflict. America’s “rebalance” toward the Asia-Pacific, an objective of multiple administrations, reflects these long-developing realities. The Asia-Pacific’s evolving nuclear environment is a highly dynamic one that can be characterized as skewed or uneven multipolarity. The strategic forces of the members of the nuclear club range in number and quality, but those of the United States, Russia, and China have intercontinental reach, with the latter, for example, having deterrent or potentially “compellent” targets to the north and east, south, southeast, and west. India is developing long-range delivery systems to deter China but remains otherwise focused on Pakistan. Pakistan is consumed with its immediate neighbor but has played a critical role in proliferation with North Korea, which is itself seeking long-range capability. This array of actors—with China in the middle—complicates the x • Strategic Asia 2013–14 strategic calculations of all the nations in the region and particularly two latent members of the nuclear club, Japan and South Korea. Although the second nuclear age may have its roots in the mid-1960s, it did not begin in earnest until 1998. This was a memorable year, as India and Pakistan tested multiple nuclear devices within weeks of one another, and Iran and North Korea tested ballistic missiles, igniting regional and international fears over clandestine nuclear weapons programs in two rogue nations and sparking debate within non-nuclear neighbors over whether to pursue nuclear capability themselves. The fears were not unwarranted. Nuclear proliferation has made Asia a more dangerous place. When Pakistan and India came to the nuclear brink by trading tests during their hostilities in 1998, we had a glimpse of the fragility of the second nuclear age. Several factors weaken stability. Regional considerations are preeminent for the nuclear powers of Asia, which have bitter, historical rivalries and often share contiguous borders. Relatively vulnerable nuclear facilities and delivery systems, as well as concerns about conventional military inferiority, may entice some antagonists to consider preemptive attacks. Short distances between potential antagonists put extraordinary pressure on crisis managers, as reaction times to imminent threats or attacks must be close to instantaneous. Misperception or poor intelligence could prove disastrous, producing failed deterrence or the launching of an unneeded counterattack. In most cases of rivalry between regional nuclear powers, global nuclear powers also perceive high stakes. There are also domestic considerations, particularly in nuclear powers that are dictatorships or otherwise politically illegitimate or unstable. As a consequence of lagging political modernization in North Korea and Pakistan, for example, there seems to be a greater likelihood of “irrational” decision-making, less sophisticated nuclear doctrine, and ineffective safety procedures than in some other nuclear powers. Moreover, with the proliferation of actors, the odds of a nuclear accident or of a weapon falling into the hands of terrorists rise. In sum, politically unstable, deep-seated rivals armed with nuclear arsenals in various stages of technological development and deployment, possessing competing interests, and lacking experience in managing nuclear safety and diplomacy increase the potential for suspicion, misperception, accidents, terrorism, and conflict. In the second nuclear age, complexity does not seem to engender stability. Not all proliferation is equal. Several democracies face very difficult strategic decisions in view of challenges to the liberal international order and security structure in the Asia-Pacific. At the core of...


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