Thursday, May 03, 2007

Nuclear Powers not created equally

All nuclear powers are not created equal, there exist vast differences in the capabilities and regime types of those states that currently have nuclear arsenals and those suspected to be pursuing them.[1] Of the states that have nuclear weapons, all but three are signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)[2] a treaty aimed at limiting nuclear weapons proliferation. Of the states with nuclear weapons, not all are considered to be threats to international security, and this may have something to do with their regime types and capabilities.
Carolyn James[3]provides us with a useful topology of nuclear states, a ranking of states based on their nuclear capabilities and the likely policy preferences these states would have in the event of a crisis: “The size and potential damage an arsenal poses, set in relation to an enemy state’s second-strike capability, determines actor preferences within a crisis situation, preferences which include the option of launching a first strike and risking retaliation in kind.”[4] She develops for levels of nuclear states[5]:
Level I: Super Arsenals. The U.S and Russia. States that have catastrophic nuclear capabilities, any nuclear attack would be followed by a second strike capable of affecting the whole world. Mutual Assured Destruction. States have thousands of weapons.
Level II: This includes China, France, and the United Kingdom. These states can respond with catastrophic strikes, but the strikes are not likely to result in world destruction. They have hundreds of weapons.
Level III: This includes Pakistan, India, and Israel. These states have the capability to destroy the State (government, military), but not the whole society. They have dozens of weapons.

Level IV: Mini Arsenals: This includes North Korea, Iran, Iraq (Under Saddam Hussein), and Libya (prior to its giving up its nuclear program in 2003)[6] these states have the capability to neither destroy the government, nor society. They are likely to have only two or three, “Hiroshima like” bombs. James argues that in a mini arsenal conflict dyad (Iran versus Iraq) the use of nuclear weapons may be a choice, unlike the other levels, where nuclear damage is likely to be more costly to state, society and even the world.[7]

Though the James focuses on hypothetical conflict dyads at the mini-arsenal level, the analyses does provide some insight into the potential policy preferences of the two states: Iran and North Korea, under scrutiny in the world today. In particular, these states’ propensity for conflict and likely use of nuclear weapons in a crisis.
Aside from the potential complication raised by James, there are other potential concerns that weigh on the minds of policy makers as they struggle to identify the best policies to deter Iran and North Korea from accruing nuclear weapons. Principal among these is the likely destabilizing impact this development would augur for the states’ respective regions. In the Iranian case, the threat of a Persian, Shiite hegemony over the strategic Gulf and Arabian peninsulas is not likely to sit well with the Gulf states (Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq), nor the Sunni Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Egypt). These states are likely to increase spending on defense and even consider nuclear pursuing nuclear weapons,[8] further destabilizing this fragile region. Moreover, a nuclear Iran is likely to be a grave threat to America’s principal ally in the middle east: Israel and with its continued support of terrorist groups, and avowed hatred for the Jewish state, it is not clear how Iran having nuclear weapons would help calm down tensions in the region. A nuclear North Korea is likely to lead to an arms race in the North East Asia region: “Such an outcome [Nuclear North Korea] could prompt Japan to move from merely developing missile defense capabilities to acquiring ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons. And Taiwan may also cross the nuclear threshold if the country’s leaders see North Korea successfully guaranteeing its security in this way.”[9]
Aside from the potential regional reactions to Iran and North Korea (DPRK) going nuclear, there is the potential behavior of these states once they become nuclear to consider. The DPRK and Iran are currently led by individuals (Kim Jong IL and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) who are known for making jingoistic statements and likely to cause further trouble in the region. Ahmadinejad in particular has penchant for very aggressive rhetoric, especially directed at Israel and his foreign policy goals are considered with great trepidation: “Concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions have been heightened by Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has deemed the Holocaust a myth and called for the destruction of Israel.”[10] There is also a concern that these leaders would use any nuclear weapons as bargaining chips in there relations with neighbors, and the wider international community.[11]Worse still is the potential that these states would transfer nuclear weapons and technology to third parties, in particular terrorist groups: “The only nuclear threat to the United State from North Korea is indirect, in the potential transfer of such capabilities to third parties. Pyongyang has shown no aversion to selling weapons to anyone with the hard currency or barter to pay for them.”[12]
With the short term and long term dangers posed by the Iranian and North Korean possession of nuclear weapons, it is incumbent upon the world community to insure that this does not happen. These two states sit in very militarily strategic and economically vital regions of the world, the potential destabilizing effect of nukes in these regions will gravely affect world peace and the world economy. Moreover, these two states were signatories of the NPT; allowing them to unilaterally ignore the rules of the NPT does not augur well for the future of this and other nonproliferation treaties. For the sanctity of the international nonproliferation regime, united action in required.

[1] USA; Russia, Britain, China, France, Israel (suspected to have), India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran (latter two suspected to be actively pursuing nuclear weapons).
[2] Israel, India and Pakistan. North Korea signed, and ratified the agreement but later withdrew: “Statement of DPRK Government on its withdrawal from NPT” Korean News Service, Tokyo , 10th January 2003
[3] James, Carolyn: “Nuclear Arsenal Games: Coping with Proliferation in a World of Changing Rivalries” Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 33, No. 4, (Dec., 2000), pp. 723-746
[4] James, 723
[5] James, 725
[6] “Bush, Blair: Libya to dismantle WMD programs” CNN, December 20th 2004

[7] James, 725
[8] Perkovich, George: “Can Iran and the United States Bridge the Gulf? Foreign Policy, No. 137 (Jul. – Aug., 2003), p. 65
[9] Cha, Victor and Kang, David: “The Korea Crisis” Foreign Policy. No. 136. (May – Jun., 2003), pp.23; See also, Ahn, Yinhay: “North Korea in 2002: A Survival Game” Asian Survey, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Jan – Feb., 2003) pp. 57 and Carney, James: “How Dangerous is North Korea” Time Magazine, March 2003, p. 27
[10] “Ongoing U.S. Efforts to Curb Iran’s Nuclear Program” The American Journal of International Law, vol. 100, No. 2. (Apr., 2006), p. 485. For a profile of Kim Jong IL see Carney p. 28
[11]See: Carney, 27, Chan and Kang, 21 and Yihay, 58
[12] Chan and Kang, p22. see also Carney, 26 and Perkovich, 65 (for Iranian threat)


Blogger Gathara said...

It is a fallacy to portray an Iranian nuclear weapon as a play toy for Ahmadinejad. Not only does he lack the final say in matters of war (that rests with the supreme Ayatollah) but also, any nuclear capability would mature long after he left office.

And anyway, the argument is flawed in its entirety. We have a war monger in the White House but no talk of stripping the US of her weapons. Why the hypocrisy?

9:06 AM  
Blogger Githush said...

@Gathara. It is true that the Iranian nuclear program will probably not come to fruition until after Ahmadinejad, but one must appreciate the fact that his rhetoric has not been very helpful. Moreover, even if the president doesn't have the final say, the potentially destabilizing effects of an Iranian (on other regional powers) is likely to be great. There is already mumurs of a potential move by the Egyptians or Saudis pursuing their own porgrams. It's not the leader per se (though Ahmadenijad doesn't help) its the very possibility of the Iranians having a nuke.

As for your latter point: James points out that state preferences and behavior is likely to be different depending on their nuke capabilities. Let us remember that the only time nukes have ever been used we by a Level IV nuclear power (mini arsenal). For America to ever reach the point of using Nukes, it would have to be a existential attack from another similarly enabled state. And thats not on the horizon.

But I understand the basic point u raise - I believe u articulated it on one of your posts - that the existing nuclear states (those signatory to the NPT) have failed to live up to their end of the bargain. With that I agree. But that doesn't change the basic fact that DPRK or Iranian nukes are likely to destabilize their respective regions and potentially spark of arms races. Moreover, the sanctity of the NPT depends on ensuring that signatories to it do not go nuclear.

11:46 PM  

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