APLN Joint Project on Nuclear Weapon Use Risk Reduction
Nuclear Weapon Use Risk Reduction

APLN Joint Project on Nuclear Weapon Use Risk Reduction

Published: 15 Oct 2021 | Last Updated: 21 Jun 2022

Reducing the Risk of Nuclear Weapon Use in Northeast Asia (NU-NEA)

In May 2021, APLN began a collaborative three-year research effort with the Nautilus Institute, the Research Center for Nuclear Weapon Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA), and the Panel on Peace and Security of North East Asia (PSNA) on a project entitled, “Reducing the Risk of Nuclear Weapon Use in Northeast Asia (NU-NEA).

The project works to define a credible set of use cases for nuclear weapons in a limited nuclear war on or involving the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia more broadly. The aim is to assist policymakers to identify ways to avoid a nuclear conflict and de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in North East Asia by developing credible nuclear use cases and proposing policy solutions.

From 8-12 October, 2021, we held three workshops to examine the use cases that have been developed in year 1. At the workshop, discussions were informed by expert special reports commissioned to provide background for the development of the use cases. Topics include examining military and nuclear force and counterforce strategies on the Korean Peninsula; modelling of nuclear use cases; potential use of low-yield nuclear weapons; the role of missile defense in North-East Asia; the history and current status of Northeast Asia’s nuclear security from differing national perspectives, among other issues.

The workshops also reviewed the preliminary report on nuclear weapon use cases in Northeast Asia. Once finalised this will provide the foundation for exploring the impacts of nuclear weapons use and the policy implications from the analysis of the use cases.

Ideas were exchanged among APLN members, PSNA members, and other scholars and experts, including the authors of the special reports.

Project Objectives

  • Identify under what conditions might nuclear weapon be used (with or without intention) in Northeast Asia (NEA), and by whom? How might escalation occur? Which states might mount to nuclear response to first nuclear use?
  • What are the possible consequences (fatalities, physical damages to key infrastructure, environmental damages, climate impacts…) of nuclear weapon use in Northeast Asia?
  • What measures/policies can reduce the possibility of use of nuclear weapons in NEA?  What lessons do analyses of use cases offer for development and deployment of policies that will help to avoid nuclear weapons use?

Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Setting

  • China is estimated to possess ~350 nuclear weapons, mostly strategic weapons, with short to long range missiles (including ICBMs) that can be fired from mobile and fixed launchers, submarines, ships, bombers
  • Russia has several thousand nuclear weapons that can be launched from a full range of delivery systems, and including non-strategic (tactical) as well as strategic weapons
  • DPRK is estimated to have fissile material for ~50 warheads (but number of warheads unknown), has been developing and testing missile systems
  • Japan has a “policy principle” against possession of nuclear weapons, but has large stocks of Pu from its civilian reactors, and technologies that would potentially allow rapid weapons and delivery system development/deployment
  • ROK and Taiwan do not have nuclear weapons, but have cooled spent fuel from civilian reactors, technological prowess
  • The United States has thousands of nuclear warheads, all types of delivery systems, major military bases, naval deployments in NEA

Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Use in Northeast Asia (NU-NEA) Project: Three Year Research Effort

Year 1: Define a plausible set of use cases for nuclear weapons in a nuclear conflict war on or involving the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia more broadly

Year 2: Calculate the direct and indirect effects, including dispersion of radioactivity, impacts on infrastructure, populations, and environment (and potential effects on climate, if possible) of resulting nuclear detonations in Korea and beyond

Year 3: Draw policy implications based on the results of year 1 and 2 analyses of the pathways to and impacts of limited nuclear wars in the NEA region; and to disseminate the results and policy recommendations widely to policymakers and stakeholders

Papers published in support of the project’s analysis so far include:

Possible Nuclear Use Cases in Northeast Asia: Implications for Reducing Nuclear Risk
27 Jan 2022 | Year 1 Final Report
The Year 1 Final Report presents and asses cases for nuclear weapons use in a limited nuclear war on, or involving, the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.

Reducing or Exploiting Risk? Varieties of US Nuclear Thought and their Implications for Northeast Asia
28 Feb 2022 | Van JACKSON
Dr. Van Jackson explores how different schools of thought on US nuclear strategy would respond to different scenarios in Northeast Asia.

Potential Use of Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons in a Korean Context
23 Feb 2022 | Eva LISOWSKI
Eva Lisowski explores the potential uses of low-yield nuclear weapons in the context of a possible conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

Avoiding Nuclear War in the Taiwan Strait
16 Feb 2022 | Sheryn LEE
Dr. Sheryn Lee, senior lecturer at the Swedish Defence University, assesses the prospect of conflict and nuclear use in the Taiwan Strait.

Prospects for DPRK’s Nuclear Use Scenarios and Deterrence Measures of the US and ROK Alliance
13 Feb 2022 | LEE Sangkyu
Professor Lee Sangkyu investigates possible nuclear use cases pre-empted by the DPRK based on its nuclear capabilities and nuclear strategy.

Counterforce Dilemmas and the Risk of Nuclear War in East Asia
9 Feb 2022 | Ian BOWERS
Ian Bowers assesses the potential for nuclear war in East Asia by contextualizing the geostrategic factors of US-China military relationship.

Korean Peninsula Nuclear Issue: Challenges and Prospects
3 Feb 2022 | Anastasia BARANNIKOVA
Dr Anastasia Barannikova questions the viability of existing approaches to DPRK and the feasibility of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Nuclear Weapons and Delivery Systems That Might Be Implicated in Nuclear Use Involving the Korean Peninsula
20 Jan 2022 | Matt KORDA
Matt Korda assesses the nuclear weapons and delivery systems that the DPRK could use in the event of an imminent US invasion or regime change operation.

The Role of Missile Defense in Northeast Asia
12 Jan 2022 | David WRIGHT
David Wright identifies key uncertainties that the US and its allies must consider when assessing the effectiveness of defense systems against potential DPRK attacks.

The Deliberate Employment of United States Nuclear Weapons: Escalation Triggers on the Korean Peninsula
6 Jan 2022 | Daryl G. PRESS
Dr Daryl Press, Professor at Darthmouth College, analyses hypothetical scenarios that could lead to the United States deciding to use nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

US Entry into the Korean War: Origins, Impact, and Lessons
16 Dec 2021 | James I. MATRAY
James I. Matray describes the reasons for the outbreak of the Korean War and US entry into the conflict, and lessons learnt.

Nuclear-Use Cases for Contemplating Crisis and Conflict on the Korean Peninsula
9 Dec 2021 | Paul K. DAVIS and Bruce W. BENNETT
The authors set out ten cases highlighting the range of ways in which nuclear weapons might be used on the Korean Peninsula.


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