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

APLN Joint Project on Nuclear Weapon Use Risk Reduction

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

In May, 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 we held three workshops to examine the use cases that have been developed in year 1. At the workshop, discussions were informed by expert working papers 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 working papers.

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


Image: iStock, BalkansCat