Surveying the WMD Landscape in Asia-Pacific
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Surveying the WMD Landscape in Asia-Pacific

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In this new Special Report, Peter Hayes and Shatabhisha Shetty introduce the new book published by the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, ‘WMD in Asia-Pacific.’  The authors of the report pick out the major highlights from each of the eighteen chapters of the book, originally published as APLN Special Reports, and observe that the dynamics of generating threats using WMD—especially from nuclear weapons – in the Asia-Pacific region are distinctive.The authors survey the WMD landscape in the Asia-Pacific region by examining a set of seven nuclear force traits or tradeoffs that come with nuclear armament and shape the identity of the nuclear weapon-possessors and their willingness to alter their nuclear forces. These seven critical tradeoffs are: transparency versus opacity, certainty versus uncertainty, positive versus negative control, individual versus group decision-making, counterforce versus counter-value targeting, minimum versus maximum deterrence, and autarchic versus interdependent nuclear security. Based on this survey, the authors observe that the experience and perception of nuclear threats, and the ways of projecting nuclear threats and causing fear in the minds of adversaries, varies between the nuclear-armed states in the Asia-Pacific region. They identify eight broad themes that are common across the entire region and demand attention from policy makers and stakeholders in order to address the risk of nuclear war:

  1. Nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons can be so inextricably intertwined with conventional forces in international conflicts, that nuclear possessor states supplement and even substitute for conventional deterrence with nuclear threats. States therefore need to minimize the role of nuclear weapons and recess those that exist while rectifying conventional force deficits, or use non-military means to ameliorate or resolve conflict over time.
  2. The diffusion of low-yield nuclear weapons, disruptive technologies‚ and ever more lethal conventional weapons accelerates the intermingling and blurring of nuclear and conventional forces and increases the risk of nuclear war. Therefore, conventional arms control and disarmament are integral to the realization of nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.
  3. Nuclear weapons beget more nuclear weapons. The real and imagined threats posed to adversaries generates either vertical proliferation (expansion of arsenals to maintain “escalation dominance”) or activates horizontal proliferation (whereby a non-nuclear state seeks and then obtains its own nuclear weapons). To stem these pressures, multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament must commence at the top of the nuclear hierarchy.
  4. The risk of nuclear war is incrementally and inexorably rising. Nuclear-armed states must put their nuclear modernization programs on hold and re-examine their commitments to reduce cost and risk, and to avoid generating action-reaction arms racing. It is observed that risks reduce when tensions fall and peace takes hold.
  5. Practical and realistic risk reduction measures can help to ameliorate the nuclear-prone drivers of conflict. Submarine-free zones, separation of warheads and delivery systems, missile and rocket launch notifications, shared early warning, and the adoption of a global NC3 code of conduct based on the Law of Armed Conflict are some of the measures that in preparation for the bigger arms control and disarmament efforts.
  6. The nuclear forces deployed by the US, Russia and China not only threaten each other, but also threaten middle and small nuclear-armed states, causing a cascading effect down the entire global hierarchy of nuclear-armed states. Therefore, there is strong interest in pushing the three global nuclear powers to create new multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament frameworks that relieve the pressure on themselves.
  7. Existential threats such as global pandemics or global climate change call for immediate reduction of tension between nuclear-armed and nuclear umbrella states. Conversely, the steps taken to resolve conventional conflict and reduce nuclear risks can create conditions in which chemical and biological weapons are less likely to be used (than they are already) and create political-security conditions that enable joint efforts to overcome other existential threats.
  8. In an epochal shift, the primary axis of conflict today involves not only the nuclear weapon and umbrella states but also non-nuclear and non-allied states, most of whom have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. All these states need to employ multilateral safeguards on all fissile materials stockpiles in a manner that is monitored and verified by internationally agreed standards without any discriminatory exemptions.

About the Author

Peter HAYES is the Research Director of APLN. He is Honorary Professor, Center for International Security Studies, Sydney University, Australia and Director, Nautilus Institute in Berkeley, California. Professor Hayes works at the nexus of security, environment and energy policy problems. Best known for innovative cooperative engagement strategies in North Korea, he has developed techniques at Nautilus Institute for seeking near-term solutions to global security and sustainability problems and applied them in East Asia, Australia, and South Asia. He has worked for many international organizations including the United Nations Development Programme, Asian Development Bank, and Global Environment Facility. Professor Hayes was founding director of the Environment Liaison Centre in Kenya in 1975. He has travelled, lived, and worked in Asia, North America, Europe and Africa, and has visited North Korea seven times.

Shatabhisha SHETTY is the Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network. She is a co-founder of the European Leadership Network (ELN), serving as Deputy Director for over 10 years before joining APLN. She is a member of the ELN Executive Board. Her research interests include arms control, strategic risk reduction, global disarmament diplomacy and has written and spoken internationally on an array of defence and nuclear related issues. Before establishing the European Leadership Network, Shata worked at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) in London in 2009; in the press and parliamentary affairs team of the British Council’s London headquarters from 2007-2008; and at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Information Society & Media in 2005. Between 2005 and 2009, worked for three separate Members of Parliament (MP and MSPs) in the UK Parliament and from the Scottish Parliament. Educated at University College London. She has a Masters in International Public Policy.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members.

Image: iStock

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