In March 2012, leaders of many nations from across Asia and the world gathered in Seoul to oppose nuclear dangers. The Nuclear Security Summit was convened primarily to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism.
But it also involved statements and bilateral discussions about wider nuclear challenges, and occurred in the shadow of another looming North Korean long-range rocket or “satellite” test. On some of the most crucial nuclear arms control and disarmament issues, Asia remains far less united than the solidarity of the Seoul summit would suggest. In particular, there is a troubling tension between the mistrustful state of great-power relations in a changing Asia and the relatively harmonious conditions needed for the global push for nuclear disarmament to make progress in this vital region.
Two facts are clear. Asia is entering a period of great strategic uncertainty. At the same time, the United States has been advancing a vision of a world freed of the horrendous destructiveness of nuclear weapons. One important area where these two trends intersect – some would say collide – is the policy of extended deterrence: the US commitment to use military capabilities, conventional or nuclear, to protect allies from attack or threat. This publication assesses the future of extended nuclear deterrence in East Asia, and takes as a starting point that this subject cannot be understood in isolation from those two trends.