event BI

Asan North Korea Conference

September 25, 2013 / 09:30-11:00
Choi Kang, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies
Robert Manning, The Atlantic Council
Park Chang Kwon, Korea Institute for Defense Analyses
Su Hao, China Foreign Affairs University
Sugio Takahashi, National Institute for Defense Studies


Session Sketch

Session 2, titled “Nuclear Strategy and Deterrence”, focused on how North Korea would use their nuclear capabilities if it were indeed true that they do possess them. This session was moderated by the Vice President of the Asan Institute, Dr Choi Kang. As the first speaker in the panel, Robert Manning of the Atlantic Council began by pointing out the challenges and complexities of the extended deterrence in the 21st century. According to Manning, during the Cold War deterrence was nasty but simpler. After a period of time, there was a balance of terror. In other words, the international system had a rather predictable, more transparent, managed competition between the US and the Soviet Union. However, today the challenges of deterrence has assumed a new importance. Manning then moves on to talk about the emerging security environment. In the current environment deterrence is not simply about nuclear weapons, it involves a range of new factors: military, non military, and also the non conventional military operations. All these pieces of the puzzle have to be in place because at the end of the day the credibility of extended deterrence is in the eye of the beholder, both the deterred and assured. Manning explains that the architecture of deterrence in the Korean peninsula requires not only factoring in changes in this threatened environment but determining how the non nuclear components of deterrence are best utilized and integrated in the structure and content of deterrence. He discussed an element of deterrence that tends to be overlooked: the economic dimension. According to Manning the Korea-US FTA, the TPP accord, and hopefully in the near future, US energy exports Korea and Japan and elsewhere, are an important part of demonstrating that the US has woven itself into the fabric of the pacific economy. It underscores the US stake in the success of the region, which is important in terms of perceptions of the US as a pacific power that matters.

The second panelist, Park Chang Kwon, former navy captain and a senior research fellow at the KIDA, also reiterates the importance of the nuclear deterrence system in East Asia. He explains that South Korea wants to develop deterrence strategy to counter three types of North Korean nuclear aggression : nuclear threat in peace time and in local conflicts, actual military movement for imminent nuclear attack, actual use of nuclear weapons. South Korea is also making great efforts to construct a () and missile defense system for enhancing its own deterrence capabilities. the tailored deterrence strategy is being discussed may well reflect South Korea concerns. Like the previous speaker, he also believes that the US ROK alliance needs to make continuing efforts to develop a tailored deterrence system. He suggests that the US and ROK should establish the basic principles or guidelines for implementing the tailored deterrence system. Nevertheless, there are many things we have to strengthen for building a credible nuclear deterrence system: how to share responsibilities, how to improve intelligence sharing, how to implement a tailored deterrence system during a crisis.

The next speaker, Dr. Su Hao of the Chinese Foreign Affairs University, had a more optimistic take on the deterrence issue than the previous speakers. He acknowledges, however, that that North Korea nuclear issues is a double games within North Korea and in with the international community. According to Dr Su Hao there are two levels of understanding the reasons why North Korea wants to have nuclear capability: 1) North Korea knows they are the weak country regarding their overall national ability, so they have no choice but to have some strategic leverage to support themselves, to safeguard their national security or prevent any possible challenge from outside of so called regime change. This, according to Dr Su Hao, is their biggest concern of their national survival. In this regard, its a rational choice for North Korea to obtain such nuclear capacity.
2. To make themselves stronger and more confident, not only to maintain internal stability and development but face challenges from outside. This is also for regime survival. National survival and regime survival is their priority. In this context it is a rational choice for North Korea. For them, the nuclear choice was a rational act.

Finally, the last speaker of the session, Sugio Takahashi, senior fellow of the National Institute of Defense Studies, explored the more theoretical aspects of deterrence. According to Sugio nuclear deterrence theory can different variations: 1) Counter force. The target is the adversary’s strategic capabilities. This is a pure military to military strategy. 2) Countervalue In this variation there is no need to limit the target to military facilities, which includes mutual destruction implication. 3) existential deterrence based on the fact that you have nuclear weapon. There does not need to be any specific targets. Deterrence depends on the existence of nuclear weapons in your arsenal. Sugio describes that if you know your adversary has nuclear weapon, regardless of how reliable their capability is, the simple possibility of existence of a nuclear arsenal will influence decision making. According to Sugio, in this context, technical reliability doesn’t necessarily matter. North Korea has a distinct nuclear strategy in that their strategy will rely on this existential deterrence.

The session then continued with questions from audience members. This discussion was heavily focused on transparency of China, as well as the US, about their missile defense system. There was also the question of whether Russia could also be brought in to the discussion, to intervene in the nuclear issue. Robert Manning addressed these issues, pointing out that the current problem is that China has not been willing to discuss a joint framework strategy for stability with the US, which makes strategic decision in the Asia Pacific harder to plan. He believes that the intention of the Obama administration is not to negate either the Russian or Chinese second strike capability. The US is not adversaries with either Russia or China.