Nuclear Clouds Gather Over Asia
Analysis by Praful Bidwai
NEW DELHI , Dec 26 (IPS) - The Asia-Pacific region has not only emerged as one of the main engines of the world economy but it has also taken the global centre-stage in developments pertaining to nuclear weapons and efforts to acquire a capability to make them.
From Iran and Israel in West Asia, through India and Pakistan in South Asia, to North Korea and Japan in the East, the region exhibited, in 2005, unprecedented activity in the nuclear field that can only intensify in the coming years.
In each of these countries, the United States plays a major role. Its policies of selectively favouring or opposing their nuclear activities will alter the strategic balance in some of the world’s most volatile regions.
"This is a marked shift from the cold war period, where the global nuclear centre of gravity lay in the all-out confrontation between the eastern and western blocs, which was most intense in Europe," says Achin Vanaik, professor of international relations and global politics at Delhi University. He is also a member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace and an independent nuclear expert. "Regrettably, Asia’s nuclear developments are dominated by a superpower that has set its face firmly against nuclear disarmament."
2005 witnessed two landmark nuclear developments-- an attempt by the U.S. and its allies to censure Iran and prevent it from enriching uranium, either for military or civilian purposes, and an Indo-U.S. agreement to "normalise" India’s nuclear weapons status and resume civilian nuclear commerce with it.
Talks continued in 2005 between North Korea and other nations led by the U.S., which included China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the European Union, to dissuade Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear weapons programme. These did not resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, Japan moved closer towards revising its post-World War II commitment not to make or acquire nuclear weapons and not to build a large scale standing army. This acquires great significance in the context of what has been called a "new cold war" between Japan and China.
In September, the U.S. brought a motion in the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) holding Iran "non-compliant" with its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and paving the way for referring it to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions. The resolution could be passed because India broke ranks with the non-aligned movement at the IAEA and voted with Washington.
Iran rejected the resolution and reiterated its right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Russia has since proposed a compromise, under which Iran can convert yellowcake (oxides of uranium) into hexafluoride gas to be sent to Russia for enrichment.
Under the compromise, Iran can burn the enriched uranium in a power reactor, being built with Russian help, but would send back the spent fuel to Russia. Iran will thus, forswear reprocessing to extract plutonium, which too, like highly enriched uranium, is used to make nuclear bombs.
Iran has not formally rejected the proposal, but its talks with the European Union-3 (Germany, France and Britain) have not yielded results.
Tehran’s nuclear posture and activities have drawn a hostile response from Israel and the U.S. President George W. Bush again returned to his "Axis of Evil" characterisation. The U.S. reportedly has drawn up plans for an armed attack on Iran.
A war of words meanwhile broke out between Iran and Israel. In October, Iran’s newly elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the world’s map."
Israeli leaders have vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Dec. 1 that Israel would not allow Iran to do so. "Israel, and not only Israel, cannot accept a situation in which Iran would be in possession of nuclear weapons," Sharon said.
Former prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu has held out a scarcely veiled threat to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, approvingly citing Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s "Osirak" research reactor, then under construction.
On Dec. 16, Iran warned Israel that its response to an Israeli attack would be "swift, firm and destructive."
"What all this highlights is the potential for a dangerous conflict in the Middle East," says Vanaik. "The region has already become explosively volatile because of the occupation of Iraq, coming on top of the Palestinian crisis. If the U.S. and Israel persist with a hardline approach to Iran, they could create havoc. U.S. double standards -- hostility to Iran, coupled with its support to Israel’s nuclear weapons programme -- are a source of great popular discontent in the region."
Washington’s double standards are evident in South Asia too. It agreed to make a one-time exception in the international nuclear non-proliferation regime for India by accepting that India is a "responsible" nuclear weapons state, although it has not signed the NPT. The Bush administration offered to persuade the U.S. congress to amend non-proliferation laws and to plead for a similar exception for India in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.
India and the U.S. are developing a "strategic partnership", including extensive military cooperation. In March, Washington offered to help India become a great world power in the 21st century.
This has rankled Pakistan, which sees the Indo-U.S. "partnership" as introducing regional strategic asymmetry. Pakistan is likely to demand similar treatment for itself in respect of nuclear technology and equipment, and is drawing up plans for new nuclear power stations.
The U.S. is doing little to defuse the Indo-Pakistan nuclear rivalry. It is embarrassed by disclosures about the clandestine activities of the Abdul Qadeer Khan network which sold uranium enrichment technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. But Washington needs Pakistan as an ally in the "war against terrorism", in particular, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It has resisted applying pressure on Pakistan to subject Khan to thorough interrogation to detail his nuclear transactions.
The hardline approach of the U.S. to Iran’s nuclear activities contrasts with its soft approach to North Korea, despite Pyongyang’s claim that it already has a nuclear weapon. It is offering inducements to North Korea, including a civilian nuclear reactor, and economic aid, although it rejects the demand that the reactor’s construction should precede the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
"Washington’s non-proliferation criteria are selective, discriminatory and inconsistent," says Vanaik. "It uses non proliferation as a weapon when that suits its short-term interests. When it doesn’t, it allows nuclear weapons technologies to proliferate."
A worrisome example of this may be Japan. The country’s constitution, dictated by the U.S. during its post-war occupation, forbids the acquisition, manufacture or "bringing in" of nuclear weapons. Many conservative politicians in Japan want the statute amended.
Japan has stockpiled huge amounts of plutonium, reprocessed in western Europe, ostensibly to feed its fast breeder reactors but with the potential for quick diversion to military uses.
Should Japan acquire nuclear weapons and continue its military build up, China will react. Already, China feels threatened by Washington’s ballistic missile defence programme and by growing Indo-U.S. military collaboration. If present trends continue, Asia could witness two new arms races -- one between Japan and China, and the other between China and India.
These rivalries will not be driven entirely by regional factors but will have a strong extra-regional influence, that of the U.S. As the Asia-Pacific region transits into 2006, it seems headed for turmoil and instability. (END/2005)
IMHO the only huge foreign policy mistake of the Bush administration was to not encourage theater wide nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan.There are terrorists in Pakistan we cant reach for political reasons,Indian nukes could have.Also any muslims having nukes is a bad thing,would have been nice to see them all used up on someone besides us.It would have been a win/win situation for us,and we could have learned a lot about small scale nuclear conflictOh well,maybe someday
Japan-China war of words.
By Martin Walker Dec 22, 2005, 21:13 GMT
WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The mounting tensions between Japan and China have been raised another notch by the charge of Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso that Beijing`s growing military budget is making China look dangerous to it its neighbors.
'It`s a neighboring country with nuclear bombs, and its military expenditure has been on the rise for 12 years. It`s beginning to pose a considerable threat,' Aso said in a briefing to reporters Thursday, as quoted by Kyodo news agency.
'China is fanning threat and anxiety,' Aso went on. 'The content of China`s military expenditures is difficult for outsiders to know, and that fuels suspicion.'
Aso`s statement was remarkably similar to the remarks by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in June, at a security conference in Singapore, when he warned China was fueling alarm by increasing its 'hundreds' of missile batteries facing Taiwan and importing advanced Russian warplanes, submarines and naval technology.
'Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?' Rumsfeld asked.
The war of words between Beijing and Tokyo is fueling concern in Asia that the region is becoming alarmingly cramped for the two countries, with Japan as the world`s second-largest economy, and China now claiming to be the fourth-largest economy. When the two countries snubbed each other at this month`s East Asia summit in Kuala Lumpur, the host issued a public statement of concern.
'We are concerned about the developing dichotomy in Japan-China relations which we consider as one of the main pillars of East Asia cooperation,' declared Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. 'We believe that it is important for both countries to manage their relations well.'
Not all the Asian observers share the Japanese and Pentagon view that China`s rearmament is to blame.
'China will have to contend with a new Japan in 2006, a nation that is being described as more conservative, hawkish or even nationalistic by analysts,' claimed Eric Teo Chu Cheow, a council member of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs, writing in Thursday`s China Daily.
'Historically, although China has been humiliated by the West in the last two centuries and skirmishes have taken place with India and Russia, it was only with Japan that the nation has truly fought two large-scale bloody wars, with devastating consequences,' Cheow added. 'The nightmares in Beijing have thus been all the more terrifying as the specter of a rising rightist, militaristic Japanese threat constitutes the least assuring of international trends for China today.'
Tokyo regards such suggestions as outlandish, and has stressed its tightening military links with the United States and its cooperation with the Bush administration`s ballistic missile defense program, are purely defensive, and a reaction to North Korea`s nuclear program and Pyongyang`s testing of ballistic missiles over Japanese territory. The proposed change in the Japanese Constitution to scrap the traditional 'pacifist' clauses is intended to make it easier for Japan as a normal nation to play a full part in international security operations, Tokyo says.
China, and some other Asian powers, do not see it that way, suspecting Japan is reacting to the rise of China by boosting its military alliance with the United States. Japan has announced plans for a stepped-up schedule of joint training with the Americans and of developing the kind of interoperable military systems that NATO military forces have adopted. Japanese officials have cited as an example the way British Royal Air Force airborne tankers were able to fuel U.S. warplanes operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In short, China says it has reason to suspect Japan`s military ambitions, while Japan now says the same about China. This edgy rhetoric comes after some tense standoffs between Japanese and Chinese navies over the disputed Diaoyu islands that are believed to contain sizeable energy reserves.
China began voicing serious concern after Tokyo released in December 2004 a 10-year defense planning program that openly cited China as a potential threat to Japanese interests. Tokyo then lobbied hard against the European Union lifting its arms embargo against China and ostentatiously joined the United States in calling the Taiwan Straits a 'common strategic concern.'
China has angrily objected to the visits by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Tokyo military shrine to Japan`s 2.5 million war dead that Beijing condemns as glorifying Japan`s conquests. The shrine contains the remains of a number of convicted war criminals from the conflict the United States dates from the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to victory in 1945. The Chinese date the same war from the first Japanese invasion of their country in 1931, and keeps fresh the memory of the subsequent Japanese occupation. Chinese protesters outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing earlier this year, who seem to have operated with the quiet support of the government, complained of the savage brutality of that occupation.
Koizumi, who has visited the shrine every year since he became prime minister in 2001, said after his latest pilgrimage: 'It must not be forgotten that today`s peace is built on the sacrifices made by those who died in war.'
Both China and South Korea were angered by that remark, which sounded to them as if Japan were trying to cast itself as victim in the war, rather than as imperialist aggressor. And yet the Japanese, recalling the only use so far of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war in 1945, also see themselves as victims.
The arguments over the war shrine are a symbol of a much deeper difference in perceptions between Beijing and Tokyo. When China, using its standard 'Asia for the Asians' argument, voiced concern about Japan`s closer military ties with the Americans, Koizumi retorted the stronger the Japan-US alliance, 'the easier it will be to develop better relations with China and Korea.'
Even as they re-arm, both Beijing and Tokyo insist their intentions are peaceful. Chinese President Hu Jintao last month denied China`s economic rise could 'pose a threat to anyone.' And China`s Premier Wen Jiabao repeated the theme at this month`s Association of Southeast Asian Nations` summit in Kuala Lumpur.
'China will continue to seek peace and development through cooperation, and will strive to achieve development that will bring about peace, openness, cooperation and harmony as well as benefit to itself and other countries,' Wen said.
The reality is that four of the world`s big five spenders on defense are all deployed in this edgy East Asian region. The big spender, at some $500 billion this year, is the United States, whose Pacific Fleet and bases in Japan, South Korea, Guam and Hawaii make it the dominant power. Russia and China are almost equal in spending, at an estimated $60 billion each, while Japan spends approximately $45 billion a year. Britain, with a $49 billion defense budget, is the only one of the Big Five not deployed in the region, which reinforces the degree to which the world has changed since the 1980s when the European theater was the overwhelming big spender on the military. East Asia has now assumed that unhappy distinction.
Copyright 2005 by United Press International
japan should build nukes as a counterweight to china. their post-WW2 military restrictions need to be lifted, as the world situation has changed drastically in the last 60 years.
I'm pretty cool with a nuk exchange between China and Japan, or India and Pakistan, or NK and pretty much anyone but us. Just keep it off my continent.
I agree with CM Johnson! We both Russia and the US have paid the price for nuclear knowledge. However,I always think of that tank that sits to the entrance to Harrodsburg KY.that that tank unit was subject to the horrors of the Battan death march! The Chineese remember(along with the Koreans)all the nasty things the Japs did! Payback's a bitch!