Engagement over Antagonism

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Sanctions alone will not curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. A healthy dose of diplomacy is needed too.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review, February 27-March 5, 2017

missile-test

For North Korea, reeling under severe United Nations sanctions, conducting missile tests has become a regular expression of political defiance and technological progress. Just last year, showing its continuing contempt for UN resolutions, it tested almost two dozen missiles, including a submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Yet its first missile test since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in November has been speciously portrayed as a major challenge to the new administration in Washington, with some analysts like ex-CIA chief James Woolsey even calling North Korea the top national security problem at present.

The fact is that the Feb. 12 test did not involve a long-range ballistic missile, which North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had said in his New Year’s Day speech was almost ready for launch. The fired missile, which traveled 500km, was just a medium-range type that Pyongyang has tested multiple times in different variants. And although North Korea said the test involved a new missile model with a solid fuel-powered engine — a technological advance that facilitates mobility and rapid launch — this is not the country’s first solid-fueled missile. As Pyongyang admits, the new surface-to-surface missile is based on its solid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Lost in the alarmism over the new missile is the fact that the test occurred just after Trump called North Korea a threat. Kim had been on good behavior ever since Trump’s unexpected election triumph, hoping that the new American president would adopt a fresh tack, in keeping with what Trump had said during the campaign — that he would be willing to meet with the North Korean leader over a hamburger.

Kim — the world’s youngest head of state — tested a nuclear device, purportedly a hydrogen bomb, two days before his Jan. 8 birthday in 2016. International media speculated that this year Kim would celebrate his birthday by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, although he had referred to a long-range missile, not an ICBM, in his New Year’s Day speech. Kim, however, delayed his first missile test since Trump’s victory until much later — conducting it less than 36 hours after Trump, in a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House, said that “defending against the North Korean missile and nuclear threat” was “a very, very high priority” for him.

Trump’s tempered response to the missile test drew cynical comments from critics citing his bombastic Jan. 3 tweet. Relying on misleading media reports that Kim had threatened to test an ICBM, Trump posted on Twitter: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” Truth be told, North Korea is far from developing an ICBM, as the latest missile test underscores.

Still, Trump is being publicly advised to ratchet up military pressure on Pyongyang, prompting him to declare: “Obviously, North Korea is a big, big problem, and we will deal with that very strongly.”

BIG-PICTURE ISSUES  

The debate on how to tame North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions should not obscure the larger issues involved. Three key matters stand out.

Firstly, the sanctions-only approach toward North Korea spearheaded by the United States has been a conspicuous failure, encouraging Pyongyang to rapidly advance its nuclear and missile programs. With little to lose, North Korea has responded to heavy sanctions by testing nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, 2013 and twice in 2016. It has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world to conduct nuclear tests in the 21st century. North Korea has also considerably enhanced its missile capabilities, though they remain subregionally confined in range.

Sanctions without engagement have never worked. In the North Korean case, the sanctions-only approach has done exactly the opposite of its intended goal — instead of halting or retarding nuclearization, slapping on additional sanctions after every major test has only egged Pyongyang on.

Secondly, Kim has repeatedly signaled that he wants his internationally isolated nation to escape from the clutches of its millennial rival, China. Significantly, he has not visited China since assuming power in 2011, although paying obeisance in Beijing was customary for his father and grandfather, who ruled before him.

Mao Zedong famously said China and North Korea were as close as lips are to teeth. But when China last March joined hands with the U.S. to approve the toughest new U.N. sanctions in two decades against North Korea, it highlighted its virtually ruptured relationship with Pyongyang.

At a time when China’s state media has accused Kim of pursuing “de-Sinification” and seeking improved ties with the U.S. and Japan, the fatal poisoning of Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport has increased the sense of alarm and frustration in Beijing. Kim Jong Nam, a reputed playboy with residences in Beijing and Macau, was a virtual Chinese pawn against Kim.

Yet, oddly, Washington has attempted to push Kim further into the Chinese dragnet, instead of seizing on the opportunity created by his desire to unlock frozen ties with America. Some U.S. scholars have even suggested a grand bargain with Beijing on North Korea. Given that North Korea has sought direct engagement with Washington to offset Chinese leverage over it, nothing is more galling to Pyongyang than U.S. efforts to use Beijing as a diplomatic instrument against it. In effect, American policy has handed Beijing the North Korea card to play against South Korea, Japan and the U.S. itself.

In truth, China is already putting the squeeze on North Korea, especially since that country carried out its most powerful nuclear test last September. But its enforcement of U.N. sanctions in a controlled way has failed to change Kim’s calculus. Beijing, of course, values North Korea as a buffer state and does not want a reunified and resurgent Korea allied with Washington, because that will open a new threat, including bringing American troops to China’s border. Make no mistake: Chinese and American interests diverge fundamentally.

And thirdly, the U.S. has no credible military option against North Korea. Any military strikes to degrade the North’s nuclear and missile capabilities will provoke Pyongyang to unleash its artillery-barrage power against the South, triggering widespread destruction and a full-fledged war involving America. The planned U.S. deployment in South Korea of the anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD — which has never been battle-tested — is no real answer to North Korea’s nuclearization or to the North’s artillery choke-hold on Seoul. China, with some justification, sees the THAAD plan as essentially directed against it.

If there is any credible U.S. option to deal with Pyongyang, it is to give diplomacy a chance, with the goal of forging a peace treaty with the North to formally end the Korean War — which has officially been in a state of cease-fire since 1953. Denuclearization should be integral to the terms of such a peace treaty. But if denuclearization is made the sole purpose of engagement with the North, diplomacy will not succeed. President Barack Obama’s administration simply refused to talk unless Pyongyang first pledged to denuclearize. The North’s only leverage is the nuclear card, which it will not surrender without securing a comprehensive peace deal.

When repeated rounds of tight sanctions not only fail to achieve their objectives but counterproductively trigger opposite effects, the need for a new approach becomes inescapable.

Through a carrot-and-stick approach of easing some sanctions and keeping more biting ones in place, diplomacy can, by persisting with what will be difficult and tough negotiations, clinch a deal to end one of the world’s longest-lingering conflicts and eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” the winner of the Bernard Schwartz Award.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2017.

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Why was Nagasaki nuked?

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Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times

Just as Hiroshima has become the symbol of the horrors of nuclear war and the essentialness of peace, the visit of the first sitting U.S. president to that city was laden with symbolism, including about the ironies of human action. As Barack Obama put it, when the United States carried out history’s first nuclear attack by dropping a bomb, “a flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”

Two questions, however, remain unanswered to this day: Why did the U.S. carry out the twin atomic attacks when Japan appeared to be on the verge of unconditionally surrendering? And why was the second bomb dropped just three days after the first, before Japan had time to fully grasp the strategic implications of the first nuclear attack?

Months before the nuclear bombings (and certainly by the time President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death made Harry S. Truman the U.S. president in April 1945), the defeat of Japan was a foregone conclusion. Japan’s navy and air force had been destroyed and its economy devastated by a U.S. naval blockade and relentless American firebombing raids on Japanese cities.

During his Hiroshima visit, Obama called for “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” But can there be a moral awakening when almost every nuclear-armed country today is expanding or upgrading its nuclear arsenal, thus increasing the risk of nuclear use, either by accident or design?

Obama has himself highlighted the yawning gap between rhetoric and reality.

In Hiroshima, reprising his famous words of 2009 in Prague, Obama said that “among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” But at home, he has quietly pursued an extensive expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, already the world’s most-expensive and most-sophisticated nuclear deterrent. Under him, the U.S. is spending about $355 billion as part of a 10-year plan to upgrade its nuclear armory.

Almost 71 years after the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and more than a generation after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons still underpin the security policies of the world’s most powerful states. Indeed, the composition of the United Nations Security Council’s permanent membership suggests that international political power is coterminous with intercontinental-range nuclear-weapons power.

There can be no moral awakening without jettisoning the political-military thinking that sanctioned the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving as many as 220,000 people, mostly civilians, dead.

As Hiroshima and Nagasaki lay in smoldering ruins, Truman sent a team of military engineers, fire experts and photographers to the scene to analyze the death and destruction wrought by the twin attacks. The team reported an “an unprecedented casualty rate” in Hiroshima, with 30 percent of the population killed and another 30 percent seriously injured.

The nuclear attack three days later on Nagasaki generated a higher blast yield but produced a smaller area of complete devastation and lower casualties because, unlike Hiroshima’s flat terrain and circular shape, Nagasaki is a city with large hills and twin valleys. The second attack killed about 74,000 people, about half as many as those who died in the Hiroshima bombing. A city’s terrain and layout, the U.S. team’s report stated, must be considered “in evaluating the effectiveness” of nuclear bombing.

Even if one accepts Truman’s claim that the Hiroshima bombing was necessary to force Japan’s surrender and end the war without a full-scale U.S. invasion, what was the rationale for his action in nuking Nagasaki just three days later on August 9, 1945, before Japan had time to surrender?

As the U.S. team’s report stated, Nagasaki was totally unprepared for the nuclear bombing, although “vague references to the Hiroshima disaster had appeared in the newspaper of 8 August.”

Decades later, there is no still no debate in the U.S. on the moral or military calculus for bombing Nagasaki. No plausible explanation has been proffered for the attack.

After Hiroshima was nuked on August 6, Russia took advantage of the situation by attacking Japan on August 8, although its official declaration of war came a day later. Hours after news of Russia’s invasion of Sakhalin Island reached Tokyo, the Supreme War Guidance Council met to discuss Japan’s unconditional surrender. The nuclear bomb on Nagasaki was dropped as Soviet forces were overwhelming Japanese positions in Manchuria and Japan appeared set to surrender to the Allied powers.

Indeed, according to the U.S. team’s report, the “decision to seek ways and means to terminate the war — influenced in part by knowledge of the low state of popular morale — had been taken in May 1945 by the Supreme War Guidance Council.” This would suggest that even the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was needless.

In the days before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the only question facing Japan was when to unconditionally surrender under the terms of the July 26 Postdam Declaration. The signals the Japanese were sending that they were prepared to surrender were missed or ignored by the U.S. The surrender was eventually announced by Emperor Hirohito on August 15 after U.S. assurances on the Emperor’s continued role. These assurances, as American scholar Gar Alperovitz has pointed out, were not provided earlier, although they possibly could have ended the war without any nuclear bomb being dropped.

In truth, Nagasaki’s nuclear incineration had no military imperative. If there was any rationale, it was technical or strategic in nature — to demonstrate the power of the world’s first plutonium bomb.

The bomb that reduced Hiroshima to ashes was an untested uranium bomb, codenamed “Little Boy,” with Truman applauding the bomb’s success as “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.” By contrast, the bomb used in the Nagasaki attack was an implosion-type plutonium bomb. Codenamed “Fat Boy,” it had been secretly tested in the New Mexico desert on July 16, a development that paved the way for the Postdam ultimatum to Japan.

Indeed, Truman intentionally delayed his Potsdam meeting with Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin until after the testing of the new weapon. Truman wanted the power of the new weapon to end the war in the Pacific, rather than the Soviet Union invading Japan and inflicting a decisive blow to force its surrender. Anxious not to let to let the Soviet Union gain a major foothold in the Asia-Pacific, he sought to persuade Stalin at Postdam to delay the invasion.

Days later when Hiroshima was destroyed, Truman broke the news to his shipmates aboard USS Augusta, saying, “The experiment has been an overwhelming success.” The Nagasaki bombing was his second nuclear “experiment.”

The geopolitical logic of the nuclear bombings was to establish U.S. primacy in the postwar order.

The late American author Kurt Vonnegut, best known for his World War II satirical novel Slaughterhouse-Five, called the Nagasaki bombing the “most racist, nastiest act” of the U.S. after the enslavement of blacks brought from Africa. And the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, Telford Taylor, once described the Nagasaki bombing as a war crime, saying: “The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable, but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki.”

Actually, the U.S. plan was to drop the plutonium bomb on Kokura city (present-day Kitakyushu). But Kokura was under a heavy cloud blanket on August 9, so the B-29 bomber was diverted from Kokura to a larger city, Nagasaki, Japan’s gateway to the world. Nagasaki, Japan’s oldest and densest stronghold of Roman Catholicism, was paradoxically destroyed by a predominantly Christian America.

Dropping the more-powerful plutonium bomb on a large civilian population center appeared to matter more to those in charge of the “experiment” than which particular city they targeted. Indeed, brushing aside the suggestion of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall for non-urban target selection, the atomic “hit” list comprised important cities.

Japan, with its ostensibly “alien” character, became something of a guinea pig as the U.S. sought to demonstrate to the world, particularly to the Soviet Union, that it had awesome destructive power at its disposal. After Adolf Hitler, who symbolized the most-potent military threat to the Allied powers, committed suicide in April 1945 just days after Truman took office, Japan became the test site for demonstration of America’s newborn nuclear might.

The use of a technological discovery to incinerate Hiroshima and Nagasaki was made possible by a widely prevalent political-military culture at that time that regarded civilian massacres as a legitimate tool of warfare. All sides engaged in mass killings in World War II, in which nearly 60 million people died.

Against this background, no warning was given to the residents of Hiroshima or Nagasaki before unleashing a nuclear holocaust. Nor did Truman give Japan a firm deadline to surrender before rushing into a second nuclear attack.

History is written by the victors, and the vanquishers are rarely burdened by the guilt of their actions. Still, Hiroshima and Nagasaki will remain a burden on American conscience — Hiroshima because it was the world’s first atomic bombing, setting a precedent, and Nagasaki because it was a blatantly wanton act.

Obama’s visit to the Hiroshima memorial should be seen in this light. He made no apology, yet he stated expressively: “We come to ponder a terrible force.”

Nuclear weapons remain the toxic fruit of a technology that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War II reached its savage end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki only to spawn the dawn of a dangerous nuclear age. And the last strike of the world war, Nagasaki, became the opening shot of a new Cold War.

Nuclear-deterrence strategies still rely on targeting civilian and industrial centers. In fact, a wary U.S., a rising China and a declining Russia are currently developing a new generation of smaller, more effective nukes that threaten to increase nuclear-use risks.

Ominously, the world today has a treaty (although not in force as yet) that bans all nuclear testing but no treaty to outlaw the use of nuclear weapons. In other words, those that are party to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are prohibited from testing a nuclear weapon at home but remain legally unfettered to test the weapon by dropping it over some other state. The option of “doing a Hiroshima” on an adversary with an untested weapon must be foreclosed.

Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author, is a long-standing contributor to The Japan Times.

© The Japan Times, 2016.

China’s Pakistani Outpost

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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Like a typical school bully, China is big and strong, but it doesn’t have a lot of friends. Indeed, now that the country has joined with the United States to approve new international sanctions on its former vassal state North Korea, it has just one real ally left: Pakistan. But, given how much China is currently sucking out of its smaller neighbor – not to mention how much it extracts from others in its neighborhood – Chinese leaders seem plenty satisfied.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has declared that China and Pakistan are “as close as lips and teeth,” owing to their geographical links. China’s government has also calledPakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend.” The two countries often boast of their “iron brotherhood.” In 2010, Pakistan’s then-prime minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani,waxed poetic about the relationship, describing it as “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey.”

In fact, wealthy China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. They do, however, share an interest in containing India. The prospect of a two-front war, should India enter into conflict with either country, certainly advances that interest.

For China, the appeal of working with Pakistan is heightened by its ability to treat the country as a client, rather than an actual partner. In fact, China treats Pakistan as something of a guinea pig, selling the country weapons systems not deployed by the Chinese military and outdated or untested nuclear reactors. Pakistan is currently building two AC-1000 reactors – based on a model that China has adapted from French designs, but has yet to build at home – near the southern port city of Karachi.

China does not even need its supposed “brother” to be strong and stable. On the contrary, Pakistan’s descent into jihadist extremism has benefited China, as it has provided an ideal pretext to advance its strategic interests within its neighbor’s borders. Already, China has deployed thousands of troops in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, with the goal of turning Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. And, as a newly released US Defense Department report shows, Pakistan – “China’s primary customer for conventional weapons” – is likely to host a Chinese naval hub intended to project power in the Indian Ocean region.

That is not all. President Xi Jinping’s first visit to Pakistan last year produced an agreement to construct a $46 billion “economic corridor” stretching from China’s restive Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s Chinese-built (and Chinese-run) Gwadar port. That corridor, comprising a series of infrastructure projects, will serve as the link between the maritime and overland “Silk Roads” that China is creating. It will shorten China’s route to the Middle East by 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) and give China access to the Indian Ocean, where it would be able to challenge India from India’s own maritime backyard.

Xi also signed deals for new power projects, including the $1.4 billion Karot Dam, the first project to be financed by China’s $40 billion Silk Road Fund. All of the power projects will be Chinese-owned, with the Pakistani government committed to buying electricity from China at a pre-determined rate. Pakistan’s status as China’s economic and security client will thus be cemented, precluding it from eventually following the example of Myanmar or Sri Lanka and forging a non-Chinese path.

To be sure, the relationship also brings major benefits for Pakistan. China provided critical assistance in building Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, including by reducing the likelihood of US sanctions or Indian retaliation. China still offers covert nuclear and missile assistance, reflected in the recent transfer of the launcher for the Shaheen-3, Pakistan’s nuclear-capable ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,750 kilometers.

Overtly, China offers Pakistan security assurances and political protection, especially diplomatic cover at the United Nations. For example, China recently vetoed UN action against Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based chief of the extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which, backed by Pakistani intelligence services, has carried out several terrorist attacks on Indian targets, including the Pathankot air base early this year. And last month, Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign-policy adviser, said that China has helped Pakistan to block India’s US-supported bid to gain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an export-control association.

A grateful Pakistan has given China exclusive rights to run Gwadar port for the next 40 years. It has also established a new 13,000-troop army division to protect the emerging economic corridor. And it has deployed police forces to shield Chinese nationals and construction sites from tribal insurgents and Islamist gunmen.

This is not to say that China is content to depend on Pakistani security forces. China’sstationing of its own troops in the Pakistani part of Kashmir for years, ostensibly to protect its ongoing strategic projects there, betrays its lack of confidence in Pakistani security arrangements – and suggests that China will continue to enlarge its military footprint in Pakistan.

But Pakistan’s behavior indicates that it is, for now, satisfied with its arrangement with China – a sentiment that is probably reinforced, if unconsciously, by the billions of dollars in aid the country receives each year from the US. As China continues to elbow its way into Pakistan’s politics and economy, increasingly turning the country into a colonial outpost, that sense of satisfaction will probably fade. But, by the time it does, it will probably be too late to change course.

© 1995-2016 Project Syndicate.

Nuclear power’s dark future  

Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times, November 26, 2014

Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Nuclear power constitutes the world’s most-subsidy-fattened energy industry, yet it faces an increasingly uncertain future. The global nuclear-power industry has enjoyed growing state subsidies over the years, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Despite the fat subsidies, new developments are highlighting the nuclear-power industry’s growing travails. For example, France — the “poster child” of atomic power — is rethinking its love affair with nuclear energy. Its Parliament voted last month to cut the country’s nuclear-generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources by emulating neighboring countries like Germany and Spain.

As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden petroleum sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. Such exports raise new challenges related to freshwater resources, nuclear safety and nuclear-weapons proliferation.

Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.

Six decades after Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavorable economics.

The just-released International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2014 report states: “Uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear — government policy, public confidence, financing in liberalized markets, competitiveness versus other sources of generation, and the looming retirement of a large fleet of older plants.” The stock of the state-owned French nuclear technology giant Areva recently tumbled after it cited major delays in its reactor projects and a “lackluster” global atomic-energy market to warn of an uncertain outlook for its business.

For example, the Areva-designed plant in Finland, on Olkiluoto Island, in running at least nine years behind schedule, with its cost expected to rise from €3.2 billion to almost €8.5 billion. Even in Areva’s home market, the Flamanville 3 reactor project in northern France is facing serious delays and cost overruns.

In Japan, the last of its 48 commercial reactors went offline in September 2013. Repeated polls have shown that the Japanese public remains opposed to nuclear restarts by a 2-to-1 margin, despite toughened safety regulations after the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Yet the southern city of Satsuma Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture recently gave its consent to restarting, as soon as early next year, two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company.

Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors. Plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, still averages about a decade, as underscored by the new reactors commissioned in the past decade. In fact, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 acknowledges that 49 of the 66 reactors currently under construction are plagued with delays and cost overruns.

Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half a century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times. Just in the past decade, average costs jumped from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to almost $8,000/kW.

In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17% in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13%, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5% since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years.

Yet the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

Before the Fukushima disaster, the global nuclear power industry — a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms — had been trumpeting a global “nuclear renaissance.” This spiel was largely anchored in hope.

However, the triple meltdown at Fukushima not only reopened old safety concerns but also has set in motion the renaissance of nuclear power in reverse. The dual imperative for costly upgrades post-Fukushima and for making the industry competitive, including by cutting back on the munificent government subsidies it enjoys, underscores nuclear power’s dimming future.

New nuclear plants in most countries are located in coastal regions so that these water-guzzling facilities can largely draw on seawater for their operations and not bring freshwater resources under strain.

But coastal areas are often not only heavily populated but also constitute prime real estate. Moreover, the projected greater frequency of natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis due to climate change, along with the rise of ocean levels, makes seaside reactors particularly vulnerable.

The risks that seaside reactors face from global-warming-induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated the Madras Atomic Power Station. But the reactor core could be kept in a safe shutdown mode because the electrical systems had been installed on higher ground than the plant level.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused significant damage at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Florida, but fortunately not to any critical system. And in a 2012 incident, an alert was declared at the New Jersey Oyster Creek nuclear power plant — the oldest operating commercial reactor in the U.S. — after water rose in its water intake structure during Hurricane Sandy, potentially affecting the pumps that circulate cooling water through the plant.

All of Britain’s nuclear power plants are located along the coast, and a government assessment has identified as many as 12 of the country’s 19 civil nuclear sites as being at risk due to rising sea levels. Several nuclear plants in Britain, as in a number of other countries, are just a few meters above sea level.

Yet even as Germany steps out of the nuclear power business, Britain is pressing ahead with a costly new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, underscoring the divisions among European countries over nuclear power. Britain indeed intends to build several more plants to replace its aging nuclear stations. The Hinkley Point project, however, is running years behind schedule, with the costs mounting.

Globally, nuclear power is set to face increasing challenges due to its inability to compete with other energy sources in pricing. Another factor is how to manage the rising volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities.

More fundamentally, without a breakthrough in fusion energy or greater commercial advances in the area that the U.S. has strived to block — breeder (and thorium) reactors — nuclear power is in no position to lead the world out of the fossil-fuel age.

Brahma Chellaney, a regular contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

© The Japan Times, 2014.

The Centrality of Nuclear Weapons

Brahma Chellaney

Paper presented to the Valdai Discussion Group, November 2014

downloadPower shifts are an inexorable phenomenon in history. The global power structure is not static but continually evolves. The international institutional structure, however, has remained largely static since the mid-twentieth century rather than evolving with the changing power realities and challenges. Reforming and restructuring the international system poses the single biggest challenge to preserving global peace, stability, and continued economic growth. A twenty-first world cannot remain indefinitely saddled with twentieth-century institutions and rules.

Although the world has changed fundamentally since the end of the World War II, one factor remains the same — nuclear weapons still represent power and force in international relations. Despite major military innovations and the deployment of an array of new weapon systems, nuclear weapons’ relevance or role has not changed. Indeed, five key points stand out:

1. Nuclear weapons have strategic and political utility. Think of Britain and France without nuclear weapons. They would become irrelevant, if not in international relations, then at least at the United Nations. Britain and France value nuclear weapons for their political utility. Russia must take comfort in the strategic utility of these weapons; without them, the United States would have assembled a “coalition of the willing” to take on Russia in response to the developments in Crimea and Ukraine.

Such is the strategic utility of nuclear weapons that U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to rule out the military option against Russia after the referendum in Crimea. He even distanced the U.S. from the “Budapest Memorandum,” the pact that was signed in 1994 to provide Ukraine security assurances about its territorial integrity in exchange for its relinquishing of the nuclear arsenal. After all, Russia remains a nuclear superpower.

2. Nuclear proliferation and the utility of nuclear weapons are linked. It is the very utility of nuclear weapons that serves as the main proliferation incentive. This means that the proliferation incentive will remain strong as long as nuclear weapons exist.

To be sure, the international nuclear nonproliferation regime has progressively become very stringent since the 1970s. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards in non-nuclear-weapons states, for example, have gone from being site-specific to becoming “full-scope” (comprehensive) in nature. The IAEA’s Additional Protocol empowers its inspectors to check even a non-nuclear facility in a non-nuclear-weapons state. There isn’t much room to further tighten the nonproliferation regime.

Still, the stringent nonproliferation regime has made proliferation very difficult or driven it underground. There are limits to what underground proliferation can accomplish. But there are also limits to what coercive enforcement of nonproliferation norms can achieve.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which came into force in 1970, was originally intended to prevent countries like Japan, West Germany and Italy from acquiring nuclear weapons. Japan, for example, did not ratify the treaty until 1976 — eight years after the NPT was concluded, and six years after the pact took effect. West Germany and Italy deposited their instruments of ratification only in 1975. After France conducted its first nuclear test in 1960 in the Sahara, West Germany was considered the most likely candidate to follow suit. West Germany first tried to block the conclusion of the NPT before seeking to influence the outcome of the negotiations.

The NPT also became the foundation for a number of regional nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) agreements, which include the Treaty of Tlatelolco (1969), establishing a NWFZ in Latin America’ the Treaty of Rarotonga (1986) in South Pacific; the Treaty of Bangkok (1997) signed by ASEAN members; the Treaty of Pelindaba (2009); and the Central Asian NWFZ (2009), which has all post-Soviet republics in Central Asia as its members. Regional NWFZ agreements were designed to strengthen the nonproliferation regime. Today, the NWFZs cover almost half of the world and include 115 states plus Mongolia, whose status as a one-state nuclear-weapon-free zone is recognized by UN General Assembly Resolution 3261. The effectiveness of the NWFZs depends on the NPT as the core foundation of the nonproliferation regime.

The challenges to the NPT, however, have been coming from outside the list of its original targets. NPT’s first test, in fact, came early — in May 1974 when India carried out a “peaceful nuclear explosion” (PNE). As India was a non-signatory and indeed had vowed to stay out of the NPT when the treaty was concluded, the test involved no breach of legal obligations. However, after the Indian test, PNEs quickly fell out of international favor, although the U.S. and the Soviet Union both had large PNE programs.

Looking back, the NPT has been a remarkably successful treaty, limiting nuclear-weapons states to a small number. Yet the NPT’s long-term challenge comes from the dichotomy it creates — that it is morally and legally reprehensible for most countries to pursue nuclear ambitions but morally and legally alright for a few states to rely on (and modernize their) nuclear weapons for security.

Today, the spotlight is on the nuclear programs in two states — Iran and North Korea and Iran — as well as on the potential nexus between terrorism and WMD.

North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un won’t give up the nuclear option because he understands the utility of nukes. After all, the United States used aerial bombardment to overthrow ruler Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, eight years after he surrendered Libya’s nuclear option in 2003. The big question today is whether Iran, as part of a rapprochement with the United States, would agree to at least freeze its nuclear program, if not give up its nuclear option.

3. Nuclear disarmament has fallen by the wayside. It has become little more than a pious slogan. The United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament (CD), for example, has been without real work for 18 years now.

It is significant that nuclear disarmament fell off the global agenda after the NPT was indefinitely extended in 1995. The NPT was originally conceived as a 25-year bargain between nuclear-weapons states and non-nuclear-weapons states. But as a result of the 1995 action, the treaty has become permanent. This action eliminated international pressure on the nuclear-weapons states in regard to their arsenals.

Not only has nuclear disarmament fallen by the wayside since, there is also little international attention on the nuclear-modernization programs currently underway. This means the five NPT nuclear powers and the three non-NPT nuclear-weapons states of India, Israel and Pakistan can pursue nuclear modernization with no real constraints.

Take Obama, who, having championed “a nuclear-free world,” has quietly pursued plans for an extensive expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, already the world’s most-expensive and most-sophisticated nuclear deterrent. As the New York Times reported on September 22, 2014, the United States plans to spend about $355 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, and up to $1 trillion over 30 years. Spending so much more money on nuclear weapons is simply not justified, given the changing nature of security threats. In fact, in mid-2014, an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal commission co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and retired Gen. John Abizaid called the Obama administration’s plans to expand the nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.” By pursuing a slightly less ambitious nuclear-modernization program, the United States can easily save billions of dollars and still keep the “triad” of delivery systems armed with the same number of nuclear warheads planned under the 2010 New START Treaty.

The real “success” of the NPT has been in reinforcing the system of extended deterrence by enabling countries such as those in NATO and others like Australia, Japan and South Korea to continue to rely on the U.S. for nuclear-umbrella protection. Minus the NPT, these countries would have been the most-likely candidates to go nuclear because they also happen to be the most-capable states technologically. So, the effect of the NPT has to strengthen extended deterrence.

Today, a key question that arises is whether any of the countries ensconced under the U.S. nuclear umbrella would be willing to forgo the benefits of extended deterrence in order to help lower the utility of nuclear weapons and give a boost to the cause of nuclear disarmament. After all, the security imperatives that prompted such countries more than half a century ago to seek nuclear-umbrella protection no longer are valid in a post-Cold War world.

To be sure, some of these states, especially Japan, have seen their regional security environment deteriorate and thus can ill-afford to renounce reliance on U.S. nuclear-umbrella protection. However, the majority of states basking under the U.S. nuclear umbrella find themselves today in relatively benign security environment. They extend from Canada and Norway to Portugal and Australia. Such states could take the lead to gradually wean themselves away from relying on extended nuclear deterrence.

4. Nuclear might provides the cover to some powers for engaging in acts that contravene global norms and international law. There are several examples of this.

For example, Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, reinforced by its conventional-military superiority, emboldens it to act preemptively at times, or to employ disproportionate force, as was seen recently in Israel’s Gaza war, which was triggered by the Hamas’s firing of crude, home-made rockets with no guidance.

Consider another example: Pakistan’s military generals export terror by playing nuclear poker. They export terrorism from behind the nuclear shield so as to prevent retaliation against their roguish actions.

One can argue that nuclear might also drives America’s interventionist impulse. America’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate president, Barack Obama, has been more at ease waging wars than in waging peace, as underlined by the launch of his presidency’s seventh military campaign in a Muslim country. His new war in Syria — which he initiated by bypassing the United Nations — is just the latest action of the United States that mocks international law. Other such actions in the past 15 years include the bombing of Serbia, the separation of Kosovo from Serbia, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq without UN Security Council authority, Gaddafi’s overthrow, the aiding of an insurrection in Syria, CIA renditions of terror suspects, and National Security Agency’s Orwellian surveillance program. Yet, paradoxically, Obama has escalated a sanctions campaign against Russia in the name of upholding international law.

5. In our rapidly changing world, most technologies tend to become obsolescent in a decade or two. But more than seven decades after they were invented, nuclear weapons still remain the preeminent mass-destruction technology.

Nuclear arsenals may have no deterrent effect on the pressing conflicts we face today. Yet, for the foreseeable future, nuclear weapons, with their unparalleled destructive capacity, will remain at the center of international power and force. Nuclear weapons, as the 2002 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review stated, will continue to play a “critical role” because they possess “unique properties.”

However — a century after chemical arms were introduced in World War I and nearly seven decades following the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the world is at the threshold of new lethal and precision weapons, as underlined by the advent of information weapons, anti-satellite weapons, and the extension of arms race to outer space and cyberspace.

The aforementioned points indicate that nuclear weapons will remain at the core of international power for the foreseeable future. Still, there is a widely held international misperception about the number of countries that rely on nuclear weapons for security. Their number is not just nine (the five NPT nuclear powers, the three non-NPT nuclear-weapons states of India, Israel and Pakistan, plus North Korea). A sizable number of additional countries rely on nuclear-umbrella protection — a fact often obscured.

Actually, the states that are currently ensconced under the U.S. nuclear umbrella number 30. Their number has been growing as part of the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In fact, the taproot of the ongoing U.S.-Russian tensions has been NATO’s aggressive expansion, including to the Baltics and the Balkans. Russia, however, drew a line in the sand when NATO announced in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO.”

The nuclear-umbrella protection provided by the U.S. extends to all members of NATO, a military alliance that has expanded from its original 12 members in 1949 to 28 states now. In1997, three former Warsaw Pact members, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, were invited to join NATO. Then, in 2004, seven more countries joined, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And in 2009, Albania and Croatia became the latest entrants to NATO.

NATO’s nuclear umbrella primarily relies on American nuclear weapons. However, in a contingency, British and French nuclear arsenals are also expected to play a role.

In addition to NATO members, the U.S. provides nuclear-umbrella protection to Japan (as part of the bilateral Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security of 1960), to South Korea (a commitment from 1958 that was reaffirmed by America after North Korea tested a nuclear device in 2006), and to Australia under the terms of ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty of 1951).

The U.S. nuclear umbrella, however, no longer covers New Zealand, whose accession to the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (Treaty of Rarotonga, 1985) and subsequent enactment of domestic measures to comply with the imperatives of the zone triggered a bitter diplomatic row with the United States. By contrast, another ANZUS member, Australia, remains under the American nuclear umbrella despite being a party to the Rarotonga Treaty.

The security alliances of the Soviet Union (which broke up into 15 separate countries) and those of today’s Russia also are believed to have incorporated nuclear-umbrella protection, although Moscow has never acknowledged that publicly. However, after the disbanding of the Warsaw Pact and the breakup of the Soviet Union, half of the ex-Soviet allies and breakaway states have been absorbed by NATO as members. Russia currently has a military alliance — known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The creation of the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in 2009 has only strengthened the dependence of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan (which are CSTO members) as well as of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on the Russian nuclear umbrella.

Against this background, the number of states that rely directly or indirectly on nuclear weapons for their security is substantial. From an international-law standpoint, however, extending nuclear deterrence to non-nuclear-weapons states violates the spirit, if not the text, of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Some, of course, have argued that it actually breaches the text of the NPT. After all, NATO’s nuclear doctrine is pivoted on nuclear sharing, and the United States has deployed nuclear weapons for decades on the territory of non-nuclear NATO members, often without their knowledge during the Cold War years. Now, the U.S. is believed to have approximately 500 tactical nuclear warheads in five NATO states — Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Until 1991, American tactical nukes were deployed in South Korea. The North Korean nuclear threat makes redeployment of U.S. nuclear capabilities in South Korea theoretically conceivable.

Nuclear proliferation in the future will hinge largely on the credibility of U.S. security guarantees as perceived by America’s key, technologically advanced allies. The future of the NPT regime, despite its tremendous success thus far, looks anything but certain. The treaty’s main challenges now come from within, not from its non-parties — India, Israel and Pakistan, which never signed the NPT and have developed nuclear weapons.

Significantly, technological forces are now playing a greater role in shaping international geopolitics and power equations than at any other time in history. The growing tide of new innovations has not only shrunk the shelf-life of most technologies, but also accelerated the weaponization of science. Such are the challenges from the accelerated weaponization of science that instead of disarmament, rearmament today looms large on the horizon, with the arms race being extended to outer space and cyberspace.

Grand speeches about a world without nuclear weapons are crowd-pleasers at the United Nations. But in truth, pursuing disarmament is like chasing butterflies — enjoyable for some retired old men but never-ending. Until nuclear weapons remain the premier mass-destruction technology, disarmament will stay a mirage. The Chemical Weapons Convention became possible only when chemical weapons ceased to be militarily relevant for the major powers and instead threatened to become the poor state’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). If the rapid pace of technological change creates a new class of surgical-strike WMD that makes nuclear weapons less relevant, nuclear disarmament would likely take center-stage.

Nevertheless, it has become difficult to palm off nonproliferation as disarmament. What many members of the international community want to see are genuine efforts to substantially reduce nuclear arsenals and to erode the utility of WMD in national military strategies. Today, the world has a treaty (although not in force) that bans all nuclear testing — the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) — but no treaty to outlaw the use of nuclear weapons. In other words, those that are party to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) are prohibited from testing a nuclear weapon at home but are legally unencumbered to test the weapon by dropping it over some other state. This anomaly must be rectified.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi; a fellow of the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Berlin; and an affiliate with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London. He is the author of nine books, including an international bestseller, Asian Juggernaut (Harper, New York, 2010).

False Promise of Nuclear Power

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, November 19, 2014

wind-nuclearNew developments highlight the growing travails of the global nuclear-power industry. France — the “poster child” of atomic power — plans to cut its nuclear-generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources, like its neighbours, Germany and Spain. As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden oil sheikhdoms. Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are located in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.

Six decades after Lewis Strauss, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavourable economics. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2014, released last week, states: “Uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear — government policy, public confidence, financing in liberalized markets, competitiveness versus other sources of generation, and the looming retirement of a large fleet of older plants.”

Heavily subsidy reliant

Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors. Plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, still averages almost a decade, as underscored by the new reactors commissioned in the past decade.

The key fact about nuclear power is that it is the world’s most-subsidy-fattened energy industry, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half-a-century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times.

In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17 per cent in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13 per cent, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5 per cent since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years.

Yet, the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

Fukushima’s impact

Before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the global nuclear power industry — a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms — had been trumpeting a global “nuclear renaissance.” This spiel was largely anchored in hope. However, the triple meltdown at Fukushima has not only reopened old safety concerns but also set in motion the renaissance of nuclear power in reverse. The dual imperative for costly upgrades post-Fukushima and for making the industry competitive, including by cutting back on the munificent government subsidies, underscores nuclear power’s dimming future.

It is against this background that India’s itch to import high-priced reactors must be examined. To be sure, India should ramp up electricity production from all energy sources. There is definitely a place for safe nuclear power in India’s energy mix. Indeed, the country’s domestic nuclear-power industry has done a fairly good job both in delivering electricity at a price that is the envy of Western firms and, as the newest indigenous reactors show, in beating the mean global plant-construction time frame.

No competitive bidding

India should actually be encouraging its industry to export its tested and reliable midsize reactor model, which is better suited for the developing countries, considering their grid limitations. Instead, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, after making India the world’s largest importer of conventional arms since 2006, set out to make the country the world’s single largest importer of nuclear power reactors — a double whammy for Indian taxpayers, already heavily burdened by the fact that India is the only major economy in Asia that is import-dependent rather than export driven.

To compound matters, the Singh government opted for major reactor imports without a competitive bidding process. It reserved a nuclear park each for four foreign firms (Areva of France, Westinghouse and GE of the U.S., and Atomstroyexport of Russia) to build multiple reactors at a single site. It then set out to acquire land from farmers and other residents, employing coercion in some cases.

Having undercut its leverage by dedicating a park to each foreign vendor, it entered into price negotiations. Because the imported reactors are to be operated by the Indian state, the foreign vendors have been freed from producing electricity at marketable rates. In other words, Indian taxpayers are to subsidise the high-priced electricity generated.

Westinghouse, GE and Areva also wish to shift the primary liability for any accident to the Indian taxpayer so that they have no downside risk but only profits to reap. If a Fukushima-type catastrophe were to strike India, it would seriously damage the Indian economy. A recent Osaka City University study has put Japan’s Fukushima-disaster bill at a whopping $105 billion.

To Dr. Singh’s discomfiture, three factors put a break on his reactor-import plans — the exorbitant price of French- and U.S.-origin reactors, the accident-liability issue, and grassroots opposition to the planned multi-reactor complexes. After Fukushima, the grassroots attitude in India is that nuclear power is okay as long as the plant is located in someone else’s backyard, not one’s own. This attitude took a peculiar form at Kudankulam, in Tamil Nadu, where a protest movement suddenly flared just when the Russian-origin, twin-unit nuclear power plant was virtually complete.

India’s new nuclear plants, like in most other countries, are located in coastal regions so that these water-guzzling facilities can largely draw on seawater for their operations and not bring freshwater resources under strain. But coastal areas are often not only heavily populated but also constitute prime real estate. The risks that seaside reactors face from global-warming-induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated parts of the Madras Atomic Power Station. But the reactor core could be kept in a safe shutdown mode because the electrical systems had been installed on higher ground than the plant level.

One-sided

Dr. Singh invested so such political capital in the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement that much of his first term was spent in negotiating and consummating the deal. He never explained why he overruled the nuclear establishment and shut down the CIRUS research reactor — the source of much of India’s cumulative historic production of weapons-grade plutonium since the 1960s. In fact, CIRUS had been refurbished at a cost of millions of dollars and reopened for barely two years when Dr. Singh succumbed to U.S. pressure and agreed to close it down.

Nevertheless, the nuclear accord has turned out to be a dud deal for India on energy but a roaring success for the U.S. in opening the door to major weapon sales — a development that has quietly made America the largest arms supplier to India. For the U.S., the deal from the beginning was more geostrategic in nature (designed to co-opt India as a quasi-ally) than centred on just energy.

Even if no differences had arisen over the accident-liability issue, the deal would still not have delivered a single operational nuclear power plant for a more than a decade for two reasons — the inflated price of Western-origin commercial reactors and grassroots opposition. Areva, Westinghouse and GE signed Memorandums of Understanding with the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) in 2009, but construction has yet to begin at any site.

India has offered Areva, with which negotiations are at an advanced stage, a power price of Rs.6.50 per kilowatt hour — twice the average electricity price from indigenous reactors. But the state-owned French firm is still holding out for a higher price. If Kudankulam is a clue, work at the massive nuclear complexes at Jaitapur in Maharashtra (earmarked for Areva), Mithi Virdi in Gujarat (Westinghouse), and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh (GE) is likely to run into grassroots resistance. Indeed, if India wishes to boost nuclear-generating capacity without paying through its nose, the better choice — given its new access to the world uranium market — would be an accelerated indigenous programme.

Globally, nuclear power is set to face increasing challenges due to its inability to compete with other energy sources in pricing. Another factor is how to manage the rising volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities. More fundamentally, without a breakthrough in fusion energy or greater commercial advances in the area that the U.S. has strived to block — breeder (and thorium) reactors — nuclear power is in no position to lead the world out of the fossil-fuel age.

(Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.)

© The Hindu, 2014.

Southern Asia: A unique nuclear triangle

Brahma Chellaney

Politics and Strategy: The Survival Editors’ Blog

In the two decades since I published an essay in Survival on South Asian nuclearization, one of my conclusions has been proven right, but another wrong. The South Asian nuclear genie remains uncontrolled, as I anticipated. But contrary to my doubt then, India and Pakistan have completed the transition from covert to overt capabilities by conducting nuclear-explosive tests, adopting a nuclear doctrine and deploying nuclear weapons. More strangely, Pakistan now boasts the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal. Indeed, according to several international estimates, its arsenal of nuclear warheads is larger than that of India, which, with China to its north, faces two closely aligned nuclear-armed neighbours.

India’s recent test launch of the Agni V ballistic missile, which can reach Beijing, served as a fresh reminder that the Indian nuclear-deterrence programme is primarily focused on China, with Pakistan remaining subordinate in nuclear planning. To be sure, it was the Sino-Pakistani nuclear nexus — cemented by transfers of Chinese nuclear and missile technology to Islamabad — that propelled India to shed its posture of nuclear ambiguity and go overtly nuclear in 1998. Since then, China’s rapidly accumulating military and economic power, and its increasing assertiveness on territorial disputes, have increased the importance of the nuclear deterrent for India. Given its retaliation-only posture, India has focused its attention in the past decade on erecting a triad of land-based, air-deliverable and submarine-based nuclear capabilities that can survive an enemy first strike.

Strikingly, neither India’s economic rise nor its graduated action to put in place a ‘small but credible’ nuclear force is seen internationally as a threat, unlike the deep concerns that China’s ascent continues to generate. A 2008 civilian nuclear deal between the United States and India, in fact, has come to symbolise their new strategic partnership. International proliferation-related concern instead has focused on Pakistan’s rapid expansion of its nuclear arsenal that has put it on a path to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth-largest nuclear-weapons power. Unstable Pakistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid, yet it has ramped up production of bomb-grade materials.

Nuclear weapons have not prevented Pakistan’s slide into a jihadist dungeon. Given its military’s sponsorship of jihad under the nuclear umbrella and the jihadist infiltration of the armed forces, the biggest international concern relates to the safety of Pakistani nuclear warheads and fissile materials. Compounding this concern is the fact that Pakistan’s military, intelligence and nuclear establishments remain outside civilian oversight. Such concern, along with major gaps in American intelligence about Pakistan’s weapons of mass destruction, has made that country a principal target of US ‘black budget’ surveillance, according to recent revelations. Yet the only plausible scenario of Pakistani nukes falling into Islamist hands is an intra-military struggle in which the jihadists within the armed forces gain ascendancy.

Southern Asia remains the only region in the world where three contiguous neighbours, sharing disputed land frontiers, form a nuclear triangle that pits two of them against the third party. The regional intersection of nuclear issues, terrorism, territorial disputes, competition over natural resources and nationalism creates complex and dangerous challenges. This region will continue to serve as a reminder that any progress in an inter-state context on nuclear issues, including nuclear confidence-building measures, cannot happen independently of the broader geopolitics.

Brahma Chellaney is a Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research. His article,‘The Challenge of Nuclear Arms Control in South Asia’, appeared in Survival, 35:3 (1993).