When Allies Get Nervous

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Will South Korea or Japan go nuclear?

In a nuclear world, nuclear weapons are needed to deter major attacks, but who should possess these instruments of deterrence? The United States has long been committed to stemming nuclear proliferation by both potential adversaries and friends. Today the challenge of keeping nonnuclear states from going nuclear may be growing, perhaps nowhere quite as much as in northeast Asia.

Andrew Marshall, former head of the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment, which is charged with identifying threats the nation might face in upcoming decades, once wrote that any realistic national security strategy must consider the possibility that efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation will fail. But policymakers, legislators, and publics too often take for granted the nuclear status quo.

Sustaining nonproliferation and extended deterrence—that is, deterring not just an attack upon us but also any on our allies—has never been easy or automatic. Early in the Cold War, for instance, France chose to acquire nuclear capability amid doubts about American promises. One can hardly blame South Korea or Japan for their whispered nuclear desires when they have Kim Jong-un living next door. In the face of North Korea’s nuclear advances and China’s maritime aggressions, those whispers are growing louder.

Read the full article on The Weekly Standard.

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Tom Karako, "When Allies Get Nervous," Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 2, 2018, last modified April 27, 2021, https://missilethreat.csis.org/allies-get-nervous/.