Public Forum "Arms Control in East Asia: Past, Present, and the Future"

Date: Tuesday, August 5, 2014, 13:30-17:00
Venue: Iwasaki Koyata Memorial Hall, International House of Japan
Speakers: Gareth Evans (Australia National University)
Jeffrey Lewis (Monterey Institute of International Studies)
Scott Sagan (Stanford University)
Dingli Shen (Fudan University)
Yasushi Noguchi (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)
Nobumasa Akiyama (Hitotsubashi University)
Kiichi Fujiwara (The University of Tokyo)
Language: English/Japanese simultaneous translation
Hosted by: Security Studies Unit, Policy Alternatives Research Institute, the University of Tokyo
In cooperation with the International House of Japan

The Security Studies Unit was delighted to organise and host a workshop in the form of public forum under the title “Arms Control in East Asia: Past, Present, and the Future”. The event took place on Tuesday, August 5th, 2014, at the International House of Japan, Roppongi (Tokyo).

The forum saw the participation of very distinguished, internationally recognised experts on the topic of arms control and nuclear disarmament from several countries, from the US to China, to Australia, working together with Japanese academics and diplomats.

Professor Fujiwara premised the event with an intervention in which he recalled the moral imperative of arms control, as imposed upon everybody concerned with the future of mankind by the sheer nature of modern weapons of mass destruction, and foremost of nuclear weapons. Such moral imperative is nowhere more wholeheartedly felt than in Japan during the days in which the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are remembered.

Photo: Nakagawa Nobuaki

He highlighted the challenges which the East Asian region faces in relations to nuclear weapons and disarmament. Asia is the area of the world where the most nuclear-arms countries are located, and the only continent where the number of warhead stockpiles is increasing.

In this context, the security threat of a nuclear armed North Korea looms as the most prominent concern for regional and global peace for East Asian countries. However, precisely this kind of threat seems to be perpetuating the often ill-formulated idea that countries need a “nuclear umbrella” under which their security will be guaranteed. In the light of the proclaimed principle of a nuclear-free world as embraced by many, there is a paradoxical tension between support for total nuclear disarmament and security policies relying systematically on the provision of nuclear retaliation in case of attack. This paradox seems to be particularly strident in the case of Japan.

Nuclear disarmament has progressed noticeably since the end of the Cold War, but at closer scrutiny this only holds true for negotiations between the US and Russia. In all other cases of nuclear-armed states, disarmament efforts have been minimal if not non-existent. Moreover, because of the currently strained relations between Washington and Moscow, everything seems to be more uncertain for the future.

The workshop was divided in two sessions.

The first session, under the heading “Bringing Arms Control Back In”, was chaired by SSU Director Professor Kiichi Fujiwara, and the topic of re-instating and strengthening the effort for the nuclear disarmament was discussed by Professor Jeffrey Lewis from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and Professor Dingli Shen from Fudan University.

Professor Lewis has opened his remark underscoring the difficulty in articulating a discourse on nuclear disarmament while international tensions are on the rise, not only between the US and Russia, but also in the East Asia region around China. And of course, the North Korean threat continues to pose a severe security challenge. In Professor Lewis’s view, the reason why the prospects for disarmament seem so poor at the present time is that regional aggression is now possible again. This may also be a side effect of nuclear weapons, in the sense that states possessing such weapons may be emboldened to conduct conventional aggression.

This can be a good illustrative example of the fact that nuclear weapons alone cannot solve any political problem, left alone guaranteeing security. The current situation is actually unfolding as the security-insecurity paradox, where the “security” produced by nuclear weapon possession unleashes insecurity in terms of conventional operations. But even if conventional aggression remains a worrying element, there is no reason to weaken efforts for nuclear disarmament. Therefore, even if it is rather clear that major world military actors have been working for years on programmes of posture re-organisation, cooperation on nuclear disarmament should continue. The US is pursuing several projects for the enhancement of its conventional strike forces and anti-missile defence, while China is strengthening its defence and maritime projections capabilities. But all this does not impede the two powers to work on nuclear disarmament, particularly in terms of keeping bilateral dialogue open.

Strategic stability between China and the US should not come at the expense of regional stability. The US should deliver to Beijing the message that the American nuclear potential, and current modernisation programmes, are not directed against China, while Beijing should reassure the US and its allies that Chinese nuclear forces are defensive in nature, and they are not intended to impose a settlement of regional disputes upon the US and Japan. China should also keep the number of weapons consistent with the current level.

Finally, Professor Lewis recalled the tragic suffering of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the most powerful reminder of everybody’s duty to work for nuclear disarmament.

Professor Shen lamented the difficult situation of international diplomacy, especially between China and Japan. Somehow, the task of managing differences has become more burdensome since the time when Prime Minister Tanaka visited Beijing in 1972, but there should be no space for surrendering to pessimism. The importance of dialogue in this respect remains paramount. On the point of nuclear disarmament, it is important to act pragmatically, as well as symbolically. Although there is a discernible rationale for China to continue the modernisation of its armed forces in the face of rising global geopolitical tensions, it is important that the Chinese government too renews its efforts for nuclear arms control. Therefore, it is recommendable that Beijing remains faithful to the declared no-first-use policy, not only against non-nuclear armed countries but against all countries. Professor Shen has revealed that he has personally advocated a symbolic unilateral disarmament for instance with the reduction of the Chinese warheads from 200 to 190. Such a step would not reduce China’s deterrent potential, but it would provide a strong signal in favour of arms reduction, even with the current constrains on access to China’s nuclear weapons related information.

While it is rather clear that the US and Russia must be the leaders in any disarmament efforts, China can collaborate with all parties. On a political level, Beijing is looking for recognition of its equal political status of great power with the US. There are many concerns about the composition of disputes in the East Asian region, but the key to solve them probably lies in finding ways to “agree to disagree”, i.e. a modus videndi which shall include the understanding and respect for political divides stemming from cultural differences.

The second session, “Promoting Nuclear Disarmament”, was chaired by Scott Sagan, Professor at Stanford University, and saw the participation of Professor Nobumasa Akiyama (Hitotsubashi University), Professor Gareth Evans (Australian National University), and Mr Yasushi Noguchi (from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan).

Professor Sagan began his brief intervention by underscoring how the difficult task of nuclear disarmament is not exclusive to nuclear weapons states. Even the letter of art. 6 of the Non-Proliferation-Treaty (NPT) calls upon “all state members of the Treaty”, to work together in good faith for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Indeed, non-nuclear-weapon states can do a great deal. Professor Sagan suggested two main responsibilities. Firstly, there should be a collective effort for the internationalisation of the nuclear fuel process, both for uranium enrichment and plutonium re-processing. The point here is that any country possessing such technologies could easily exit the non-proliferation regime and produce nuclear weapons. Such prospect makes complete disarmament unlikely. Secondly, non-nuclear-weapon states can influence the strategic posture and doctrine of nuclear-weapon states, particularly through the ways in which they articulate their need for security guarantees.

Professor Akiyama’s intervention focused on the centrality of the humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapons and their possible use. There is a rising international and domestic concern on this point. Indeed, the consideration of aspects of international security must take in consideration the humanitarian aspects of the use of nuclear weapons as well. Japan occupies in this respect a not-easy position. Last year, under the initiative of New Zealand, a document was formulated at UN level which stated that under no circumstances should nuclear weapons be used. Japan has subscribed to this document, but at the same time subscribed to the joint statement initiated by Australia which acknowledges nuclear deterrence. This signifies concerns which Tokyo holds regarding the effectiveness of deterrence in case of threat to its security.

Unfortunately, in response to growing international tensions, a way of thinking about nuclear weapons which does not emphasises humanitarianism is resisting and can possibly expand in the immediate future. However, the way forward is the integration of moral and humanitarian concerns into military doctrine.

Professor Evans opened his intervention by stating that he will be focusing on who should do what. And the first thing to be done is certainly never to lose sight of the enormous emotional power of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the sake of nuclear disarmament. He has confessed to the audience that every visit to Hiroshima reinforces in him the conviction that nuclear weapons are the most inhumane weapons in history, and they should consequently be banned. It is important that the message of Hiroshima continues to be delivered, and delivered effectively.

While in agreement with the cypher of the humanitarian argument, Professor Evans expressed the view that the humanitarian argument alone is not going to do the job of convincing political leaders on disarmament. The largely emotional humanitarian argument has to be articulated in rational, smart ways in order to achieve realistic goals. Therefore, there is little point to insist on a total disarmament by 2025, or 2030, simply because, a part from the political side, even simple technical reasons make such target unreachable. However, a large scale reduction in warheads is possible. A minimisation agenda is consequently the most likely to be productive. A world with 2,000 warheads may not look as good as one with zero nuclear weapons, but it will be certainly better than the current world with 16,000 or so warheads.

On the point of what the various actors should do, China should remain faithful to its own no-first-use policy. Furthermore, Beijing should refrain from building more nuclear weapons, thus keeping the current number of warheads. China should also allow more transparency concerning its nuclear sector and its nuclear arsenal. A second message goes to the US. Washington is certainly in a position to make some unilateral steps towards disarmament, even just at symbolic level. There is concern that current military modernisation programmes in the US, particularly the anti-missile defence initiative, may be regarded as altering the strategic equilibrium by Russia and China. A final message goes to the US allies, especially to Japan, and it addresses the issue of extended deterrence. None of the US allies can continue forever to stay in the paradoxical situation of desiring a nuclear-free world on the one hand, but wanting extended deterrence from the US, even against non-nuclear threats.

Mr Noguchi stated that his intervention is not necessarily the position of the Japanese government, although he will try to illustrate the current governmental position as much as he can. He has articulated the view that, in order to grasp the essence of the current situation in East Asia, since there is no framework in East Asia to pursue nuclear disarmament, one should inevitably start from considering the global approach to nuclear weapons, and the NPT. The NPT is the tool to tackle most of the problems which are inherent to the issue of disarmament. From a Japanese perspective, the most severe challenge to Japan’s security is the development of missile and nuclear programmes in North Korea. If North Korea were to move towards a non-nuclear status, the NPT will offer the legal basis for this. And even though the NPT is a discriminatory treaty, where the “big five” are treated differently from all other countries in the world, it still acts as the platform which demands nuclear disarmament to both nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon states.

Nuclear disarmament prospects in the next period seem to rely on the success of the upcoming round of the NPT Review Conference. There are two key elements which will determine progress on this matter. One is the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East, the other being the participation of the “big five” to the conference on the humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapons, to be hosted in Vienna in December.

While Professor Evans and others have highlighted the paradox of Japan and other US allies advocating disarmament while at the same time demanding extended deterrence, Mr Noguchi did not see the two ideas to be inherently contradictory, as they may somehow co-exist. In particular, Japan’s insistence on the importance of deterrence is justified by the severe security circumstances in the region. Tokyo’s demand for nuclear deterrence is therefore inevitable, and it does not contradict the manifested will to live in a world without nuclear weapons. Mr Noguchi has also recalled that, according to the principle enunciated by Foreign Minister Kishida, nuclear weapons should be used only and exclusively in the extreme, ultimate case. Finally, again following the words of Mr Kishida, international efforts should concentrate on reduction of the number of warheads, although negotiations should move from the bilateral to the multi-lateral level, and efforts should be made in order to improve transparency and access to information on nuclear arsenals and related facilities.