Multipolarity and the Global Nuclear Balance

A global game of musical chairs involving nuclear weapons

Wed, Apr 13, 2016
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Adding North Korea injects some excitement to the Great Game

The author is an Italian industrialist and Honorary member of the Academy of Science of the Institut de France


Currently the strategic and global nuclear balance is dependent on three factors which are closely linked.

The first is related to Europe, which was marginalized after the end of the Cold War and will remain so for years to come. The European Union, both the Euro area and the EU-28, has no overall strategy for the future. It has no credible nuclear weapons outside NATO, not even the French-British duo, stemming from divergent interests.

Europe is destined for a poor integration of outsiders, having lost the specific "third world war" called globalization, with the Middle East and the Maghreb the equivalent of what Southern Europe was at the beginning of reunification process sufficient only to put pressure on the USSR and its military pact.

President Obama’s geo-strategic policies, which will surely be maintained by his successor, is to encircle the Russian Federation, and finally China - hence the new strategic alliance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

In fact, China will be the next global competitor of the United States, both at the Euro-Mediterranean level and in the Pacific region, which will be increasingly important for the United States.

NATO is destined to be reconfigured in this context, because it can no longer unite two strategic axes which are progressively moving apart, the European Union and the United States.

Rethinking the Atlantic Alliance means, above all, reformulating the nuclear threat.

This means that NATO, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United Nations, all the pillars on which the post-war world has been based so far.

NATO was designed for a decisive nuclear strike against the Warsaw Pact, a defensive role in relation to a ground invasion.

At the beginning, there was no linkage between Central European defense and protecting the link between the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

However, the Warsaw Pact has always considered nuclear weapons as effective as any other, considering the magnitude of a struggle to conquer Europe - which Raymond Aron called the "battle for the great Central European plain". The second new geopolitical factor regards Asia, where regionalization of geopolitical tensions and theories is growing.China wants the security of its seas and full control over the terrestrial area stretching from Xingkiang to Afghanistan and the point of contact between the Heartland and the largest regional sea in the world, namely the Mediterranean, which will be the hub of global development.

In China’s logic, Land and Sea - the two axes of Carl Schmitt’ strategic thinking - are a continuum, not an opposition between Anglosaxon Thucydidean "thalassocrats" and European and Roman-Germanic chthonic forces.

Furthermore China will have ever more serious conflicts with Japan, which has timidly begun to rear, ending the situation imposed upon it by the General MacArthur after the end of World War II. Russia and China have turned the "world without nuclear weapons" proposed by President Obama during the recent summit held in Washington into a world without non-US nuclear weapons.

China wants either full security vis a vis Taiwan, with a military projection onto the Pacific, or its de facto integration into the Republic of China. This will inevitably lead to very strong tensions with Japan, but we do not know to what extent it can count on US support in this new Asian scenario.

The third factor in the global geopolitical transformation is the Middle East. It was militarily divided between Sunnis and Shiites after the Cold War, deprived of safeguards and controls. Yet neither of the two regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, could implement a geopolitical project for the whole region.Integrating the Middle East chaos into an area without global geopolitical guidance, except for oil blackmail, and with now obsolete weapons, as is currently the case for the EU, is an invitation to wage war, not peace. Moreover, oil is causing tensions on world markets both because its price is driven by sectoral futures and because the costs of the Sunni/Shiite conflict cannot be managed due to their ever smaller oil reserves and their respective needs for internal stability.

If Iran or Saudi Arabia were to expand, they would acquire new energy resources, but by doing so they would destabilize their markets and depress the oil price while carrying military expenses.

Not to mention the US and Canadian shale oil and gas industry, which is currently undergoing a deep crisis because of the oil price, but which, in the future, could suffice for North American domestic consumption. Tensions in the Greater Middle East, are bound to remain for an unpredictable lapse of time.

Furthermore, the United States have recently increased funding to update its nuclear arsenal by over 1 billion dollars. This includes inserting nuclear weapons into high-precision carriers, in a strategic perspective in which they would operate in correlation with conventional military structures. For example, the US Ohio-class submarines, the most efficient at the nuclear level, will be fully up-dated by 2031. Newly designed non-nuclear US weapons are already being tested on the ground.

This is also happening in the Russian Federation, and China.We have reached the "second nuclear age" and it is almost useless to talk about old nuclear arsenals without connecting the reductions to the new geopolitical and technological environment which, like it or not, is today multipolar.

Chinese fears of a new arms race are well-founded. It would however take place in a strategically diversifying context, traditional global contact points being de facto obsolete.

The fourth Nuclear Summit of 2016, with more than 56 participating nations, excluding Russia, which did not accept the invitation, is a turning point for the redesign of the nuclear potential.

However it is worth recalling that the world has really changed.

Russia considers President Obama’s proposals and US policy in the Middle East as potentially hostile actions, not to mention the new deployments of North American weapons and soldiers throughout the old Warsaw Pact area.

Russia does not want to be regionalized and China suspects that NATO-US encirclement of Russia is the second line of a forward defense, whose primary goal is China’s terrestrial containment. An encirclement that would include South Asia’s regional seas, up to the US-NATO and EU defense lines, as well as Japan’s (and South Korea’s).

Within this framework, how should we regard the North Korean nuclear issue? North Korea has a nuclear capacity for many reasons: 1) To raise the price of its possible reunification with South Korea, but also, 2) To ensure its autonomy after the definition of borders inside the peninsula, and finally, 3) to marginally support both Russia’s and China’s defensive nuclear potential.

North Korea has never really given up the idea of an "anti-imperialist" linkage with Russia and China, but now the two former big Communist countries operate on their own. And furthermore, Russia has freed up the area between Ukraine and the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

North Korea carried out nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and even in January 2016, although it is unlikely that the device is a thermonuclear one, as claimed. It cannot reasonably use its nuclear arsenal for security although China continues to offer lukewarm support to Kim Yong Un’s regime.

North Korea does not need to secure its regional sea, where the only hypothetical threat would come from a South Korean ground offensive combined with US missiles. this would immediately trigger reactions by China, Russia, India, Iran and even Saudi Arabia, threatened by the warheads deployed in response to attacks against North Korea, an option which, for the time being, must be ruled out.

Kim Yong Un’s Nodong missiles have a range of 1,300 kilometres and the Musudan missiles have a range of 4,000 kilometres,while the Taepodong 1 and 2 missiles have a ranges of 2,000 and 8,000 kilometers, respectively.

A global threat from a country like North Korea is not a real threat, but rather insurance on the life of the regime.

If the regime melts  into the "capitalist" South, Kim Yong Un would play an armed role with the Central Asian landmass. Conversely, if North Korea remains a sort of Marxist-Leninist Shangri-La, its nuclear potential will be useful to obtain better economic and political conditions from China and Russia, which would want to integrate a reluctant North Korea into their continental set-up.

In a not too distant future, it would not even be unthinkable to "fluidify" the North Korean Armed Forces into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which could eventually also be useful for some Western countries.

The six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States started in 2003, immediately after North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, the denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula is no longer a realistic project.

Moreover, unlike what happened in 2003 - and this implies a specific North Korean interpretation of US actions against the jihad in Central Asia – today all participants in the talks have diversified and sometimes conflicting nuclear strategies.

China has an all-out military nuclear capacity, which will gradually be extended for the purpose of protecting its economic and strategic expansion.

The United States also have a comprehensive nuclear system which, however, does not sufficiently differentiate between high-risk areas and areas in which a reduction of US military pressure would be useful, because it is the result of the Cold War and of a sort of compulsion to repeat it.

Russia wants a nuclear system to protect its South and its oil areas, as well as projecting its power onto the orphans of the Warsaw Pact, with a strategic, but peaceful, expansion towards the Mediterranean basin and the Indian region.

Thus, it is useless to unite the so called "six parties” in order to reduce the North Korean threat, for they reach an agreement at night, then quarrel during the day.

Furthermore, nuclear talks should be combined with talks on chemical and biological weapons, as well as with any discussion held at the Summit on the new weapon systems being tested.

If North Korea were to accept a curbing of its nuclear potential, it would immediately be tempted to expand its research into other non-conventional weapons - overtly or covertly.

We must avoid this by holding global talks with a basic goal, first and foremost, to ensure the sovereignty of North Korea, an useless remnant of the Cold War, in which USSR decision-makers thought they could wage many regional wars, fomenting clashes in the entire region from Iran to northern Vietnam, to weaken NATO and US forces and de facto encircle the European region, neutralizing it vis a vis the Warsaw Pact.

Indochina’s destabilization would directly threaten Japan, isolate US bases in the Pacific and finally bring the Communist threat to California’s coast. This pincer movement succeeded only partially, and only for Vietnam, the central axis breaking the so-called US "pearl necklace”, with possible Communist ground control of the Straits of Malacca from the “liberated” South Vietnam.

This would enable North Korea to dilute its Nuclear and Biological-Chemical potential, at first along the Russian axis and then along the Chinese one.

In fact, UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea seem to mainly damage Russian strategic interests. Russia, however, is also fed up with North Korea’s nuclear activity, which isolate the Korean peninsula and severely undermine Russian plans for controlling the routes from the Persian Gulf to China and South East Asia, where Russia’s wide interests are destined to grow.

Furthermore, Russia still regards Southeast Asia as the base for the military security of southern Siberia and hence has no interest in destabilizing the Korean peninsula. On the contrary, its interest in stabilizing North Korea’s NBC arsenal is great. Therefore no more six-party talks, but rather a tripartite mechanism between China, Russia and the United States, in which the United States would ensure North Korea’s safety from US attacks, while Russia could project part of its nuclear missile arsenal, gradually defusing North Korean carriers.

Finally, China could back part of North Korea’s economic development, by ensuring its North-eastern borders and expanding the "Special Economic Zones" (SEZs), which have always floundered.

The first North Korean SEZ was Razon, built in the Raijn-Sombong area in 1991. It is strategic because it could link the inland areas of China to the sea.

Sinuiju was founded in 2002 on the Yongbion river but, shortly after its creation, the Sino-Dutch businessman who ran it was put under investigation for fraud in China, while the SEZ project continues without great success.

The Kaesong SEZ, at the border between the two Koreas and spreading onto the territory of both, is not yet in full swing, while the two leaders who created it, Kim Jong Il and Roo Moh Youn, planned a new SEZ in Haejou, along the coast.

The most recent SEZs, Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa, on the islands bearing their respective names, with fourteen new economic zones planned by North Korea.

North Korea’s Nuclear and Biochemical potential and the expansion of its old and new SEZs, would be mainly supported by China, while the Russian Federation, in a tripartite initiative with China and the United States, would support the North Korean uranium and plutonium cycle, with criteria similar to those adopted before and after the JCPOA with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Otherwise, the old Cold War between the two Koreas could overheat, ignite and set fire to the link between the Greater Middle East and the Central Asian Heartland - a disaster which is no good to anyone.

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