Analysis: Focus on a nuclear Iran obscures other developing nuclear threats

The US and the West have done little to update their defense doctrines for dealing with the burgeoning and evolving nuclear threats posed in other corners of the world.

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August 26, 2015 04:00
4 minute read.
A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally

A man holds up a sign as he and several thousand other protestors demonstrate during a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The world is distracted.

The Iranian threat, as serious as it is, continues to overshadow the nuclear threats posed by the North Korea- South Korea fault line and the Pakistan-India fault line – both active this week – not to mention what experts say are new and increasingly likely scenarios of limited nuclear weapons use by Russia or China.

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North and South Korea regularly have conventional military flareups, with Pyongyang frequently ready to rattle the nuclear saber as an ultimate threat.

The most recent spat over North Korean land mine blasts causing South Korean soldiers’ injuries, followed by South Korean broadcasting propaganda into the North, appears to have been resolved.

North Korea has back-handedly apologized for the injuries from the land mines and the South is due to cease the broadcasts.

But many say that the opacity of the North’s still relatively new leader Kim Jong- Un wielding multiple nuclear weapons still warrants more global attention than is being given.

Pakistan and India’s most recent spat is still unresolved, with Monday’s scheduled talks on ongoing terrorism emanating from Kashmir against India and recent heavy gunfire between the countries canceled by India at the last moment due to its anger with Pakistan for meeting with Kashmiri rebels.



In response to India’s canceling the talks, Pakistan on Tuesday rattled its nuclear saber, reminding India that “it is a nuclear power” and cannot be intimidated.

Pakistan is a country with top intelligence officials who conspire with terrorists against the West. A top Pakistani nuclear scientist was likely the largest nuclear proliferator in recent memory and it already possesses 100- 120 nuclear warheads.

Yet the world has given little attention to addressing the Pakistani nuclear threat generally or even when there are blow-ups, like the recent dispute with India.

Then there are the newly unpredictable and assertive Russia and China fronts.

Russia, with up to 7,700 nuclear weapons, was thought to be stable until its Ukraine campaign. But both its conventional use of force and nuclear doctrines appear more aggressive in this new era.

Analysts are now speculating about the possibility of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons as part of a “deescalation doctrine” if it tries to grab another former territory back, like Estonia or Latvia citing the need to protect ethnic Russians.

If the US and NATO started to rally for a counteroffensive to finally draw a line in the sand on Russian expansion, what if Russia threatened a limited nuclear response against Western military forces that crossed into the Baltic region to halt the Russian offensive? In 1995, Chinese Gen.

Xiong Guangkai famously mocked the entire NATO collective security commitments among allies, stating that the US would never risk Los Angeles to save Taipei in Taiwan from the Chinese.

Would the West really risk calling Russia’s bluff simply to stay loyal to commitments to countries that left Russia’s grasp 25 years ago and are not central to the EU, like Germany or France? This brings the conversation to China, holding an estimated 250 nuclear weapons, and maybe the most unpredictable of all with its rapidly expanding power.

In 1996, China fired missiles into the Taiwan Straits in response to pro-independence voices emanating from Taiwan and possibly as a planned prelude to greater action.

At the time, China ended its moves when the carrier USS Nimitz and additional ships sailed into the Straits.

Still, what if China threatened a limited nuclear strike against any US naval vessels “interfering” with an “internal” Chinese matter between China and Taiwan – since China still views Taiwan as a renegade province? Last week, China reportedly had another successful test launch of the DF-41 mobilefired nuclear missile, indicating it is near deployment.

Until now the US could count on knocking out China in a first nuclear strike, but the new mobile missile plus new submarines may upend any first strike knock-out strategy for the US.

In recent years, China has enforced a new Air Defense Identification Zone, made louder claims on parts of the South and East China Sea, including building manmade islands, one equipped with a runway for military aircraft to land.

China has also been increasing rocket and naval capabilities, such as a July report of building the largest aircraft carrier in the world, which could be used for an invasion of Taiwan – a scenario which is always part of its war games.

What if China follows Russia’s lead in Ukraine and makes a sudden grab for Taiwan, challenging the West to do more to protect Taiwan than its impotent efforts to assist Ukraine? Few really fear, at least in the upcoming decades, either Russia or China promoting world conquest the way that the Soviet Union did. That means that the full-scale nuclear exchange which preoccupied Cold War theorists is still pretty much off the table.

But precisely for that reason, some say possibly too little thought has been given to countering Russian and Chinese more aggressive military moves for more limited expansion, their nuclear advancements and their potential more limited use of their nuclear capabilities.

Whether for or against the nuclear deal, no one questions the dangers of a nuclear Iran. But possibly hoping that nuclear stability will drag on as it has in recent decades, some say that the US and the West have done little to update their defense doctrines for dealing with the burgeoning and evolving nuclear threats posed in other corners of the world.

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