Jeffrey LewisExtended Deterrence Policy Committee

This is very interesting.

The US and South Korea, in the  42nd U.S.-RoK Security Consultative Meeting Joint Communique, have committed to …

… institutionalize an Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, which will serve as a cooperation mechanism to enhance the effectiveness of extended deterrence.

That is a very interesting recommendation.  The United States has a formal structure for consultations regarding nuclear policy within NATO — the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and its subsidiary High Level Group. No such structures exist in Asia, where consultations with Japan and South Korea — when they have happened at all — have been ad hoc.

The Obama Administration, over the course of the Nuclear Posture Review, appears to have conducted very serious consultations throughout the process at the Assistant Secretary-level and below — the same level as the NPG and HLG. Kwon Hyuk-chul in the Hankyoreh has a nice description of US-ROK consultations. (For a description of the Japanese process, see Keiko Iizuka in the Yomiuri Shimbun.  The full text is posted in the comments.)

In both cases, the Obama Administration appears serious about regularizing, formalizing, institutionalizing (pick your jargony verb) this process.  That is a good idea, but it leads to an interesting question: What the heck should these guys talk about?

In the NATO context, the existing of nuclear sharing arrangements provided a rationale for a Nuclear Planning Group — even though a state didn’t need to either possess nuclear weapons or DCA to participate in the NPG.  Still, NATO nations participate, to a degree, in operational discussions about the role of nuclear weapons.  Asia, however, has always been a different case both because South Korean and Japanese forces would not be involved in the operational use of nuclear weapons and any implication otherwise would be extraordinarily controversial.  As James Van Der Velde observed in 1988, “The Japanese approach is one of total reliance on American strategy.” (His article, in what was then the Journal of Northeast Asian Studies is still a good read.)  The same might be said for South Korea.

So, what can Washington talk about with Tokyo and Seoul, if not the operational use of nuclear weapons?  Is it even possible to have  a meaningful dialogue without nuclear sharing or some other operational entanglement?  Without nitty-gritty questions, aren’t you just really having yet another seminar on nuclear deterrence?  One answer, suggested by the National Institute for Defense Studies’s Michito Tsuruoka in a very interesting monograph for the German Marshall Fund (Why the NATO Nuclear Debate Is Relevant to Japan and Vice Versa) is that conversations about missile defenses and conventional capabilities can provide a basis for real, detailed operational discussions that place nuclear capabilities in their proper context:

In the U.S.-Japan context, as long as the dialogue is limited to nuclear issues, nothing more than a low-level one-way street of information sharing from Washington to Tokyo can be expected. Certainly, no form of risk- and responsibility sharing between the two countries can be seriously contemplated. Nevertheless, if a missile defense element or any other components of the U.S.-Japan alliance’s overall deterrence posture were brought in, Japan would perhaps play a greater role. In fact, the Japanese government’s view has always been to discuss nuclear issues in a broader setting: thus Tokyo often calls it a “deterrence dialogue” rather than nuclear consultation. At the same time, by including missile defense and other nonnuclear elements in the overall deterrence discussion, the whole picture would become more than just one of consultation, although it would still be well short of joint decision-making on nuclear weapons, unlike the NATO model of “dual-key.”

This is a clever suggestion!  Certainly more clever than, for example, keeping a bunch of antediluvian cruise missiles in storage.  And it’s doubly nice that it is a Japanese suggestion.

I think this is absolutely the right idea.  Tokyo needs an analogous structure to the Nuclear Planning Group, but one that is not focused solely on nuclear weapons.  Call it a Strategic Planning Working Group under the 2+2 process or borrow the South Korean Extended Deterrence Policy Committee.  There are plenty of real operational concerns relating to missile defenses and conventional capabilities — for example, does Japan’s constitution permit a Japanese Aegis destroyer to intercept a ballistic missile headed for the United States, rather than Japan? — that provide a practical opportunity for both parties to discuss the operational details of regional contingencies. Real planning for real contingencies does far more to demonstrate the US commitment to Japan’s security, than one more powerpoint presentation on US nuclear posture or pretending the US might ever forward-deploy nuclear weapons in Guam.  (You know the B2 bombers could strike North Korea from Missouri, right?).

And, of course, such discussions would demonstrate just how little the United States and Japan really rely on nuclear weapons for all but a tiny number of extreme scenarios. That’s a just a nice bonus, though.


  1. Jeffrey (History)

    The Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri

    July 8, 2009 Wednesday

    Japan, U.S. agree to hold official talks on nuclear umbrella

    Keiko Iizuka/Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

    WASHINGTON–The government reached an agreement with Washington on Tuesday to set up official talks on the so-called U.S. nuclear umbrella and began scheduling the first session to be held sometime this month, according to sources close to both governments.

    The governments plan to hold the talks at the level of deputy directors and vice ministers of the Japanese foreign and defense ministries and the U.S. state and defense departments, the sources said.

    At the talks, Japan will be briefed by the U.S. side on how nuclear arms would be used in the event of a crisis situation. The two sides will then discuss U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposed large-scale nuclear arms-reduction measures and a review of its nuclear deterrent capabilities, among other issues.

    Under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Japan, which is covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, is protected from nuclear attack by the deterrent role provided by the United States.

    Regarding the usage and procedures related to nuclear weapons in crisis situations, the United States shares specific information with North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, which also come under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

    However, in Japan, the only country ever to have suffered atomic bombings, a strong antipathy toward nuclear arms prevails among the public. If the government holds talks on the use of nuclear weapons, such a move likely would draw a strong reaction from the opposition parties and others.

    At the same time, the United States has hinted it is concerned about possible leakage of confidential military information from the Japanese side. Because of these concerns, the issue of the nuclear umbrella has hardly been mentioned in talks between the two governments.

    However, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May, while China has been modernizing its nuclear capability, making East Asia’s security environment increasingly volatile.

    Because of this, some within the government have called for a reaffirmation of the role of the nuclear umbrella and have said Japan needs to be fully briefed on how nuclear arms possessed by the United States might be used on Japan’s behalf.

    In April, Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons, while on Monday, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a pact that will replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1), which expires in December.

    The new agreement is expected to be reflected in the Nuclear Posture Review, which will be compiled by the Obama administration in December, becoming the third such review in U.S. history.

    Copyright 2009 The Daily Yomiuri

  2. Matthew (History)

    Sorry for the off-topic comment, but a question about the new UK SDSR…

    The new language on declaratory policy gives a negative security assurance to non-nuclear-weapon parties to the NPT. It then goes on to say: “In giving this assurance, we emphasise the need for universal adherence to and compliance with the NPT, and note that this assurance would not apply to any state in material breach of those non-proliferation obligations.”

    As I understand it, the US NPR deliberately did not equate ‘compliance with non-proliferation obligations’ with compliance with the NPT. The UK SDSR, by contrast, seems to do so (‘those’ obligations). Any thoughts on why? It seems excessively specific, given the difficulties in reaching findings of non-compliance with the NPT.

  3. anon (History)

    Jeffrey, I absolutely agree with you. I’d suspect that the whole point of a strategic dialogue or a dialogue on extended deterrence with the allies in Asia would be to talk about everything but nuclear weapons. The goal should (would) be to convince them that we have far more credible capabilities that we will bring to their defense than those rusting old cruise missiles. And, the greater role these other capabilities play in extended deterrence, the relatively less role played by nuclear weapons. Which, I’m assuming is the goal of the new U.S. nuclear policy.

    As an aside, I’ve heard the RoK is quite interested in the role that conventional PGS systems can play in extended deterrence….

  4. mt (History)

    Hi Jeff! Thank you for very interesting and useful information. I totally agree. I particularly liked your comments on “such discussions would demonstrate just how little the US and Japan really rely on nuclear weapons for all but a tiny number of extreme scenarios.” I cannot agree more. Due to its past experience, Japan has a tendency to put too much emphasis on nuclear both disarmament and deterrence aspects, and this has created some non-pragmatic defense policy that will go nowhere. (Too much emphasis on nuclear disarmament is good, but we need more than rhetoric.). I think this is something Tokyo really needs to confront. Establishing a working group similar to NATO NPG surely generates lots of controversies since this is very sensitive issues in Japan, but if we really want to contribute to nuclear disarmament more practically, we have to start something more practical. Through this process, I think Japan should realize that we really do not need to rely on the extended nuclear deterrence. And this is my favorite thing, and many people still do not agree, but Tokyo will realize through this process that Japan can support no first use policy of nuclear weapons. But to reach that conclusion, Japan really needs to understand why we do not need it. As for MD, as opposed to my initial speculation when DPJ took power in Aug 2009, it looks like Japan still strongly believes that MD is the way to go. It looks like the three principles on arms export ban would be further eased in part for the sake of more MD cooperation. By the way, since Japan and the US agreed to set up official talks on extended deterrence last July, I have not seen much information about how this is going. Maybe, I am missing something? When Obama comes to Japan in November, they decided to skip new joint security declaration; instead, they will issue just a statement due to the relocation issues. Yesterday’s Yomiuri Shimbun said “Both nations had envisioned recasting the 1996 joint security declaration into one to beef up deterrence by both countries, including enhancing the US nuclear umbrella.” This is just one media report, but this really makes me think that are they talking to enhance nuclear umbrella? Or are they talking something more practical?

  5. Gregory Kulacki (History)

    This is all well and good but someone should have briefed the Chinese. The administration has a serious credibility problem on strategic issues with the current and emerging new Chinese leadership that is a direct consequence of the administration’s efforts to strengthen/consolidate their alliances in Asia. The debates on U.S.-China relations that recently occurred during the last CCP plenum were rife with rumors of potential U.S. re-deployment of nuclear weapons in South Korea. However unjustified those rumors may have been, their existence is a sad testimony to the poor management of U.S.-China strategic relations during the first two years of the Obama administration.

    • 3.1415 (History)

      Let’s see if these rumors turn out to be true. Maybe spreading the rumors is a new US policy of creating strategic ambiguity, like the policy of not admitting or denying carrying nukes on US warships on a port call. I don’t really understand what the fuss is about. If China has no qualm in letting a US aircraft carrier, which presumably carries nukes, to visit Hong Kong on a regular basis, why would it matter to China if the US stations some nukes in South Korea? The umbrella is always there. It is not like that United States has to launch nuclear strikes from the ROK. For the Dear Leader, it matters nothing. The three generations of his families have been living under the constant threat of regime change for over 60 years. All tricks have been tried before, to no avail.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      > a US aircraft carrier, which presumably carries nukes

      No, not since Bush 41 announced the withdrawal of non-strategic nukes from US ships and submarines in 1991.

      Since the carrier aircraft (F/A-18s)can carry B61s and B61s are pretty easy to haul around, the withdrawal is presumably reversible in short order if circumstances warrant. It would be interesting to find out if carrier pilots and weapons handlers currently receive nuclear training.