February 28, 2014

Choose Geopolitics Over Nonproliferation

By Elbridge Colby

Source: The National Interest

In a thoughtful and provocative January essay, David Santoro argues that America’s East Asian allies are likely to face increasing incentives to throw off their nonproliferation straitjacket and seek to obtain nuclear weapons if North Korean belligerence worsens and China’s ambitious assertiveness waxes. Santoro contends that, if Tokyo or Seoul elects to pursue nuclear weapons of their own, Washington will be faced with a stark choice. 

On the one hand, the United States could swallow the bitter pill of indigenous allied nuclear weapons capabilities, the development of which Washington has opposed, for the sake of what he terms “geopolitical” considerations. Or, on the other hand, Washington could hold true to the nonproliferation gospel that any further proliferation is too perilous to regional stability and menacing to the nonproliferation order, and so take the road of “terminating its alliances.” Santoro admirably doesn’t beat around the bush and forthrightly argues that, in the event U.S. allies like Japan and/or South Korea make for a nuclear weapons capability, Washington should “cut them adrift” and end its alliances with them. In his words, nonproliferation should trump geopolitics.

Santoro is to be commended for making his case clearly and for highlighting the increasingly pressing question of how to address U.S. allies’ disquiet about the reliability and credibility of our extended deterrent. But he is wrong to argue that we should, in all or even most of the variants of the scenario he posits, terminate our alliances with Japan or South Korea if they pursue nuclear weapons.

Read the entire op-ed on the The National Interest.

  • Elbridge Colby