March 16, 2022

Sharper: Nuclear Weapons

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges for U.S. foreign policy.

By Anna Pederson, Cameron Edinburgh and Emma Swislow

The threat of nuclear war has reentered the global consciousness as Russia endangers the security of Ukrainian nuclear power plants, North Korea ramps up its testing of ballistic missiles, and talks to reengage Iran in a nuclear deal continue to falter. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation about the state of nuclear weapons and what actions policymakers should take to counter their use. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.

Reports

Building a Flywheel

In 2022, North Korea has tested seven missiles in the month of January alone. The last test was Pyongyang’s most powerful test of a ballistic missile in nearly five years. In a timely new CNAS report, Indo-Pacific Security Program Adjunct Senior Fellow Dr. John Park argues that several developments in recent years have called into question the efficacy of relying primarily on sanctions to change North Korean behavior. Instead, Dr. Park lays out U.S. actions that would enable the creation of a “flywheel effect,” “or a structured series of decision points and wins to build momentum toward risk reduction and denuclearization.”

Tangled Threats

Events on the Korean Peninsula implicate many of the diplomatic, security, economic, and governance questions that sit at the center of the U.S.-China contest over the future trajectory of regional and global order. The tangled threats from China and North Korea require integrated policies to address them. A policy brief by CNAS Fellow Jacob Stokes explores the intersection of the China challenge and the North Korea threat, offering potential policy frameworks for approaching China and North Korea as an interlocking pair and providing recommendations for policymakers.

Indo-Pacific Security

Building a Flywheel

Executive Summary As the United States seeks to maintain a level of stability in its increasingly competitive relationship with China, North Korea has the potential to complic...

Indo-Pacific Security

Tangled Threats

China and North Korea pose intertwined challenges for U.S. and allied policy. The Korean Peninsula constitutes just one area among many in U.S.-China relations. Meanwhile, iss...

When Less Is More

Successive U.S. presidents have tried to pivot to the Indo-Pacific and reduce forces in the Middle East; but time and again they have been drawn back in by crises that are partially triggered by rapid U.S. withdrawals from the region. To avoid continuing this cycle, a CNAS report by authors Becca Wasser, Ilan Goldenberg, Elisa Catalano Ewers, and Lilly Blumenthal proposes a significant revision of the current U.S. military footprint in the region that meaningfully reduces U.S. presence while still protecting key U.S. interests, including stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Toward a More Proliferated World?

The United States and its partners have been relatively successful at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. But geopolitical shifts—including the role of the United States in the evolving international order and competition among major powers—are driving several trends that stand to create new proliferation pressures and challenge the effectiveness of traditional U.S. policy tools. A CNAS report discusses these trends as well as the broad implications for proliferation and U.S. policy all in an effort to answer the question, "Are we headed toward a more proliferated world?"

Middle East Security

When Less Is More

For the past 20 years, the U.S. military has invested heavily in the Middle East. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both attempted to shift assets out of the region and...

Middle East Security

Toward a More Proliferated World?

U.S. policy must adapt unless Washington wants to be faced with a more proliferated world in the future....

Special Event

Deputy U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Jung Pak on the Biden Administration’s Approach

On Thursday, March 10, CNAS hosted an event featuring Deputy U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Dr. Jung Pak, and a panel of leading experts analyzing U.S. policy toward North Korea. The event provided insights into U.S. policy toward North Korea and explored a range of options for the future, drawing on a multi-year CNAS research project on the topic.

Commentaries

Biden Can Find Middle Ground in Heated Nuclear Debate

"A no-first-use/sole purpose pledge and force posture would pose more risks than benefits in today’s strategic environment," writes Dr. Duyeon Kim in Foreign Policy. "But it is still a long-term goal that the United States could strive for provided the right conditions or circumstances are in place. Until then, nuclear deterrence is effective—when adversaries know the United States would actually use its nuclear weapons."

China’s Nuclear Buildup is About More Than Nukes

"U.S. policymakers should remain clear-eyed about changes to China’s nuclear posture while avoiding alarmism," argues Jacob Stokes in Just Security. "They should also bear in mind when and how U.S. actions might contribute to arms racing incentives. The U.S.-China nuclear and strategic relationship has entered a new stage. Navigating it successfully to uphold deterrence and sustain regional peace and security will require a comprehensive approach that takes into account all four concentric circles and formulates sober, purposeful responses. Pursuing nuclear and strategic stability between the United States and China will likely prove harder than ever — but it is perhaps more important than ever, too."

The World That Putin Has Made

"The world they sought, the statement said, would be ordered very differently than in the past, and China and Russia would cooperate with 'no limits' to assume their rightful places in it," observes Richard Fontaine in The Wall Street Journal. "They would forge an 'international relations of a new type,' multipolar and no longer dominated by the United States. There would be no further NATO enlargement, no color revolutions, no globe-spanning U.S. missile defense system, no American nuclear weapons deployed abroad. Actors 'representing but the minority on the international scale'—that is, the U.S. and its allies—might continue to interfere in other states and 'incite contradictions, differences and confrontation,' but Beijing and Moscow together would resist them."

Indo-Pacific Security

Biden Can Find Middle Ground in Heated Nuclear Debate

Declaring a no-first-use policy would inevitably be accompanied by making changes to U.S. force posture and structure....

Indo-Pacific Security

China’s Nuclear Buildup is About More Than Nukes

Pursuing nuclear and strategic stability between the United States and China will likely prove harder than ever — but it is perhaps more important than ever, too....

Transatlantic Security

The World That Putin Has Made

By attacking Ukraine, Vladimir Putin may have brought about what he wanted least: a galvanized West, determined to act together to preserve a liberal world order...

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Dr. Duyeon Kim, Edward Fishman, and Elisa Ewers.

Transatlantic Security

Joe Cirincione: Russian Attacks on Nuclear Plants Could Lead to a ‘Major Incident of Mass Destruction’

Nuclear Security Analyst Joe Cirincione and Former National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia Andrea Kendall-Taylor join Garrett Haake to discuss the attack on a Ukr...

Indo-Pacific Security

Temperature on Korean peninsula set to rise after North's missile tests

North Korea's two recent ballistic missile launches were meant to test elements of its new long-range system, representing a "serious escalation", the United States has said. ...

Energy, Economics & Security

The emerging nuclear threat

Up until this weekend, Russia's invasion of Ukraine looked very old-fashioned: Columns of tanks, prisoners of war, bombed buildings. Now, however, Russia and the West have bot...

Middle East Security

US, Iran Return to Nuclear Talks After Five-Month Delay

The U.S. and Iran on Monday held their seventh round of indirect talks as part of efforts to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. The talks came more than five months after the co...

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.

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