New Nuclear Initiative talk by Women in War and International Politics

Yesterday evening in the Kings College Maughan Library was a two-part event by Women in War and International Politics on being a woman in nuclear studies and so-called New Nuclear Initiatives. The panelists were:

  • Andrea Berger, Research Fellow in Nuclear Analysis at RUSI
  • Heather Williams, Research Fellow on Nuclear Weapons Policy at Chatham House
  • Dr. Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst in Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at IISS
  • Dr. Nicola Horsburgh, British Academy Post-Doc Research Fellow at Oxford


The first part of the event was off the record, but suffice it to say that the panelists gave frank advice on what can be expected in nuclear work as someone with a uterus. While slightly depressing, it was encouraging to see four successful women who had tackled academia, think tanks, and defense departments on the panel in front of me.

New Nuclear Initiatives

M. Berger began the second half of the talk by outlining the lack of leadership in the P-5 process: no state seems comfortable or interested in spearheading a public discussion on nuclear disarmament. While the UK began the initiative in 2009, it now is only interested in a supporting role; US domestic stakeholders are disinterested; Putin continues to benefit from taking a tough stance toward Washington and so won’t engage in bilateral disarmament; France  prefers to have nuclear discussions in private rather than public; and China is disinterested. The result is stagnation.

M. Williams focused on US-Russian arms control and outlined three possibilities for disarmament: unilateral reduction in nuclear arsenal on the part of the US; pressure for bilateral US-Russian disarmament from non-nuclear states; and status quo. Unilateral disarmament is attractive because it lends itself to informal discussions and potential reciprocity while bypassing a lengthy debate in Congress (see H.W. Bush’s Presidential Nuclear Initiative); however any reduction of US missile defense in Europe would require NATO’s approval. Additional difficulties lie in Russia’s national identity as a nuclear superpower, and the declining credibility of Congress in Moscow (and elsewhere).

Dr. Horsburgh discussed China’s nuclear history and its current stance on disarmament. China was a “late-comer” to nuclear politics, but has since become a skilled and confident actor. Only possessing approximately 240 nuclear weapons, China does not consider the technology to be special in the same guarded way other P-5 states do. China’s approach to nuclear policy is supportive of the NPT regime but not the PSI, which it sees as too aggressive; weary of multilateral arms control, and as such is fairly obstructionist; and it is not an initiator in nuclear politics, excluding the No First Use Treaty. China is currently developing a glossary of nuclear terms, which sounds fluffy until you realize that the P-5 do not agree on the definitions of “warhead” and “fissile material”, impairing negotiations. Finally, China is less worried about nuclear terrorism than about a civilian nuclear accident which would affect economic growth.

Dr. Nielsen examined the humanitarian initiative with an eye toward the NPT review in 2015. States supporting the humanitarian initiative fall into two camps: those who promote salience regarding nuclear weapons and “ban fans”; while the former wish to prepare for the use of and potential accidents involving nuclear technology, the latter seek to challenge the role of nuclear arms in security doctrines, contesting the social construct of deterrence. She suggested that if the ban fans want to keep the P-5 on board with the humanitarian initiative, they should be careful and slow or else the P-5 will block it, as France as done with the February 2014 conference in Mexico.

Following questions from audience, the panelists discussed France’s difficulties regarding the Iran nuclear deal, the opaque nature of P-5 nuclear policies and the lack of confidence building measures taken by P-5 states, Egypt’s strong position regarding the Middle-East WMD-free zone, and the false distinction between “nuclear” and “non-nuclear” states. Finally, they summarized that any dialogue between P-5 states is a success, and that the NPT review in 2015 won’t make or break the regime but we should not expect much progress.

Newly Declassified Able Archer 83 Documents

The possibility for nuclear war was at an all-time high in 1983, rivaling the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis: the Soviets had just shot down the civilian Korean flight KAL-007, and Reagan gave his manichean “evil empire” speech. Able Archer 83, the 1983 NATO command post exercise (CPX) which threw the Soviet Union into a panic over the perceived threat of a surprise first-strike attack from the US, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. What we didn’t know before was that the UK was absolutely aware of the danger posed by Able Archer.

Documents from the British Foreign Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence, and Thatcher’s office regarding Able Archer and the Soviet response were recently declassified through a Freedom of Information Act request by Peter Burt. Below are the “new” documents and my transcription of each one (for the sake of search-ability). Note that much of the text has been redacted. Click on the image for the full-size .pdf file (originally posted by Peter Burt on Nuclear Information Service. Another great resource is the National Security Archive).

These documents are the comments and notes surrounding the as-of-yet still classified 1984 UK Joint Intelligence Committee report, called JIC(84)(N)45 (3rd revised draft). This document is the UK Government’s internal response to the Soviets’ reaction to Able Archer. We can infer from the surrounding documents that it was determined that a perceived threat by the Soviets arising from the NATO CPX may cause Moscow to “over-react”, potentially preemptively striking if the Kremlin believes NATO to be mobilizing for nuclear war. After what appears to be much deliberation, it is proposed that NATO inform the Soviets of nuclear CPXs to avoid miscalculation, improve communication, and build confidence; this would be done much in the way that Field Training Exercises (FTXs) and ICBM test launches are disclosed to the “other side” beforehand to avoid accidental military confrontation.

E2 Note

D/DIS(CS) 12/1/2
20 March 1984
File 11/1/2
DI3 (Air)
DI3 (Army)
DI3 (N)
DS 17                                     
Copy to: DDI (WP)
AUS (D Staff)

Ref: JIC(84)(N)45 (3rd Revised Draft)

1.   I attach the Committee Draft of the above paper.
Formerly titled “WP: Reactions to NATO Exercise Able-Archer-83”,
This paper has aroused █████████████████████
at CIG level, and has been returned for further action
twice by the JIC. The latest CIG (last Friday) decided
on a █████████ re-draft. Despite this, and promise
to circulate the draft early “for comment”, the attachment
has only just been reviewed (1415 hrs).

2.    Since the paper covers aspects of interest to all the addressees,
DIS(CS) are required to coordinate all MoD comments.
Depending on their nature, these will be put to the
Assessment Staff by the DI(AG)I in advance of our pre-JIC
meeting tomorrow, so that DGI can then be briefed

3.    Time is therefore extremely short and addressees are
asked to provide an initial response to this office by
close of play TODAY and, depending on the nature and
extent of them, further details should be passed to AG(I)
early tomorrow.

████   ██████████

E3 Note

21 March 1984
File 11/1/2
Seen by DI(AG)I
Seen by DCDS(I)
Seen by DIAG(I)

Copy to:
Head of DS17


I have been interested to see the drafts of JIC(84)(N)45
which have, in the course of their preparation widened the issue
from reaction to Able Archer to Soviet Union concern about a
surprise NATO attack.

2. As this change of emphasis indicates there are two policy
issues for consideration, both deriving from the evidence which
is quoted and evaluated. The first of these, the issue of per-
ceived [perceived] Soviet reactions and concerns about Western intentions,
is clearly extremely important: there inference to be drawn from
the evidence will need, evidently, careful consideration.

3. The other issue, that of the implications for NATO exercises,
is also extremely important and had I been commenting on that
aspect in relation to the previous draft I would have expressed
some scepticism of the need to curtail exercise activity on the
basis of ██████████████████ To continue on that point:
I do see some merit in discussing with Allies the possibility
proposed NATO exercise activity involving nuclear play, as a
useful confidence building measure.

4. Reverting to the point which is now primarily addressed in
the new JIC paper, for reasons I have briefly set out it
does seem to me terribly important █████████████████
██████████████████████████████ (though it
is fair to say that paragraph 10 – the conclusion of the paper –
is quite mild and balanced in tone).████████████████h
██████████████ Is sufficient attention given to the
fact that Soviet reactions to Able Archer ██████████████
███████ How should one evaluate overall the military evidence
to support the view that there are signs of heightened concern
in the Soviet Union about the West’s nuclear strike interventions?
5. Having said all this I do certainly very much agree with
last sentence of the paper.

6. Since I knew you were shortly to have your briefing for
tomorrow’s JIC I have taken the liberty of minuting you direct,
DUS(P) not at this moment being available.

AUS(D Staff)

E4 Loose Minute

Copy No 2 of Copies 3
21 March 1984

DIS(CS)DI(AG)1 (███████)

Copy to:
DS17 (█████)


A.   JIC(84)(n)45 (3rd Revised Draft) 20 Mar 84
B.   D/DIS(CS)12/1/2 20 Mar 84

1. Thank you for the opportunity to comment upon the latest
draft JIC paper on Soviet fears. My first and general comment
concerns the tenor of the paper which, I believe, still purports
to show a level of ████████████████████████████
████████████████████████ I would find the thrust of
the paper more persuasive ████████████████████████
███████████████████████████████████████ . I
therefore find the conclusion that there is genuine ████████

2. On points of detail I would make the following points:
a. Paragraph 1 line 1. After ‘definitive’ delete ‘tends
to’ insert ‘could’.
b. Paragraph 3 line 4. █████████████████████
c. Paragraph 5 lines 3 to 6. The two sentences
indicated are in part incorrect. Able Archer 1983
reflected changes in the detail rather than the substance
of procedures and included less rather than more
headquarters-to-subordinate commands messages.
d. Paragraph 6. The reference to Soviet reactions to
Able Archer are ██████████████████████

Lt Col
DPS(N)Team 2
21 Mar 84

E7 Annex A



4. Add at end of para:–
“wholly balanced picture: in particular the first
sentence of the concluding paragraph is considered
to be ██████████████████████████████

5. Second sentence. Amend to read:–
“I would therefore wholly endorse the final sentence
of the conclusions to the paper which propose further…”

6. Line 3. Amend to read:–
“….of each major exercise to…..”

Line 14. Spell “source”

8. Delete brackets. Amend to read:–

9a. Amend to read:
“…. tentative, and ██████ is sceptical of its
validity; we must….”

E9 Note

D/DS17/4/1 11/1/2

JIC(84)(N)45(3rd Revised Draft)
Soviet Union: Concern about a Surprise NATO attack

1. Our main concern with the paper as now
drafted is that it relies primarily █████████
████████████ .   ████████████████
████████████████████████ . It should
also be made clear in the conclusions that the we
have had ████████████████ of heightened
concern in the USSR about a surprise nuclear strike
of Soviet reactions to Able Archer ███████████
████████████ Paragraph 10 might therefore be
redrafted along the following lines:
██████████████ may reflect concern in the
Soviet Union that the West might initiate a
nuclear war and that this might be done through
a surprise attack under cover of an exercise.
We have ████████████████ of heightened
concern within the Soviet Union although some
of the Warsaw Pact reacted to Able Archer
may represent the take-up of limited and low key
precautions against a surprise attack. ██████
████████████████  .

2. Further comments on the text of the paper are:
Para 1 Suggest this is ███████████████
redrafted as ██████████████████████

Para 2 █████████████████████████
██████████████████ it is not clear from
the structure of the paper what the others are.

Para 3   It is not clear whether this paragraph
is ██████████. If it is at should from [illegible]
of para 26 and the phrase “in connection with
Able Archer” deleted. This exercise was not referred
to by name in the █████████

Para 4 Surely “corroborated” is far too strong.

Para 5 Some introduction is required to explain why
Able Archer is being considered in this report.

Para 6a Able Archer was not specified.

Para 6d It should be noted that there was increased ███
activity throughout 1983.

Para 9 Without more information there appears to
be no justification for the inclusion of this paragraph.


E10 Draft Minute from Sir Robert Armstrong

File 11/1/2

Soviet Union: Concern about a Surprise NATO Attack

Before the meeting of Ministers on 4 April to discuss
action which might be taken with the United States on the
evidence of Soviet concern about recent NATO military
exercises set out in JIC(84)(N)45, the Prime Minister may
wish to see the ████████████████████████

2. ████████████████████████████
███████████████ Its scenario, summarised
in paragraph 15 of the report, shows the concern of the
Soviet Union over a possible NATO surprise attack mounted
under cover of exercises –   █████████████████████
██████████████████████████ practice of NATO
nuclear release procedures in Able Archer. ██████████
███████ Able Archer-83, ███████      ██████████

3. All this contrasts with the Soviet response to Able
Archer-83, analysed in the JIC Note. That response does
not appear to have formed part of the Soviet exercise
programme ███████████████████████████
█████████████████████ it took place over a
major Soviet holiday, it had the form of actual military
activity and alerts, not just war-gaming, and it was
limited geographically to the area, Central Europe,
covered by the NATO exercise which the Soviet Union was

4. I am sending a copy of this minute to the Private
Secretaries of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary,
the Defence Secretary, the Lord President and the Home

E12 10 Downing Street Memo

Copy to:– PS/PUS
File 11/1/2
From the Private Secretary 10 April 1984
1. NA/DCDS/2
4. Hd of DCS(CS) – for disposal
5. ██████  1. AD(RG)  2. AGI
We don’t seem
to have got the
right [illegible] inspected


The Prime Minister held an ad hoc meeting today which
was attended by the Lord President, the Foreign and Commonwealth
Armstrong, ████████ and “C”.

The purpose of the meeting was to consider what action
should be taken about the conclusion of the Joint Intelligence
Committee in the JIC(84)(N)45 of 23 March, 1984 and in particular
the Committee’s conclusion ███████████████████████

The Prime Minister recalled the in her conversations with
Communist leaders, especially during her visit to Hungary, she has
tried to impress upon them the sincerity of the desire of the West
for disarmament and the fact the NATO was a defensive organis-
tion [organisation] which threatened no one. ████████████████
We should consider what could be done to remove the danger that,
by miscalculating Western intentions, the Soviet Union would

████████ explained that there had been some difference
of view in the JIC on the weight to be put on the Soviet reaction
Nevertheless, the Committee stood by its conclusions in the JIC
report under reference. And the unusual nature of the Soviet
reaction to Able Archer had been highlighted by a ████████
The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said that, taking
account of the evidence ██████████████████████
████████████████████████████████ he felt
that the JIC conclusions must be accepted. It was desirable to
discuss the conclusion with the US Government, ████████


██████ (the Prime Minister felt that insufficient attention might
have been paid to the significance of the latter point). On the
other hand, it was pointed out that the Russian had just notified
the United States for the first time of ICBM flights within the
Soviet Union.

Discussion then turned to the action to be taken on the
JIC report. It was agreed that officials should meet urgently to
consider the nature of an approach to the United States, including
the question of ████████████████████████████████
█████████████████████ The Foreign and Commonwealth
Secretary would discuss our concerns with ████████  at the two
meetings he expected to have with him in May. In preparation for
this, HM Ambassador, Washington, would be instructed to do over
the ground with the US State Department.

There was a more general need to continue and perhaps
intensify HMG’s efforts to promote an atmosphere of greater
confidence between East and West. The Minister for Trade would
go there in July for discussions with Mr. Gromyko and planned to
visit some of the Eastern European countries in September. It was
for consideration whether the Prime Minister should invite a senior
member of the Politbureau, perhaps Mr. Gorbachev, to visit this
country later in the year. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary
was invited to consider whether it would be wise to accelerate our
programme of contacts with the Soviet Union. The Prime Minister
stressed that we should seek to maintain the momentum created by
her own visit to Hungary and the Soviet Union.

I am copying this letter to ████████ (Lord
President’s Office), █████████████ (Ministry of Defence),
Sir Robert Armstrong, ████████ and “C”.

██████████████ Esq.,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

E13 Note

Copy No 3 of 4 Copies
PS/Secretary of State
Copy to:
AUS(D Staff)
Head of DS12
Head of DS17


Thank you for your minute MO14/10 of 27 March which [E6] sought
advice on the line which the Secretary of State might take at
the meeting which the Prime Minister has called on Wednesday,
4 April, to discuss JIC(84)(N)45.

2. Heightened Soviet concern about the possibility of a
surprise NATO attack would of course be a very proper cause
of concern for Western Governments. But it is I think necessary
to consider the strength of the available evidence and the
implications of possible NATO reactions carefully.

3. ███████████████████████████████████
████████████████ Soviet reactions to Exercise
ABLE ARCHER (an annual NATO command post exercise testing nuclear
procedures). ████████████████████████████
████████████████████████ Soviet reactions to
ABLE ARCHER ██████████████████████████

4. In the view of the Defence Intelligence Staff there is
certainly ████████████████████████████
████████████████████████ Furthermore the
report brings together ████████████████ which are
not necessarily related. We have reflected this ████ in JIC
discussion, and the present report reflects a compromise ███

5. These reservations notwithstanding, we clearly need to
guard against any possibility of Soviet misinterpretation,
however slight the evidence. I would therefore wholly endorse
the concluding final sentence of [the conclusion of] the paper which proposes further
“close examination of the degree and scope of Warsaw Pact
reactions to NATO nuclear exercises”. The Prime Minister will
however wish to consider whether any further steps need to be
taken to allay possible Soviet concerns.

6. ████████████████████████████████████
Exercise activity is however crucial not only to the effectiveness
of our political and military command structures, but also to
the credibility of deterrence. ████████████████████

7. There is however one possibility that clearly merits
discussion which might go some way to allaying possible Soviet
concern, and which is compatible both with deterrence and with
the Western position on confidence building measures, ie that
NATO should informs the Soviet Union on a routine basis of
proposed NATO exercise activity involving nuclear play.
Such an approach would be wholly consistent with Western efforts
in the CDE, and makes sense ███████████████████████

8. ███████████████████████████████████

9. Line to take In discussion, Secretary of State may wish to
make the following points:
a. ████████████████████████
b. exercise activity is a vital element of deterrence; ███
c. nonetheless we must view with unease any evidence,
████████ of heightened Soviet concern. ███████
d. there may also be considerable merit in discussing,
████████████████████████████████ the
possibility that NATO should inform the Soviet Union on
a routine basis of proposed NATO exercise activity involving
nuclear play, as a useful confidence building measure.


E14 Report

8 MAY 1984
Copy No 5 of 8


This paper considers whether specific option exist
for minimising the risk of Soviet misinterpretation of NATO
Command Post Exercises (CPXs), particularly nuclear ones.
Although it has been prepared in the context of an unprecedented
Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83 and other reports of alleged
concern about a surprise NATO attack (JIC(84)(N)45), the paper
examined the inherent advantages and disadvantages of prior
notification of nuclear CPXs as an overall Confidence Building
Measure (CBM).

2. ██████████████████████████████████████

3. Although the JIC reached no firm conclusion, we cannot
discount the possibility that at least some Soviet officials/
officers may have misinterpreted Able Archer 83 and possibly
other nuclear CPXs as posing a real threat. Quite apart from
their reaction to Able Archer and ██████████████████
████████████████████████████████ If their
response involves the taking of actual precautions against what
they judge to be threatening and ambiguous warning indicators,
should we seek to establish a system which makes the holding
of high level nuclear CPXs subject to an obligation to notify in
advance? Should the practice of promoting military transparency
through Confidence Building Measures be extended from field
exercises and the movement of actual forces to CPXs themselves?
Provided a proposal can be assembled which does not constrain
nuclear CPX activity, (which is militarily vital for the training
of commanders and their staffs in extremely complicated procedures)
could there be advantage in exploring this with the Russians? ████

4. While an element of uncertainty is implicit in the concept
of deterrence, it is assumed that there is mutual benefit in
ensuring that each side does not misconstrue the other’s CPXs as
posing a real threat. Since certain notification measures relating
to test ICBM launches already exist for reducing the possibility
of misinterpretation (SALT II, Chapter XVI) there seems no
inherent reason why similar procedures could not be devised
which extended to certain nuclear CPXs as well. Prior warning
of field exercises has become an accepted feature of the
conventional arms control process, and as such, could be capable
of expansion, although not perhaps within existing for (see
paragraph 7 below). It is for discussion whether notification
of nuclear CPXs would have to be balanced (the reciprocal nature
of conventional notification is an important factor which needs
to be taken into account) or whether notification might be
asymmetric or even unilateral.

5. It is also for discussion what CPXs might be notified and
the extent of information which might be provided. It may for
example be asked whether awareness of the existence of a nuclear
CPX would of itself generate confidence. In our view simple
notification could indeed be effective in reassuring the other
side if it was given sufficiently far in advance to make it clear
that such exercises formed a normal pattern of activity and
took place in relative isolation from the changing temperature
of political relationships between major powers. It might
prove possible to construct notification in such a way as to
avoid giving details of particular scenarios or inhibit in any
way US or NATO exercises.

6. Although the Russian appear to have reacted in an
unprecedented way to the NATO exercise Able Archer 83, ████
████████ This, coupled with the fact that the Soviet Union
is the only nuclear power in the Warsaw Pact, indicates
that super-power nuclear CPXs should form the centrepiece of any
notification procedure, supplemented perhaps on the West’s side
with notification of NATO-wide exercises involving a substantial
American nuclear role. We do not consider that every exercise
involving simulated nuclear release would require notification
████████████████ In the immediate future it might
be enough to attempt early discussions with the Russian. ██

7.  ████████████████████████████████
██████████████████████████ There may
be a requirement for speed ████████████████
███████ This effectively rules out most of the existing arms
control negotiations as suitable fora since discussion of CBMs
in any of these is likely to be unduly prolonged (MBFR),
complicated by an involvement of extraneous participants (CDE,
CSCE) or indefinitely delayed (START). A number of existing
bilateral US/USSR agreements theoretically provide a framework
(‘hotline’ agreements 1963/71, Article XVI of SALT II or
Prevention of Nuclear War Agreement 1973), but none of them seem
easily adaptable to current requirements.

8. An ad hoc forum may therefore be required. A special
contact between the US and the USSR seems the most practical
option in terms of speed, simplicity and security. Although it
was a NATO CPX about which the Soviets appear to have been
concerned, prior consultation within a NATO forum, ████████
████████████████████████ . Although we could
fully justify attempts to increase confidence about nuclear matters
and anticipate considerable support for such efforts, on balance
the search for CBMs is likely to be more effectively pursued ████
However recent experience suggests that a bilateral discussion
involving possible notification of NATO and US national nuclear
CPXs is unlikely to cause problems within the Alliance ██████
████████████████ strengthen the case for discussion
of CBMs relating to Command Post Exercises, specifically
nuclear ones, to be conducted bilaterally between the United
States and the Soviet Union. █████████████████████

9. The President’s Commission on Strategic Forces (the
Scowcroft Report, 21 March 1984) proposes a bilateral exchange
information between US and Soviet Defence officials about steps
which could be misconstrued as indications of an attack. The
Report proposes that a variety of measures should be constructed
to improve communication and predictability which would
‘contribute to stability by improving mutual understanding
and reducing surprise and misinterpretation’. It is our view
that ███████████████ should be acted upon
as soon as possible.

E15 Memo

4 May 84
Copy to:
PA/AUS(D Staff)
Head of DIS(CS)
Head of DS17


Earlier this month, the Secretary of State discussed a recent
JIC Report (JIC(84)(N)45) about Soviet reactions to Exercise
Able Archer 83 with the Prime Minister and the Foreign and
Commonwealth Secretary. At the conclusion of the meeting the
Prime Minsiter said that officials should urgently consider how
to approach the Americans on the question of possible Soviet
misapprehensions about a surprise NATO attack.

2. ██████ has now had a preliminary discussion with
█████████████████████████████████ who
confirmed that ███████████████████████████
the unusual Soviet reaction to Able Archer 83. █████████
██████████████████ about the conclusions reached in
JIC Report (JIC(84)(N)45), and we need to ensure that we are not
perceived in Washington as ████████████████████████
████████████████████████████ However, it may be
significant that, as a consequence of the JIC report, ██████████

3. We now need to put the discussion on to a more political level.
Whatever the reliability of the specific JIC assessment, its paper
has served as a catalyst for consideration of the inherent advantages
of agreeing some confidence building measures relating to nuclear
command post exercises along lines similar to those which already cover
some nuclear and conventional field exercises. FCO and MOD have
therefore agreed that attached paper setting out a number of themes
which would serve as a basis for more detailed discussion with the

4. If the Prime Minister agrees, it is our intention to pass this
paper urgently to the Americans and to aim at a detailed discussion
with US officials in mid-May, ideally before the Foreign Secretary
raises the matter himself with ██████ during the NATO Ministerial
meeting in Washington at the end of the month.

5. I would be grateful for the Secretary of State’s agreement for
the paper to go forward.


Power, Law and the South China Sea: IISS Panel Review

This afternoon the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) held a panel discussion on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The panel was held in the Ascham Room in Bloomsbury House, a large open space on the 2nd floor with views of tall leafy trees, with US Naval War College Professor Peter Dutton and Australian National University Associate Professor Katherine Morton, Chaired by IISS Senior Fellow Christian Le Mière.

The main debates which emerged focused on different methods of dispute resolution in the SCS, China’s adherence (or selective lack thereof) to international law, the influence of the US in the region, and the domestic tension in Chinese politics regarding territorial claims. Both panelists argued that China will not use military power to defend its disputed territories, but rather a blend of economic and diplomatic pressure, which should also be viewed as an exercise of power.

M. Dutton explained the preferred methods of dispute resolution for the involved states: regarding diplomacy, China prefers bilateral resolutions; “others” (presumably ASEAN members) prefer multilateral negotiations; and the Philippines has launched an arbitration case to be resolved by an international tribunal. Non-diplomatic methods were universally deemed power-based, either through armed conflict or non-militarized coercion (economic and political). M. Dutton argued that China won’t use armed conflict as a dispute resolution technique because it might clash with US interests (Taiwan and the Philippines are American allies), and because China wants to adhere to international norms in its so-called peaceful rise to power.

Dr. Morton opened by remarking that China is and will remain a conservative stakeholder of international law and that the motivation for China to become a maritime power is historical. China rejects the UNCLOS on the basis of historical entitlement, and Beijing sees international pressure for multilateral negotiation as an excuse for foreign intervention. Dr. Morton suggested that there is a “rightful” and “limited” Chinese maritime perspective: the former argues that China deserves maritime power and jurisdiction based on historical presence, and will be bullied by other major powers if it doesn’t aggressively seize maritime opportunities; and the latter posits that China should not defend its disputed territories militarily because it is in China’s interests to focus on economic opportunities instead. She concluded that China has adapted to the “ASEAN way”, and now we shall see if ASEAN will adapt to the Chinese way.

The audience in attendance was a half-full room of middle-aged men with a few middle-aged women, plus me. All the questions were taken from men in the front row; as always with these events, there is only ever time for about 3 and the rest are relegated to the dustbin.

In the end we were left with lingering questions: Will the Philippine arbitration move China to more meaningful negotiations? Is the US neutral? (Answer: No.) How will the US presence in the region influence the outcomes of these disputes? How are tensions between law and policy generally resolved, and how does that apply to the SCS?

As an IR theorist my main frustration is the continued obsession with “balancing” of state power. I would have preferred an analysis of the geography of the SCS (continental shelves, resource distribution, naval traffic), the subtle ways in which states utilize language in their diplomatic negotiations, or a challenge to the assumption that China makes territorial claims based entirely on nationalism. If you’re going to focus on states and power, at least give us a detailed overview of the naval hardware.

US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Naval Exercises

The USS George Washington is an American nuclear-powered supercarrier with the capacity to accommodate up to 80 aircraft. Its flight deck is 4.5 acres, its anchors weigh 3 tonnes each, and it’s generally considered to be a floating military base.

The ship moored at South Korea’s largest port, Liberty Port in Busan, on 2013-10-04 to participate in naval exercises with the ROK and Japan between 10-8 and 10-10. Accompanying it were guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Preble.

The KNCA denounced the arrival of the warship: “This clearly indicates that they are the very criminals escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and wrecking peace there.”

US naval presence in Busan is expected to grow, as the USFK broke ground for a new HQ on South Korean naval base last August. The current HQ is in Seoul, while ROK naval HQ is in Busan.

In a separate exercise, the South Korean Navy and Marines and US Marine Corps are engaging in a 10-day training exercise to practice sea-to-land manoeuvres on the Eastern coast. They will mobilize some 10 warships, 3000 marines, 30 armored vehicles, and 20 aircraft.

“Tailored Deterrence”

At the 45th Security Consultative Meeting this past week, US Defense Secretary Hagel and South Korean Minister of Defense Kim Kwan Jin announced a bilateral “tailored deterrence” strategy regarding the North. The Joint Communiqué released after the meeting states that the two nations “reaffirmed” their alliance and “mutual commitment” to protecting the ROK from Northern threats. Unsurprisingly, it also condemned the North’s 2012-12 missile launch and 2013-02 nuclear test, and urged the DPRK to irreversibly abandon its nuclear program. The new deterrence strategy is vague:

This strategy establishes a strategic Alliance framework for tailoring deterrence against key North Korean nuclear threat scenarios across armistice and wartime, and strengthens the integration of Alliance capabilities to maximize their deterrent effects. The ROK and the United States are committed to maintaining close consultation on deterrence matters to ensure that extended deterrence for the ROK remains credible, capable, and enduring. (Joint Communiqué, point 6)

The KCNA responded yesterday (Sunday) by calling the strategy a dangerous move preluding a preemptive strike against the North, and claiming that any signs of the North using nuclear weapons are “cooked up”. Today, Yonhap reported that the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) released a statement threatening to preemptive strikes to counter the “military plot” hidden in the tailored deterrence.