Asia, the region most prone to an atomic surge

The military power that creates the most uneasiness is North Korea
Photo: AP
24/06/2017
16:21
Jerónimo Andreu / Corresponsal
Madrid
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The Asian-Pacific region is where military spending is growing the most in the world. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), its total arms budget in 2016 was USD$450 billion, 64% more than in 2010. Half of this money corresponds to China. Even so, the total remains far from the USD$611 billion spent by the United States.

Asia's problem lies in nuclear weapons. Experts agree that two factors make the region more likely than other to an atomic escalation: on the one hand, its internal instability with multiple conflicts; and on the other, the lack of experience of newcomers to the deterrence game, such as North Korea.

China is one of the five countries (along with Russia, the US, France, and the United Kingdom) to which the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons allows to possess them. In addition, four of the five states which did not sign the Treaty are in Asia: India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

India and Pakistan openly possess nuclear weapons. In the case of Israel, its government does not confirm nor deny having such weaponry.

Iran is the country which has generated the most global tension in recent years. In 2015, Washington and Tehran reached a pact that halted Iran's access to the atomic bomb in exchange for lifting sanctions.

With Russia focused on its European borders, China on its business, and Japan limited by its policy of non-intervention, the military power that creates the most uneasiness is without a doubt North Korea. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Pyongyang went from 3 missile launches in 2003 to 22 in 2016.

Kim Jong-un's brushes with his neighbors are constant, not only with South Korea, but also with Japan, and his ambitions are even greater. North Korea is estimated to have between 10 and 20 nuclear weapons, and its missiles have reached 2.485 miles (4.000 km), but experts believe they could reach 6.213 miles (10.000 km) in 4 years.

All the threats or incentives to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program have failed. "The regime knows that it is its only way to avoid an external intervention, to ensure a joint dialogue with regional powers and to extend its survival," explained the researchers from the Elcano Royal Institute, Felix Arteaga and Mario Esteban, authors of the recent study How can a military conflict in the Korean Peninsula be avoided?

One of their conclusions is that North Korea's nuclear capacity not only increases the possibility of an atomic disaster but also of conventional confrontations in the area. Until recently, South Korea's crushing military superiority and its US ally encouraged Pyongyang to restrain itself. That inhibition has disappeared as its nuclear power increases.

China, despite its military and nuclear power, does not seem to pose a danger, beyond the frictions regarding the South China Sea.

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