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Jung Jae Kwon: Questioning the nuclear umbrella

Dissatisfied with security guarantees from the US, America’s junior allies want greater control over their own defenses.

MIT News, Leda Zimmerman | Department of Political Science, September 9, 2022,

Many of America’s allies have little faith that huddling under America’s nuclear umbrella will keep them safe. “The conventional wisdom has been that the threat of nuclear retaliation by the U.S. is enough to defend our junior non-nuclear allies,” says Jung Jae Kwon, a political science doctoral student at MIT. “But this threat is not as credible as is often believed, and the allies do not simply want to depend on it for their security.”

Kwon has been researching defense strategies of American client states, gathering data to analyze the security policy and military postures of frontline states that came to rely on U.S. nuclear protection during and after the Cold War………………………………………………………

“When conflicts arise, these allies don’t want to give up territory or lose anything,” says Kwon. “They ask for plans where they have a viable option for victory.”

One example Kwon cites is South Korea, where the U.S. stationed tactical nuclear weapons. “But the U.S. didn’t give South Korea any control over the deterrent, no mechanisms for coordination when it came to nuclear planning,” he says. As a result, South Korea tries to maintain superiority in conventional power against North Korea. “It’s their fate; they don’t just want to rely on the U.S. for security,” he says………………….

And West Germany, America’s most important ally in Western Europe during the Cold War, “wanted assurance from the U.S. that nuclear weapons would be used first,” says Kwon. “They were overwhelmed by conventional Soviet military power, and wanted to assert more control over the U.S. nuclear threat.”

With the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union, European allies grew less concerned about attacks from their neighbors, and more content to rely on the U.S. nuclear deterrent. But recently, the war in Ukraine has shifted defense postures, says Kwon, prompting allies’ calls for greater conventional military presence along Europe’s eastern border. ………………………

“My biggest takeaway is that allies won’t be assured simply by gestures of solidarity, formal alliance treaties, or even the huge nuclear arsenal the U.S. possesses,” he says.

September 19, 2022 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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