The Arms Race in Northeast Asia

By Paul Evancoe

army helicopters
With Japan’s unconditional surrender that ended WW-II, the treaty that followed restricted Japan to a small self-defense force. The United States took on the responsibility for defense of Japan. A few years later the Korean War was fought and halted, not ended, at the 38th parallel by a cease fire agreement. While both wars were fought for different reasons, the friendly nations of Northeast Asia to include several strategic island nations located in the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, such as Taiwan and the Philippines, were given protection under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. This was due in large part to the escalation of the Cold War between Moscow and the West and the Arms Race that ensued.

The U.S. realized that if the USSR was able to expand its naval presence throughout the Pacific littoral by establishing warm water ports and air bases capable of supporting the Soviet Navy and Air Force, then it could easily control the Pacific’s key sea lines of communication. The competition for exploitation of the Pacific’s and Persian Gulf’s mineral wealth was keen and denying one’s adversary from securing it was critical to national security. This was a threat of immeasurable heights and one which had to be countered.

Japan and Korea had by now become staunch U.S. allies. Both, because of their strategic location, served to contain the Soviet’s only warm water port in the region, Vladivostok. Even so, the Soviets looked for other strategic locations throughout the Pacific littoral to establish military operating bases. Hypoing, Vietnam was an excellent choice. That was countered by the U.S. occupation of S. Vietnam and a war that lasted 10 years. The Soviets finally got their precious foothold in the South China Sea following the Vietnam War only to go out of business in 1991 with the end of the Cold War.

An era of peace had broken out over most of the entire world. Well, except for the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. Radical Islam was beating the war drums as was North Korea. Both were looking for the ultimate weapon; a weapon so powerful that they could use it to intimidate their enemies into capitulation or annihilate them. They would begin a nuclear weapon program to develop a nuclear arsenal of their own. By doing so they would challenge the regional authority of the United States as well as their neighbors.

The U.S. met this challenge slowly, by creating coalitions formed of friendly nations and NATO member nations. NATO was formed exclusively as a means to counter the Soviet threat against Western Europe, but after 1991 the Soviet Union no longer existed. Now outside its box, NATO was fighting to preserve Middle Eastern regional stability and to prevent the development of weapons of mass destruction by rogue nations like Iraq and North Korea.

Over the last 10 years while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought, countries like Iran and North Korea, for example, have used that time to develop their nuclear weapon programs. Both are believed to now have in their inventory, rudimentary nuclear weapons. The political hacks continually downplay this threat by claiming these rogue nations don’t have the missiles to deliver their nuclear bombs, while discounting the fact that they will most likely be delivered by a suicide bomber directly on target in a car or truck. This, in itself, is a threat to regional stability as well as to the survival of neighboring nations. These nations either have targets painted directly on them for destruction or they’re within the collateral damage radius.

North Korea has masterfully played the United Nations and the U.S. to its advantage by refusing to stop its nuclear weapon development program. By coming across recklessly crazy, even suicidal, its threat to attack South Korea and Japan cannot be reckoned with using conventional political logic and diplomacy. This has left its neighbors, as well as the international community, puzzled as to how to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapon development.

During this same time period the United States has time and again demonstrated its lack of spine in stopping rogue nation nuclear development activity, defaulting instead to weak diplomacy and ineffectual United Nations sanctions. Realizing that there is no longer a U.S. nuclear umbrella to protect them and the U.S. is unlikely to pull the trigger anyway, public opinion has shifted in nations like South Korea and Japan. They are now pushing for their own nuclear weapons as a deterrent to being attacked by a regional neighbor who has “The bomb.” A Northeast Asia nuclear arms race has quietly begun. It is little understood and not reported on by the media. It may only be at its earliest stages and not spoken of aloud, but it is nonetheless happening.

There is a historical analogy that occurred during the 1950s in France. Even though the U.S. had promised to include France under the protection of its nuclear umbrella, many French conservatives simply didn’t believe the U.S. would protect France from a USSR invasion. As a result, French social and political views changed and France developed its own nuclear weapon program. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is little different today. Two thirds of the South Koreans want their government to do something to stop the North Koreans from developing a nuclear arsenal. They have no confidence that the U.S. will adequately protect them from an attack and in view of the U.S. military draw downs and budget cuts; it appears even more dismal that the U.S. would or even could defend South Korea. Japan’s view is no different.

As for the U.S. focus, after more than ten years of continuous, highly expensive war in the Middle East and a failed foreign policy that seems to rely on United Nations consensus rather than the U.S. holding firm in its untiring support of its allies and treaty commitments, many no longer trust the U.S. to come to their aid. They believe the U.S. is in decline and no longer a factor. This, in turn, has sparked a growing interest in regional nations to do what they must to go it alone. In some cases, they are rebuilding their military capabilities and in others they intend to add nuclear weapons. These actions can be seen to the individual nations doing the weapon development as strengthening their probability of survival through deterrence aimed at the “crazies” in their region.

These actions can superficially provide the illusion of stabilizing the situation, but in reality it becomes an arms race. How many warheads does one need to ensure mutual destruction for example, between North and South Korea – or between Japan and North Korea? And, following the exchange and the destruction, what then? Is that when the superpowers step in and provide military and humanitarian aid to the survivors, or do they take sides and put their fingers on the launch buttons of their own nuclear arsenals? Furthermore, should other regions erupt at, or about, the same time, it is likely that regional conflict will escalate into global war.

Can this situation be prevented? It must be! If nothing is done, then nothing changes. There is no crystal ball containing a solution, but we do know that strength speaks well to 3rd world dictators and radical actors. We also know that intellectual liberalism provides no serious threat of preemption or retaliation whatsoever outside of academia, Hollywood and rhetorical politics. Our enemies are not interested in debating our ideas or tolerating our way of life. We must get tough and we must not compromise our course of action. Most of all, we must be willing to know what we believe, why we believe it, and not apologize for the path we take.

————————————————————————————————————– Paul Evancoe is a novelist and freelance writer. His action novels “Own the Night,” “Violent Peace” and “Poison Promise” deal with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and are available at




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