NATO Expansion and US Strategy in Asia: Surmounting the Global Crisis

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Lawrence Freedman. But within the United States, domestic politics also has an impact. And, unless U. As a result, even if the United States and Russia were somehow to overcome the bilateral barriers to future arms control, its continuation would be far from assured. Such a breakdown, however it occurred, would reduce predictability in the U.

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There are other potential triggers of arms races. India, for example, may decide to accelerate its production of nuclear weapons. Such a decision could be motivated by strategy or domestic pressure or both , and could be aimed at Pakistan or China or both. But, whatever the cause, if India started to build up more quickly, China might do so too. Similarly, if China started to increase its arsenal rapidly, the United States or Russia might respond in kind. Finally, even without further proliferation, new deterrence dyads could emerge, most obviously between Israel and Pakistan.

Today, there is little evidence of a deterrence relationship between these two states, not least because both appear to lack delivery systems capable of reaching the other—a result, perhaps, of mutual restraint. Israel, meanwhile, is reported to be developing the intermediate-range Jericho III with a range of 4, kilometers.


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If deployed, or perhaps even if not, these missiles could facilitate the emergence of a new deterrence dyad. An Israel-Pakistan deterrence dyad might be the consequence of another trilemma—two in fact, since it is entirely possible that neither state is seeking to target the other with nuclear weapons.

Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too. Politically, however, it would be extremely difficult to orchestrate, particularly for Pakistan. The advent of Israeli-Pakistani deterrence relations would be unique among the consequences of nuclear multipolarity discussed here in that it would bear directly on crisis dynamics—at least insofar as it could create a new deterrence dyad in which a crisis could occur.

Moreover, its emergence could further fuel multipolar arms race dynamics. For example, if Israel were to start augmenting its long-range forces significantly, Pakistan might respond in kind and, in so doing, stir new concerns in India. Rising tensions increase the chance of a deep crisis or even a conventional conflict between two nuclear-armed states. In such a conflict, there would necessarily be some risk that one of these states, in a last-ditch effort to stave off a catastrophic conventional defeat, would resort to the use of its nuclear weapons.

Today, this risk of deliberate escalation is growing as a result, in particular, of apparent doctrinal developments in Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea. Simultaneously, developments in both doctrine and technology are creating a growing danger of inadvertent escalation—escalation that is an unintended consequence of authorized military threats and operations. While there are numerous potential causes of inadvertent escalation, two are particularly important and the focus of the following discussion. First, crisis instability could occur if, in a deep crisis or conventional conflict, a state became worried that its nuclear forces were at risk of being destroyed preemptively.


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  • A second pathway to inadvertent escalation would be the transmission of unintended escalatory signals. Giving political leaders the option of signaling their willingness to use nuclear weapons is, on balance, desirable, since it could facilitate a form of crisis communication. Three out of the four deterrence dyads in which a large-scale military conflict is foreseeable in the near future—India-Pakistan, the United States—Russia, and the United States—North Korea—are characterized by serious and lasting asymmetries in conventional power.

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    In each dyad, the weaker state is believed to have potential incentives to initiate conventional violence and to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons to offset its weakness—a potentially combustible combination not seen during the Cold War. The stronger power in each dyad, meanwhile, has been developing a military doctrine that seeks to bring its conventional advantage to bear most effectively, but in ways that exacerbate escalation risks. In the fourth dyad, between the United States and China, the conventional balance is more fluid—though the United States still enjoys an advantage even in the West Pacific, let alone further afield.

    Escalation risks result, nonetheless, from U. These capabilities seek to prohibit or slow U. To try and ensure its freedom of maneuver, the U. With the caveat that Air-Sea Battle and its successor are both classified and under development—making any discussion necessarily speculative—these goals appear to present certain risks of crisis instability.

    The most serious of these risks would arise if, as some U. Other aspects of Air-Sea Battle are also potentially escalatory. Chinese strategists have, for example, advocated attacking command-and-control assets, including early-warning satellites that have both conventional and nuclear functions.

    The United States, however, might interpret such attacks as the prelude to nuclear use; after all, early-warning satellites also serve to detect an incoming nuclear strike, and China might want to suppress them if it were about to use nuclear weapons, not least to try and ensure that such weapons could penetrate homeland missile defenses.

    To try and persuade Beijing to back down, Washington might issue its own nuclear threats, escalating the crisis toward the nuclear threshold. Although NATO enjoys a wide margin of conventional superiority in Europe as a whole, it is significantly weaker than Russia around the Baltic although efforts are now underway to at least start to address this problem. This imbalance creates the risk that Russia could take NATO territory relatively quickly and painlessly and present the alliance with a fait accompli.

    Russia might hope that the need for NATO to wage a costly and bloody war to reclaim the territory would deter it from trying. Russia might also try to bolster deterrence by threatening the use of nuclear weapons if NATO did launch a counterattack.

    The nuclear deterrence dialogue in Asia

    To date, Seoul has shown great restraint in responding. In a future crisis, however, it might hit back more forcefully, perhaps motivated by domestic pressure. Faced with a potentially catastrophic defeat, North Korea might resort to the employment of nuclear weapons to try and coerce the United States and South Korea into backing down. Inadvertent escalation could also be a serious problem in a U. Once again, U. Separately, as U. But there would also be at least one significant disadvantage: a conditional promise not to seek regime change might well be less credible than a blanket promise.

    Finally, it is also possible to trace a clear causal pathway between sub-conventional violence and nuclear use in South Asia. Following the December terrorist attacks on the Indian parliament and the ensuing crisis, the Indian army began to develop a doctrine, popularly known as Cold Start, to respond to further attacks. Pakistan has explicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons in response—a relatively credible threat given that such use could be on Pakistani soil after Indian troops had crossed the border. Paradoxically perhaps, an Indo-Pakistani crisis could be most dangerous if it was sparked by a terrorist atrocity emanating from Pakistan that was not , in fact, authorized by Islamabad.

    In this case, as U. Instead, the implications of nuclear weapon systems need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The most worrying developments are occurring in North Korea, which is developing land-based mobile missiles and sea-launched ballistic missiles, with the presumed goal of enhancing the survivability of its nuclear forces. Such efforts may enhance crisis stability; but any reduction in inadvertent escalation risks could be more than offset by an increased likelihood of deliberate escalation.

    Specifically, Pyongyang is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs , with the explicit goal of holding at risk targets in the United States, which guarantees the security of both Japan and South Korea.

    What Moscow and Washington Can Learn From the Last One

    Two developments in nuclear weaponry elsewhere appear particularly dangerous from the perspective of exacerbating inadvertent escalation risks. Pakistan is openly developing and deploying nuclear-armed, land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, which are reported to have ranges as low as sixty kilometers. The short ranges of such weapons necessitate their deployment near the battlefield, where they are potentially highly vulnerable to nonnuclear strikes or even to being overrun by a rapid advance.

    Moreover, to compensate for the inherent vulnerability of battlefield nuclear weapons and also, perhaps, to ensure operational flexibility, states might predelegate launch authority to field commanders, further exacerbating escalation risks. Exactly how many warheads this weapon will carry is not known, but it is intended to replace the SS Satan, which can be loaded with ten.

    Meanwhile, according to the U. These programs may be financially attractive to Russia and China since putting multiple warheads on one missile is cheaper than building one missile for every warhead. But they are likely to come with the cost of an increase in the already acute fears that these states have for the survivability of their nuclear forces. Because it is generally assumed that two nuclear warheads would be used to destroy one silo, placing multiple warheads on the missile inside turns it into a much more attractive target. At the other end of the spectrum, various modernization programs—including U.

    Mobile weapons are survivable only after being dispersed, and the act of dispersing them, which might be purely defensive, could send unintended escalatory signals.

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