Over the Horizon Proliferation Threats

By James J. Wirtz; Peter R. Lavoy | Go to book overview

6
Nuclear Energy and the Prospects for
Nuclear Proliferation in Southeast Asia

Tanya Ogilvie-White and Michael S. Malley

No Southeast Asian country has nuclear weapons or plans to acquire them. To the contrary, all countries in the region have committed to the creation of a regional nuclear-weapons-free zone, and there is no obvious reason to question either their support for this initiative or their opposition to nuclear proliferation. Nevertheless, states in this part of the world share a sense of strategic insecurity stemming from actual and potential changes in the regional order. To the north and west lie nuclear weapons states and governments able to join that club in short order. In addition, bitter bilateral differences divide India from Pakistan, North from South Korea, and China from India, Japan, and Taiwan. Uncertainty over the future direction of these enduring rivalries is enhanced by rapid economic development in India and China, growing conservatism in Japan, and America’s distraction from Asian affairs. Southeast Asian countries have never responded to security challenges by seeking nuclear weapons; but today, many are seeking to create domestic nuclear energy industries. Since 2005, Vietnam and Indonesia have announced separate plans to construct nuclear power generation facilities within a decade, and Indonesia and South Korea have signed a preliminary agreement to construct a nuclear power plant. In 2007 the governments of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand declared their own interest in similar programs (which Thailand subsequently launched), and the Burmese military junta has struck an agreement with Russia to acquire a small research reactor. As a result, several governments are likely to develop substantial nuclear expertise and capabilities. This presents two challenges. One is the possibility that nuclear mythmakers will for the first time be able to make politically plausible claims that these countries are able to develop their

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