Dec 7, 2020 in Exploratory
Nuclear Politics Weapons, Energy


The primary energy demand in East Asia and the rest of the world is projected to grow. Therefore, both developed and emerging East Asian economies are collectively concerned about the accessibility and affordability of energy resources in the years to come. The adoption of nuclear energy present insecurities linked to the capability of countries using fissile materials in nuclear energy plants to generate power and the capability of these countries to reprocess spent fuel and develop weapon-grade plutonium. Such dependencies induces economic, social and political insecurities. Chinas rapid economic growth has increased dependencies on nuclear energy and oil imports. The growth in the demand for energy is likely to impact on regional and international security as in the case of tensions between North and South Korea. Since energy security is an intersection between the availability of energy-related natural resources and the overall national security, East Asian countries are increasingly considering regional cooperation. Regional cooperation in energy security demands a political will, as well as frameworks and policies that can ensure the regional security and energy sustainability. The purpose of this paper is to explore the East Asian security and energy policies. The paper systematically reviews various resources on energy security in East Asia. Results shows that the most dominant theme in matters regarding security and energy sustainability concerns in East Asia is the need of greater regional cooperation.

Energy security is an intersection between the availability of energy-based natural resources and national security. Modern economies relies on access to cheap energy. However, their economic sustainability relies on their national security and sustainability of the available energy resources. In line with this reasoning, many East Asian countries are increasingly concerned about the security of their energy resources. Concerns entails whether these economies will have adequate energy at an accessible cost, to meet the projected demand within tolerable risk. Geopolitically and geographically, East Asia include China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, North Korea and South Korea. These dragon economies compete globally, these dragon economies demands clean, affordable and sustainable energy resources. China surpassed the United States as the largest importer of oil in 2015. Prior to 1993, China was an exporter of oil, but due to Chinas share in the global trade, oil and other energy resources have become insufficient. The continued growth in energy demand in East Asia is likely to have an effect on regional and international security. In other words, the continued growth of energy consumption in these countries creates dependencies, which in turn induces insecurities. To address these energy security concerns, there is a need to analyze and understand the security and energy situation in these countries. In addition, regional cooperation is required in the East Asian region to meet the challenges of energy security. In that respect, this paper explores the East Asian security and energy policies.

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East Asian Security

For centuries, the West was synonymous to fortune and fame. Presently, it is the East that stands out for those seeking riches and adventure. The East stretches from Eastern Europe covering Central Asia, deep into India and China. This region is increasingly taking playing a pivotal role in international commerce, culture and politics. In other words, the East is increasingly shaping the political, social and economic aspects of the modern world. Politically, the Silk Roads, which refers to the routes the Mediterranean Sea and China runs through some of the of the worlds most dangerous and unstable countries, including Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Along the route flowed civilizations, goods and even diseases. The Silk Roads connected empires, oceans and continents. Ironically, the worlds major sources of oil lies along the Silk Roads and the Middle East. One of the valuable commodities of the Silk Roads that led to rise of empires and some of the most developed countries in Eurasia is oil. Historical tensions along the Silk Roads are resurfacing. At the center of these tensions is the growing demand for oil, which drives the economies of both developed and developing countries. As a case in point, East Asia relies on oil imports from the East. The growth in East Asian energy consumption is both a contributor and a consequence of economic development and growth.

In the early stages of economic development, energy consumption as a contributor and consequence are synergetic and positively coupled. As these economies grow, the two aspect of energy consumption becomes less coupled. In other words, the growth of energy consumption becomes more of a consequence of economic growth than a contributor of economic growth. Therefore, the emerging economies in East Asia, especially China, increasingly bid for an expanding portion of the regional and global energy resources. In an effort to address this growing energy demand, East Asian countries have considered developing nuclear power plants to generate enough supply of electricity for their growing demand. However, the development of nuclear power plants comes with more social, political and economic issues.

Despite the fact that constructing nuclear power plant demands enormous capital and subsequent expenditures on maintenance and security of these plants, such expenditures are justified by the argument that nuclear energy will eventually be cheaper than the depleting fossil fuels. In addition, proponents of nuclear energy also argue that it is cleaner than fossil fuels, which have a detrimental effect on the ozone layer; thereby accelerating global warming. Arguably, construction of massive nuclear power plant involves the use of fossil fuels but limited as compared to the continuous use of fossil fuels in domestic uses, as well as in transport and manufacturing industries secondary to economic growth. The point in contention is the blurred gap between the use of fissile materials in the production of nuclear energy and the use of the same materials in the development of weapons. Technically, there is a connection between the capability of meeting the demand of national infrastructure using nuclear energy and the capability to convert the same fissile materials into nuclear bombs, based on either plutonium and or highly enriched uranium (HEU) . Plutonium does not exist naturally on earth, but produced by uranium-fueled reactors. Plutonium was produce and separated during the Second World War. It destructive power was evident at the end of the war in the annihilation of Nagasaki.

With the exception of China and North Korea, none of the East Asia states have developed nuclear weapons. Alongside Pakistan, India and Israel, North Korea is a nuclear weapons state that is yet to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). On the other hand, China is one of the five declared nuclear weapons states. Despite being a beneficiary of nuclear technology, China is much unlikely to share it with its neighbors due to the existing tension. This is in contrast to the view that countries with advanced peaceful nuclear technologies should share with non-nuclear weapon states to uphold their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty pledges. Despite being a non-nuclear weapon state, Japan reprocess spent nuclear fuels resulting in weapon-grade plutonium exported to a secure location in the United States. The official Japans perspective is that there is a negative correlation between nuclear cuts and proliferation. Therefore, a significant reduction in nuclear weapon stockpiles could encourage the United States adversaries to increase their stockpiles, leading to nuclear parity. Consequentially, non-nuclear weapon states allied to the United States such as South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Turkey can decide to go nuclear by themselves. Strategically, South Korea considers arming itself to counter possible nuclear aggression from North Korea. Therefore, there is a thin line between nuclear energy production and the development of nuclear weapons. This blurred line induces political tension not only regionally, but also globally, following that North Korea has increasingly illustrated its military prowess by testing nuclear weapons. In simple terms, the growing demand for energy in East Asia has led to a nuclear race. With the increasing attractiveness of China and the threats from North Korea, South Korea is justified to argue that it has the same rights as Japan in regard to separation of plutonium for civilian and military use. Such controversial desires and plans threatens the energy security of East Asia. In fact, these desires are in sharp contrast to the official United States perspective, share by nuclear weapons control proponents, is that countries that have these weapons are obliged to reduce their stockpile as required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is clear to these countries that even the smallest amount of plutonium could kill thousands and spark a crisis in the global village. Ironically, nuclear scientist that led to the development of plutonium bomb had a vision that it would find a peaceful purpose. The idea was that a plutonium breeder reactors would power civilization. However, even civilian plutonium programs have accumulated weapon-grade plutonium.

Besides the growing demand for energy, institutional inertia and the original uses of plutonium, that is, the development of nuclear weapons explains the growing interest in East Asia, particularly South Korea in separating plutonium. The argument that South Korea has a right to separate plutonium from spent fuel has grown following the North Korean nuclear tests. As one would argue, plutonium programs provides a latent nuclear deterrent against aggressors. However, their development and increased stockpile increases tension among states. Logically, a nuclear crisis can be avoided by orienting foreign policy and military actions towards fewer nuclear weapons in the hands of fewer countries. There is also concern over China plans to use a reprocessing plant to increase its nuclear weapons stockpile to match USA and Russia. In addressing the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and nuclear weapons in East Asia, the United States has an important role to play. Its role is attributed the fact that it is a nuclear weapon stated bound the NPT. Additionally, the United Stated is an economic partner and military ally of Japan and South Korea. On one hand, the US can employ unilateral diplomatic pressure, whereas on the other hand, a preemptive military assault can be used. To recap, the plutonium plans in East Asian Countries, reinforced by the assumption that they intend to use them militarily rather that for civilian purpose, continues to destabilize an increasingly unstable part of the Silk Roads.

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East Asian Energy Policies

East Asian countries acknowledge the fact that conventional energy sources will not be able to sustain their economic growth, therefore the region needs to secure supplies from the international market in the face of market volatility and stiff competition. For example, China needs sustainable energy resources to sustain its export-oriented manufacturing processes. For that reason, accessing energy resources has become the main priority in its foreign policy. Due to its geopolitical location and limited energy resources, the Middle East has turned to be attractive and vital for its needs. However, similar to other East Asian countries, China diversifies its energy sources to cushion it from the volatility of the global energy market. The volatility is due to an array of unpredictable factors including economic growth, security issues, technology and cultural system of petro-states like Saudi Arabia. This volatility is complicated by the fact that Eurasian countries are the major producers of carbon dioxide, which is connected global warming and climate change. In fact the effect of transnational pollution, both in East Asia and globally are a source of insecurity stemming from energy use. Despite the numerous advantages presented by the adoption of nuclear energy, there are fears that the development of nuclear power plants can translate to the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, there are also concerns that nuclear power plants presents catastrophic risks such as the 2011 meltdown at one of the Japanese nuclear power plants. In that regard, there has been efforts to develop policies and measures that would ensure that the development of power plants in useful. In other words, energy policies surrounding the development of nuclear energy strive see that developed countries provide developing economies with peaceful nuclear assistance. In addition, these policies also strives to ensure that nuclear technologies do not contribute to the trafficking of radiological materials. The dominant theme in East Asian security and energy policies is that diffusion of reprocessing and sensitive enrichment technologies, and latent nuclear weapon capabilities induce security dilemmas, international conflict and crisis instability.

In response to these fear, East Asian countries are increasingly formulating policies that link energy security to regional trade and cooperation. Some of the consequences of these efforts include subsidies for renewable energy, emerging markets in biofuels and the growing role of China in regions energy trade. There are several ways through which the cooperation of East Asian countries continues to strengthen both national and regional policies on energy security. Firstly, East Asian countries consider sharing knowledge and information in the creation of effective evidence-based policies. The second way entails process standardization and process system consolidation, which are secondary to the acceptance of common policies. Lastly, national policies on energy security are strengthened through the development of sub-regional energy and gas markets. As in Chinas case, the priorities of their energy policies are renewable energy and energy efficiency. In many scenarios, it is beneficial to work with harmonized policies. In the long-run, the most significant impact of regional East Asian cooperation on country-specific energy security include the developing of domestic networks and markets. In recognition that overreliance on imported energy unavoidably introduces risks pertaining to interruptions in supply, as well as price volatility, which can have a negative impact on their economic activities, energy policy makers in East Asian countries are preoccupied with the task of ensuring that both local and imported energy supplies are stable.


From the review, examples and discussion above, it is apparent that the challenges of energy security within East Asia in the years to come can be met through improved regional cooperation. It is also evident that a nuclear race is surfacing in East Asia as the demand for energy increases and the threat from North Korea surfaces. Strategically, South Korea is likely to pursue the development of nuclear weapons in an effort to deter the aggression from North Korea. Such ambitions are likely to lead to a nuclear crisis that can be averted by orienting military and foreign policy towards fewer weapons in fewer hands. Central to this cooperation are frameworks or policies designed to promote knowledge transfer, trade, investment and competitive markets. In terms of policy, the Dragon economies can manage energy security risks by encouraging energy efficiency, diversification of energy supply, energy management, protection of transportation routes, and conservation of natural resources.



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