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Regional Security Issues In The Asia-Pacific Region And Risks Of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation In Taiwan On The Agenda Of A New PIR Center Midweek Brainstorming Session

June 10, 2022

MOSCOW. JUNE 10, 2022. PIR PRESS. “While the risks of nuclear proliferation in Taiwan remain low, tensions arising given an aggressive US regional policy of containing China undermines stability in the Asia-Pacific and hardly contributes to strengthening nuclear nonproliferation regime”, – Larisa Savelyeva, a PIR Center Intern, Nuclear Nonproliferation & RussiaProgram, MSc, Swedish Defense University (Stockholm, Sweden).

On June 2, 2022, PIR Center held a Midweek Brainstorming Session, an informal expert seminar, on the topic “Taiwan’s Nuclear Potential and Regional Security Issues”. The report on the topic was delivered by Larisa Savelyeva, PIR Center Intern of the Nuclear Nonproliferation & Russia Program, MSc graduate, Swedish Defense University (Stockholm, Sweden). This Midweek Brainstorming Session was held against the backdrop of the coming publication of a new PIR Center report “A New Nuclear Nine? Assessing the risks of nuclear proliferation in the world”, which will be released later this year.

In her presentation, Larisa Savelyeva noted several foreign policy and domestic political aspects affecting the prospects of nuclear weapons proliferation in Taiwan. In particular, the threats to Taiwan’s national security were considered, as well as the strategic ambiguity of the latter’s bilateral relations with Washington as well as the legal basis of American security guarantees provided during the Cold War era. Detailed coverage was given to the history of Taiwan’s nuclear program, especially regarding the plutonium branch of Taipei’s nuclear weapons program developments. It was noted that the current capabilities of Taipei’s nuclear infrastructure speak in favor of the particularly low risks of nuclear proliferation on the island.

In the context of legal as well as normative impediments to Taiwan’s potential nuclear proliferation, the report also highlighted the specifics of Taiwan’s socio-political discourse, in particular the evolution of the ideology of the Kuomintang Party as well as general anti-nuclear sentiment in the country.

In the final part of the report, Larisa Savelyeva outlined the main characteristics of the current security situation in the Asia-Pacific region. Of particular importance is the return of the nuclear issue on to the agenda in several countries in the region; the impact of the Taiwan issue on the domestic discussion in the United States regarding defense budget allocations to new weapons systems; the impact of the current crisis in Europe on third countries’ perceptions of the relations between China and Taiwan as well as the changing US rhetoric regarding Taipei.

A detailed commentary on the situation in the region, as well as the position of the People’s Republic of China in particular, was made by Vladimir Nezhdanov, Assistant at the Department of History and World Politics of Tyumen State University, expert of the Institute of Contemporary International Studies  of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation: “Despite the general attention to the Ukrainian issue, in Asia one can observe a slow escalation around Taiwan, associated both with US-Chinese rivalry and attempts to form anti-Chinese blocs, Beijing’s actions to find partners, strengthen political and economic ties. In this regard, attention to the problems of security, political and military interaction in the Asia-Pacific is of particular importance in the current state of world disorder”.

Vasily Dobrovolsky, Adviser to the Institute of Contemporary International Studies of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, noted during the follow-up discussion: “A detailed analysis of the main topic through the lens of the regional geopolitical context, characterized, in particular, by the US attempts to use the topic of Taiwan as one of the triggers for promoting the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” aimed at strengthening American positions in the Asia-Pacific region under the pretext of containment of the PRC can be considered a positive feature of the report … No less justified is the focus of the author’s attention on Taiwanese socio-political realities associated with anti-nuclear sentiments that have taken root on the island, which are also characteristic of the public opinion of neighboring East Asian countries, which predetermines a corresponding negative reaction in the event of any hypothetical attempts to activate the Taiwanese nuclear factor”.

Vladimir Kuchinov, PIR Center Advisory Board Member, Associate Professor of the Department of International Relations, Institute of International Relations, National Research Nuclear University MEPhI, noted the relevance of the topic discussed in the report in connection with the growing tension in relations between China and the United States, and the role of Taiwan. He also noted the detailed analysis of the various stages of Taiwan’s endeavors within the nuclear field, including with a potential military focus. Agreeing with Larisa Savelyeva that Taiwan’s current activities in the nuclear field pose a low risk for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, Vladimir  Kuchinov stressed that “the absence of uranium isotope enrichment facilities in Taiwan, as well as the reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel, reduces this risk to zero. Moreover, it appears that strong anti-nuclear sentiment both on the island and in the region will not allow such installations to appear in Taiwan in the foreseeable future, which, together with the IAEA safeguards applied to peaceful nuclear activities, will maintain these zero risks of nuclear proliferation in relation to Taiwan”.

Mikhail Lysenko, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia, Ph.D. in Law, Deputy Head of the Department of International Law of MGIMO University, shared his impressions of the report: “Larisa Savelyeva‘s report ‘Taiwan’s Nuclear Potential and Issues of Regional Security’ was clear, well-reasoned, and systematic. It gives room for constructive discussions. In the context of regional security, the author analyzes Taipei’s missile potential. I believe that the picture will not be complete without considering the island’s anti-missile capabilities”.

The importance of tracking American rhetoric around Taiwan was emphasized by Artem Kvartalnov, junior research fellow with Nuclear Nonproliferation & Russia Program at PIR Center: “It must not be forgotten: the chances that Taiwan will acquire its own nuclear weapons in the coming decades tend to be zero. That said, however, the political dynamics must be monitored. Calls for the United States to abandon the policy of strategic ambiguity with regards Taiwan, as well as changing assessments of the spectrum of threats against the backdrop of a security crisis in Europe, cannot but affect long-term political results”.

Maxim Lats, Master’s student at St. Petersburg State University, further emphasized the relevance of the issues discussed during the seminar: “In her presentation, Larisa Savelyeva raised an extremely important topic, namely the Taiwan issue, which will not lose its relevance in the foreseeable future. This tug of war in the Taiwan Strait between the US and China is getting closer and closer to the parties’ red lines. In this regard, this Midweek Brainstorming Session of PIR Center may be of help in developing Russian policy in this area. The historical digression into Taiwan’s nuclear program, as well as the analysis of domestic political factors, was very valuable. In this regard, one should note the high level of discussion that the report provoked: very sensible comments were made, and key technical aspects highlighted that are worth focusing on. In the context of assessing nuclear proliferation threats, such a warning shot by PIR Center was very timely and helped keep the focus on the state of the nonproliferation regime both in the Asia-Pacific region and on a global scale. Despite the low risks of nuclear proliferation on the island, it became clear this is not the time to relax. Therefore, while the eyes of the world media are not focused on Taiwan at all, it was particularly relevant to listen to a detailed and high-quality analysis of the island’s nuclear potential.”

The event was also attended by Viktor Yesin, PIR Center Advisory Board Member, Consultant to the Commander of the Strategic Missile Forces of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Associate Professor of the Faculty of World Politics of Lomonosov Moscow State University, Oleg Krivolapov, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for the US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Natalia Romashkina, Head of the Group of Informational Security Problems of the Center for International Security of the IMEMO RAS, representatives of the Russian non-profit sector, domestic and foreign universities, young international specialists as well as representatives from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Alexei Nebogatov, Advisor to the Foreign Policy Planning Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, noted: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank PIR Center for inviting me to the informal expert seminar “Taiwan’s Nuclear Potential and Regional Security Issues.” Given the current international situation, the topic of Larisa Savelyeva’s report raises interest, including from the point of view of its further development. We look forward to further cooperation with PIR Center including information and analytical support from its side following the results of such events”.

The recording of the event can be watched via the link.

For more information on and participation in PIR Center Midweek Brainstorming Sessions, please contact PIR Center Education & Training Program Coordinator Elena Karnaukhova at [email protected]