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What to Expect After a Year of Nuclear Crises
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By Wang Fan

One of the more prominent characteristics of the past year was the frequency of nuclear crises. The Iran nuclear crisis and the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis took turns in grabbing the world's attention.

There is also the possibility of triggering a nuclear arms race among other countries. Therefore it is really not an exaggeration to call 2006 a year of nuclear crises.

The nuclear crises are a considerable challenge to nuclear non-proliferation and anti-terror strategy as well as to regional security mechanisms and cooperation in regional security.

Against the backdrop of these nuclear crises, some new characteristics and questions have emerged in the area of bilateral ties between countries and in international security.

The first question is: Can a format of joint management by big powers be established?

The first new characteristic that comes to mind is the developing format for joint management by the existing nuclear powers. Differences still exist between the nuclear powers, and their rivalry remains intertwined with the nuclear crises. Nonetheless, they have reached an agreement on countering nuclear proliferation that is both firm and previously unseen.

The test facing the six-party talks over the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is a fundamental turning point. For a long time, the phenomenon of a traditional security mechanism faced with a non-traditional security situation in East Asia and some other regions has been quite prominent.
The key question here is whether nontraditional security cooperation can effectively resolve the problems that traditional security faces. This is a matter of direction for the future development of cooperation between major powers, a tough problem of the 21st century that demands all-out efforts by politicians.

So far all major powers have been engaged in both rivalry and cooperation over many issues, giving rise to competitive but also mutually reliant relationships, which require better coordinated actions. More efforts are needed to create a Northeast Asia security mechanism.

The successful construction of such a security mechanism will serve as an example for solving other regional issues, including those in the Middle East.

The second question is: Can security outsourcing work?

Under the premise of joint management by big powers, it seems possible to apply the idea of outsourcing in building regional security. There has already been some kind of security outsourcing under certain conditions, most recently to a certain degree following the Northeast Asia nuclear crisis.

By security outsourcing I mean the practice among major powers of sharing or letting other countries shoulder more of their responsibilities. The reason behind this practice is that the common ground for cooperation between major powers is expanding, while efforts by lesser countries to counter the big powers are gathering momentum.

On the other hand, this shows that cooperation between major powers is expanding beyond allied bonds and that the big powers are paying more attention to the collective interest of humankind by looking beyond ideological differences. Security outsourcing is a new formula, which could multiply in the future, since cooperation and mutual trust have been growing noticeably among the big powers.

To realize the ideal of building a harmonious world, it is necessary to strengthen cooperation among major powers in a variety of forms.

The third question is: Can small countries be regulated on how they try to deter big powers?

In the area of security, one 2006 phenomenon worthy of our attention is the fact that certain small countries appeared to be or even succeeded in breaking away from collective control by major powers.

Although the situation in which joint management by big powers over world affairs seemed to be improving, the tendency among certain small countries to break loose was also intensifying and to a certain degree seemed to be out of control.

In a series of situations, small countries tried to deter major powers by undertaking their own nuclear research. Certain small countries actually succeeded in taking advantage of cracks in big powers' strategic maneuvering or loopholes in the big powers' joint management mechanism.

In today's world, almost all small countries are faced with two daunting challenges. One is a difficult existence, including the absence of safeguards on daily life and a basic sense of security and equality; the other is development, as shown in the state of marginalization they find themselves in while watching the rest of the world ride on a rising tide of economic recovery. This sad reality is causing their sense of confrontation against the majority of nations to grow.

As such, the nations of the world should do their best to work together to give those disadvantaged countries the respect they deserve and the care they need. Let them feel tangible rewards from cooperating with other nations in economy and security.

The fourth question is: Will bilateral relations between nations experience new twists and turns?
A host of political fusions and fissions are taking place around the scenes of the Middle East crisis and the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. An example of the fusions can be found in Northeast Asia, where China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have reached increased consensuses while trying to ride out the nuclear crisis. The Korean nuclear crisis may also bring about closer cooperation between big powers like China, the United States and Russia.

As for Sino-Japanese relations, the two nations have taken another step forward thanks to the understanding that both countries should maintain a forward-looking attitude on bilateral ties. The establishment of a China-Japan-ROK free trade area is also close to the ground-breaking stage.

By fission I mean tendency or trend. For instance, the differences between the United States and Russia have deepened, and so have those between China and North Korea. The South-North Korean ties have also seen the biggest crisis since South Korea launched its Sunshine Program to help the North.

Looking ahead, nuclear crises created by small countries will bring increased trouble as well as opportunity to world politicians and experts in international relations. So look for new approaches, new conceptions and new explorations in 2007.

The author is director of the Institute of International Relations at the Beijing-based Foreign Affairs University.

(China Daily January 26, 2007)

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