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Policy brief | 31 January 2024

Balancing deterrence with assurances: Policy coordination between security partners in the Asia-Pacific

Asia-Pacific Asia-Pacific Region China DPRK North Korea Nuclear Security Nuclear Weapons Risk Reduction Security United Kingdom Global Security

A new policy brief from the ELN and the APLN explores the challenges facing Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the UK in their security strategies towards China and North Korea.

The policy brief distinguishes between reassurance – a positive security guarantee, where a country resolves to defend an ally if they are attacked – and assurance –a negative security guarantee, where a country resolves not to use force against an adversary as long as certain conditions are met. From this definition, the policy brief makes three central arguments regarding assurance:

  • Deterrence without clearly communicated assurances towards adversaries is highly problematic, destabilising, and increases the risks of miscalculation.
  • To reduce those risks, the three Asia-Pacific security partners must balance their deterrence policies with assurances of restraint, chiefly by improving coordination between their respective deterrence policies.
  • The UK is well-positioned and has a strategic interest in facilitating such coordination.

The policy brief argues that these security partners must balance deterrence strategies with assurances and highlights five central challenges:

  1. Coordination: Enhanced coordination among security partners is essential to streamline approaches and views on assurances.
  2. Agreement: The security partners must reach a consensus on how to define red lines towards China and North Korea, including the principles underpinning assurances and their scope.
  3. Empathy: Recognising the impact of diplomatic language on Chinese and North Korean threat perceptions is crucial.
  4. Reciprocity and Trust: Establishing what trustworthy assurances from China and North Korea would entail is important for political acceptability.
  5. Complexity: Addressing the credibility of assurances during simultaneous crises in different parts of the Asia-Pacific region presents a challenge.

Read the policy brief here

This policy brief is part of a joint project between the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network (APLN) and the European Leadership Network (ELN) aimed at understanding strategic threat perceptions and policies among three security partners in the Asia-Pacific – Australia, Japan, and South Korea – and the United Kingdom (UK). The strategic choices of Australia, Japan, and South Korea are heavily focused on strengthening deterrence against China and North Korea, at the expense of credible assurances of restraint.

Image: iStock

The opinions articulated in the report represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network or the European Leadership Network, or any of their members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.