Deterring the Risks of Simultaneous Conflicts and Limited Nuclear Attacks in East Asia

October 2023 No Comments

Speaker: Mr. Markus Garlauskas (Indo-Pacific Security Initiative of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council)

Date: 26 October 2023

Speaker Session Summary

Fears of a potential conflict between China and either the US or its allies in the Indo-Pacific—especially over Taiwan—are intensifying. A potential conflict with China is worrying Indo-Pacific experts about the potential for renewed aggression from an opportunistic DPRK. Mr. Garlauskas emphasized that the deterrence landscape has been constantly shifting, placing regional US security interests in danger during the oncoming decade. One risk of beginning a conflict with either the DPRK or China is that it will result in a conflict with both states. There are several plausible pathways for Chinese and DPRK aggression that would increase the likelihood to a multi-state conflict in the region. Factors influencing these pathways include factors like opportunism by actors, escalation dynamics, and regional geography. However, because of pre-existing distrust between Chinese and DPRK leadership, a coordinated and simultaneous offensive against the US or its allies in the region is highly unlikely.

A concerning development in regional security is the likelihood of the DPRK’s use of a limited nuclear attack (LNA). Mr. Garlauskas defined LNA as “the employment of nuclear weapons for lethal, destructive, and/or electromagnetic effect on US and/or allied personnel and assets, while remaining sufficiently limited in space and scale to be only a small fraction of the adversary’s capabilities.” He pointed out that the DPRK has been including the potential use of LNA in its official first use doctrine. Furthermore, the DPRK may be more willing to launch a conventional and nuclear attack if the US and its allies were distracted with a conflict with China.

Mr. Garlauskas gave several recommendations that include operationalizing a focus on integrated deterrence; ensuring the readiness of warfighters to win any conflict; and preparing a timely, credible, and effective response to LNA among others. To find out more about how the US and its allies can conduct effective integrated deterrence and prepare for LNA from adversaries please read Mr. Garlauskas’ article, “The United States and its allies must be ready to deter a two-front war and nuclear attacks in East Asia.”

Speaker Session Recording

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Briefing Materials

Report: The United States and its allies must be ready to deter a two-front war and nuclear attacks in East Asia – Atlantic Council

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Biography: Markus Garlauskas is the director of the new Indo-Pacific Security Initiative of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, which replaces the former Asia Security Initiative. He leads this new initiative’s efforts focused on security, prosperity, and freedom in the Indo-Pacific region. He led projects focused on deterrence and defense issues in East Asia as a nonresident senior fellow from August 2020 until assuming his duties as director in January 2023. Mr. Garlauskas served in the US government for nearly twenty years. He was appointed to the Senior National Intelligence Service as the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for North Korea on the National Intelligence Council from July 2014 to June 2020. As NIO, he led the US intelligence community’s strategic analysis on North Korea issues and expanded analytic outreach to non-government experts. He also provided direct analytic support to top-level policy deliberations, including the presidential transition, as well as the Singapore and Hanoi summits with North Korea. Mr. Garlauskas served for nearly twelve years overseas at the headquarters of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and US Forces Korea in Seoul. His staff assignments there included chief of the Intelligence Estimates Branch and director of the Strategy Division. For his service in Korea, he received the Joint Civilian Distinguished Service Award, the highest civilian award from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Garlauskas holds a BA in History from Kent State University. He earned a Master’s Degree from Georgetown University’s Security Studies graduate program, where he is now an adjunct professor.


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