UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear, China

Do Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Hold the Key to Peace in Northeast Asia?

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1969. Wise beyond their years?

I’m not a Rolling Stones fan. There’s something a little dark about their music. I prefer the Beatles, who offered more light and love to listeners. But when it comes to hope for a peaceful way out of the Korean War, the songwriters for the Stones may have given us the key to ending it.

The war started in June of 1950 when Kim Jong-un’s grandfather sent his army south to unify his country, which was divided in half at the end of World War II. He almost succeeded. The United States stopped him. But instead of putting things back the way they were, US forces pushed north to eliminate Kim the elder and his communist government. They almost succeeded. The People’s Republic of China stopped them. The fighting ended in 1953—at the same dividing line where it started—but the war did not.

To make a really long story ridiculously short, the North and the South, the United States and China continuously prepare to carry on the fight. They’ve packed an unimaginably large amount of military hardware into Northeast Asia and ostentatiously practice using it. The balance of forces has been tilting against North Korea for quite awhile. China isn’t the reliably militant communist ally it was in 1950. The North’s economy is tiny and crippled by UN sanctions. But it has one thing going for it: nuclear weapons.

The Kim family dynasty sacrificed a lot to get them. The idea that the grandson is going to give them up before there’s major changes in the current situation, including a formal end to the war, is wishful thinking.

The United States and China have nuclear weapons too. Theirs are legal. North Korea’s are not. The Kims signed a treaty promising they wouldn’t make them. The United States and China signed the same treaty promising they would get rid of theirs but, whatever. For a long time now the United States has been ratcheting up the pressure on North Korea, first to stop them from trying to make nuclear weapons and, now that they’ve succeeded, to give them up. Things got pretty tense a few years ago. Fighting words were flying. Missiles too. Then the Olympics happened.

I love the Olympics. It’s one of those moments we’re all reminded we can love our own countries and compete with people from other ones without hating and killing them. In that spirit the leader of the South invited the leader of the North to meet and talk. There’s been a lot of meeting and talking since then. But every time the talk gets round to ending the war some cranky US somebody or another tells the North, “Only if you give us your nuclear weapons first!” He got sent off to Mongolia before the last meeting and things seemed to get better.

China’s leader, just back from his first visit to North Korea, seems to have put a new deal together. I call it the everybody chills plan. North Korea freezes its nuclear weapons program; the bombs and the missiles, but gets to keep what it’s got. The United States relaxes its military posture but gets to keep its troops in the neighborhood and parade them around as long as it does it more politely. China and South Korea get to help North Korea improve its economy, but UN sanctions that put some limits on what kind of help they can provide and how North Korea uses it remain in place.

Lots of good things could happen if everybody chills. First, no war or threats of war. That’s not a small thing. If they can keep that up for awhile everybody may get more comfortable with the idea of putting it in writing.  Second, North Korea can sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Just saying no to nuclear testing is always a good idea. Third, the UN can get its inspectors back in North Korea to make sure its nuclear arsenal isn’t getting bigger or better. That seems like a real plus to me. Finally, and most importantly, the poor people of North Korea can catch a much-deserved break. Nobody has suffered more from all of this than they have.

Yeah, North Korea gets to keep its nuclear weapons. That’s not good. The United States and everyone else threatened by those weapons will still have to worry about them. But that’s where the Stones come in. When it comes to North Korea, as to many things in human life, you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

 

Xi’s China Stands with World. Trump’s America Stands Alone.

US and Chinese delegations talk trade in Osaka, Japan.

The presidents of the United States and China met at the G-20 leadership summit in Osaka, Japan to try to put an end to a trade war that’s disrupting the global economy. They walked away with a ceasefire agreement that left everyone uncertain about the future.

Almost all of the other members of the G-20 have serious problems with the way President Xi’s China does business. Yet not a single one of them stood with President Trump. The meeting closed with what they politely called a 19+1 declaration. It would be more accurate to call it a declaration of the 20-1 .

China, the United States and the World

At the end of the last world war political, economic, social, cultural, educational and religious leaders throughout the world committed to a collective effort to avoid another world war. They agreed the best way to do that was to act, to the greatest degree possible, in support of common interests, not only national ones.  Over the decades they established institutions, laws, and common practices to work through the very difficult problems that can arise when powerful national interests are at odds with the common good.

Before the People’s Republic of China (PRC) reclaimed China’s seat in the United Nations in 1971—over the objections of the United States, which did everything it could to isolate Communist China from the rest of the world—Xi’s predecessors preached the Marxist-Leninist gospel of global revolution.  They saw the United Nations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which eventually became the World Trade Organization (WTO), as instruments of US imperialism.  Xi’s China is still unapologetically communist. But today China is not only a member of the world order it once reviled, it is one of its biggest beneficiaries and staunchest defenders.

The United States, on the other hand, is walking away from the world order. It is withdrawing from arms control treaties, disregarding trade rules by leveling tariffs and, most importantly, telling the world it will dump as much carbon into the atmosphere as it pleases. President Trump and the officials he’s hired to represent the United States have proudly proclaimed they’re putting US national interests above the common good. They seem to have decided that most if not all of the international commitments the United States made in the past are bad deals that disadvantage the United States to the benefit of others, especially China.

Who will the rest of the world follow? If it takes after Trump’s America the consensus on avoiding world war by building international institutions and promoting global norms to protect the common interest will collapse. If it doesn’t the world is unlikely to follow a communist China with pressing human rights problems and a strident approach to territorial disputes.  Most of the rest of the world is more likely to continue to press forward as best it can without the United States. This latest meeting of the G-20 was a pretty strong signal that the post-war consensus can hold, and that China intends to help defend it.

Hopefully, President Xi will eventually recognize China needs to compromise more of its national interests to make good on that intention. His commitment to combating climate change is an encouraging sign.  Playing a more prominent role in international nuclear arms control and disarmament would be an excellent next step.

Going Forward

The United States is home to 4.3% of a global population rapidly approaching 7.6 billion. It is true that the US share of the global economy has been shrinking for quite awhile. But that’s not a sign of American decline. To the contrary, it is a reflection of the economic success in the rest of the world that US post-war internationalism intended to create.

The reason so many average Americans seem eager to walk away from the world today is not because US internationalism decreased economic disparities between nations—and in the process made the whole world a lot wealthier—but because it increased economic disparities within nations. The benefits of globalization were not shared equally among social and economic classes across countries. Discontent in China is what led to the rise of Xi Jinping. He won the Communist Party’s top spot with a promise to save the Party by rooting out corruption and rebalancing the economy. Discontent in the United States led to the rise of Donald Trump. He won his office, in part, with a promise to save America from foreigners and the supposedly bad deals his predecessors made with them.

The G-20 declaration presented a comprehensive defense of the post-WWII internationalist consensus and a unambiguous refutation of the new US nationalism. It vowed to keep international markets open and to strengthen the institutions that govern them, especially the WTO. The G-20 would have included a warning against protectionism but sought to avoid widening further its rift with the biggest offender, which isn’t China but the United States.

It also took note of “the important work of the International Panel on Climate Change” and declared the G-20 is “irreversibly” committed to the Paris Agreement. Despite vociferous and time consuming US objections, all of its members, except the United States, “reaffirmed their commitment to its full implementation.”

 

 

 

 

 

China’s Counterproductive Response on New START

May 6th, 2019: The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismisses the possibility of entering into strategic arms limitation talks with the United States and Russia

Last month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Trump administration wanted China to participate in discussions on extending the New START Treaty, which places limits on the size of the nuclear arsenals of the countries who sign it. The current treaty, which expires in 2020, is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia. Pompeo said the administration wants to broaden participation in the treaty to include China.

When asked at a recent press conference, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said his government “will not participate in any negotiation for a trilateral nuclear disarmament agreement.” That’s unfortunate. It’s also counterproductive. China lost an opportunity to educate Americans, and the rest of the world, about its comparatively reserved nuclear weapons policies. It lost an opportunity to be an international leader on nuclear disarmament and to achieve numerical parity with the United States and Russia. And, if the ministry’s own assumptions about the disingenuous motives of Trump administration officials are correct, it may have helped Trump pin the blame for failed negotiations between Russia and the United States on China.

Silence is Acquiescence

Most Americans don’t think about nuclear weapons very much. They don’t know how many weapons each nation has or understand the policies governing their use. So when Trump administration officials claim the United States lags far behind China in modernizing its nuclear arsenal most Americans are not inclined to doubt. Without public inquiry or objection, those claims will form the basis of Congressional decisions to approve spending trillions to modernize the US nuclear arsenal so America can catch up with China.

In fact, China’s nuclear arsenal is smaller than the US nuclear arsenal was in 1950. None of its nuclear weapons are kept on high alert. Its nuclear-armed submarines never go on armed patrol. China is working diligently to improve the quality and increase the quantity of its nuclear forces, but at the present pace of those efforts, even if the United States does nothing, China’s nuclear forces will continue to lag far behind those of the United States for many decades.

Geng Shuang, the Chinese spokesperson who made the announcement, mentioned that China’s arsenal is “kept at the minimum level required by national security” and is “an order of magnitude” smaller than the US arsenal. But saying it once at a press conference in response to a question is a veritable whisper in the cacophony of information coming at US voters in this age of social media. Deciding to engage the United States in New START discussions would be surprising, make headlines, generate endless commentary and flood the United States with better information on China’s nuclear forces.

The Chinese government constantly complains about American attempts to hype “the China threat” to the United States. Yet presented with a golden opportunity to dispel at least some of the hype, all the ministry could muster was a few diffident lines at a press conference. All that Congress and the American public will hear is that “China said no.”

Chairman Xi Fails to Lead

That China said “no” to nuclear disarmament negotiations is most likely all the rest of the world will hear and remember as well.

China may be worried that accepting Pompeo’s offer could trap China in a difficult situation. That’s understandable, especially given the relatively strict verification requirements in the existing treaty. But Pompeo may have presented the current Chinese leader with a diplomatic no-lose scenario if he said yes. Had Chairman Xi agreed to engage the United States on the possibility of Chinese participation in New START it would have put the onus on President Trump to respond. Xi could have welcomed the opportunity to have the United States reduce its nuclear forces to a level where China could be an equal party to the treaty. If Trump demurred he would take the blame for China’s absence from negotiations. If Trump said yes the United States would have to reduce the size of its nuclear forces by an order of magnitude. Either way Xi wins. The only way he could lose was to say no, yet that’s what he did.

Geng Shuang told the press, “China stands consistently for the comprehensive prohibition and complete elimination of nuclear weapons.” Claims like this from all the nuclear weapons states ring hollow to the vastly greater number of non-nuclear weapons states, which have been waiting for 49 years for China, the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia to honor their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to “pursue negotiations in good faith … on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” Pompeo’s offer to engage the United States on deep nuclear reductions was a test, intended or not, of China’s commitment to the NPT. Xi failed that test.

The non-nuclear weapons states have good reason to doubt China’s sincerity. Like the United States, China signed but did not ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However inexcusable, the United States Senate rejected ratification shortly after the US signed the treaty in 1996 and a majority of senators remain opposed. China didn’t have that problem then, and it’s even less of a problem under Xi’s leadership. He could direct China’s National People’s Congress to ratify it tomorrow. He could also be more proactive in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (UNCD). China has a highly capable community of arms control experts, many with considerable scientific and technical expertise, who can support a more proactive Chinese stance on nuclear disarmament. Yet Xi seems happy to let things lie. His failure to respond positively to the opening Pompeo presented is a sign that China is content with a status quo where the world remains divided into nuclear haves and have-nots.

This was also a test of Xi’s common sense. Any imaginable negotiating scenario that resulted in a significant reduction of US nuclear forces is in China’s national security interest. A smaller US nuclear force makes it less likely the United States might try to launch a disarming nuclear first strike against China’s small nuclear force – the very scenario China’s nuclear modernization efforts are supposedly intended to address. Engaging in nuclear arms control negotiations with an adversary you believe may not be acting in earnest is a risk, but it’s one a China committed to “the comprehensive prohibition and complete elimination of nuclear weapons” should be willing to take.

Sucker Punched

Finally, Geng Shuang said Pompeo’s offer was an “attempt to make an issue out of China on arms control.” What he meant was that the offer to negotiate wasn’t sincere. He may be right. There’s no evidence the United States approached China about New START either before or after Pompeo’s testimony, just like there’s no evidence the US spoke with China about joining the INF treaty. China’s assumption, and the assumption of most of my colleagues in the Chinese and US arms control communities, is that the Trump administration is setting China up to take the blame for the eventual collapse of the New START agreement, just like it did with the INF Treaty.

Arms control proponents in the United States are urging the Trump administration to go forward without including China because “to include limits on China would be complicated and take many years.” They also say that getting China to agree to New START’s strict verification measures “will require long periods of talks and confidence building measures.” But like the Foreign Ministry’s complaint about making China the issue,  these statements only encourage average Americans and their elective representatives to agree that China is a problem, that China isn’t ready or willing to disarm, so why should the United States. If Pompeo’s offer really was made in bad faith, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and the US arms control advocates urging Trump to forget about China, couldn’t have found better ways to help him get away with it.  

Pompeo Opens the Door to Deep US Nuclear Cuts (Or Large Chinese Increases)

April 10, 2019: Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley questions Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about new nuclear arms control negotiations with China.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Trump administration wants China to join negotiations on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The treaty, which caps the number of deployed US and Russian nuclear warheads at 1550 each, is scheduled to expire in 2021.

China has a no first use policy and is believed to store its warheads separately from its missiles. Under the definition of the current treaty, China would therefore have zero deployed weapons.

It is difficult to believe Pompeo seriously considered the implications of Chinese participation in the New START treaty. If China were to become a party to the agreement, it would expect to be treated as an equal. There would need to be common limits on the number of warheads and launchers each country would be permitted to retain and deploy.

Making China subject to the same restrictions as the United States and Russia would present both countries with a very difficult choice. They would have to decide whether to reduce their numbers of deployed warheads to zero or to allow China to engage in a massive nuclear build up to match US and Russian numbers. They could agree to change the terms of the treaty to include both deployed and stored warheads, which would capture China’s warheads, but then it would also capture the additional 2,000-3,000 warheads that both the United States and Russia have in storage. US and Russian negotiators would then need to find a way to eliminate an even larger disparity in numbers between their countries and China.

A Quick Look at Those Numbers

China currently has a few hundred nuclear warheads and enough weapons-grade plutonium to make several hundred more. The United States has 4,000 nuclear warheads (active and reserve) and enough weapons-grade plutonium to make approximately 5,000 more. Current US estimates indicate China can deliver about 140 of those nuclear warheads to targets in the United States with its approximately 80 ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and 60 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The United States could deliver as many as 800 nuclear warheads on its 400 ICBMs and a maximum of 1,920 warheads on its 240 SLBMs. The US arsenal also currently includes 452 nuclear gravity bombs and 528 nuclear-armed cruise missiles that are delivered by aircraft. China does not currently deploy any of its nuclear weapons on aircraft.

The current New START agreement caps the total of US and Russian deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear weapons at 700. Assuming new negotiations produced a 50% reduction in those numbers—a result many nuclear arms control experts would justifiably herald as a stunning success for the Trump administration—China would be allowed to add several hundred ICBMs and SLBMs to its current arsenal

A significantly larger Chinese nuclear arsenal doesn’t sound like a very good outcome for the United States or its Asian allies.

So What was Pompeo Thinking?

One possibility is that the secretary thinks China’s nuclear arsenal is much larger than it actually is, perhaps due to misinformation circulated in Washington a few years ago.

Not long after Pompeo won his seat in Congress an adjunct professor at Georgetown University submitted a Pentagon-funded report suggesting China had approximately 3,000 nuclear weapons buried in a network of tunnels. The study received a favorable review from the Washington Post and gained some currency on Capitol Hill.

But the study was very poorly done. Its conclusions were based on spurious Chinese sources found by Georgetown undergraduate students using keyword searches of public Chinese websites. Their professor, Phillip Karber, misrepresented a collection of general questions about China’s nuclear arsenal posted on personal Chinese blogs as a secret Chinese military document stating China’s nuclear arsenal was ten times larger than current US estimates.

Peter Navarro, one of the leading voices on China within the Trump administration, cited Karber’s numbers in one of his books. He also claimed China’s leaders were so confident in the success of their nuclear modernization program that they were willing to start a nuclear war, a claim that appears to have influenced the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which suggests China would resort to nuclear first use if it were losing a conventional war with the United States. It’s possible Pompeo’s thinking has been influenced by this kind of talk in the White House.

The next time Secretary Pompeo appears before Congress, someone should ask for his views on the size of China’s nuclear arsenal and his assessment of the Chinese policies guiding how and when it might be used.

Another possibility is that the secretary is using the requirement of Chinese participation to try to diminish expectations for an extension of the New START treaty. Lack of Chinese inclusion was one of the principal reasons cited by the Trump administration in its decision to withdraw from the INF treaty. There is no indication Pompeo approached China about joining the INF treaty or participating in negotiations on the New START treaty. Perhaps that’s because he assumes China isn’t interested.

China’s Response

China consistently rejects multilateral arms control negotiations. It prefers international negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations. So trilateral talks with Russia and the United States are unlikely. However, Chinese arms control experts often point out that China would be willing to enter into multilateral nuclear arms control negotiations when the United States and Russia reduce their numbers to levels approximately the same as the rest of the nuclear weapons states, which hover in the middle hundreds rather than in the thousands.

Chinese President Xi Jinping should seize the opportunity presented by Pompeo’s remarks to engage the United States on Chinese participation in New START talks that would result in dramatically lower limits on the size of US and Russian nuclear forces. Chinese arms control experts seem prepared to tackle the difficult technical issues involved in the verification of an agreement on deep nuclear cuts. They’ve been discussing verification issues at international arms control conferences ever since China signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

Secretary Pompeo may not have intended to open the door to substantial nuclear reductions, but Xi would be remiss if he let this opportunity slip by without at least making an effort to further the discussion.

Nuclear Weapons in the Reiwa Era

Japan will soon have a new emperor and a new dynastic name to mark the traditional Japanese calender: Reiwa (令和). Interminable commentary on the significance of the name is just beginning, but in the end it will be defined not by words but by deeds. One of the most important acts the Japanese people may be compelled to take as the new era begins is to decide whether to allow their government to introduce US nuclear weapons into Japan. They may have to choose between continuing to honor the legacy of Hiroshima and the warnings of the hibakusha or abandoning Japan’s longstanding role as a leading voice for peace and nuclear disarmament.

Prime Minister Abe and the foreign policy elite of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are pushing the United States to increase the role of US nuclear weapons in Asia. They told US officials they want to alter Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles to permit the introduction of US nuclear weapons into Japan. They also want to revise Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution, in which the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a mean of settling international disputes.” The Abe government’s desire to re-write the constitution and re-arm Japan is well known and hotly debated. But its efforts to bring US nuclear weapons into Japan are a closely guarded secret, known only to a small group of officials in Japan’s foreign policy establishment.

UCS obtained a document that contains a detailed description of the Japanese foreign ministry’s requirements for US nuclear weapons. Multiple conversations with the Japanese official who presented this document to his US counterparts not only confirmed its content, they also revealed this small group of hawkish officials wants to train Japanese military personnel to deliver US nuclear weapons. They would even like the United States to grant Japanese leaders the authority to decide when to use them. Japanese officials refer to this arrangement as “nuclear sharing.”

This information is not being kept from the Japanese people for security reasons. The responsible officials believe it is important for China to know Japan has the authority to make such a decision and the capability to carry it out. Preparations to make “nuclear sharing” a reality are being kept secret because these officials are afraid the Japanese public would oppose it. Their covert nuclear weapons wish list blatantly violates both the letter and the spirit of Japan’s constitution and the Three Non-Nuclear Principles.

Public opinion polls indicate many Japanese people would like to make the use or threat to use nuclear weapons illegal, which is the purpose of the recently adopted UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). A large majority of their elected representatives, even within Abe’s ruling LDP, want to uphold Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles, which forbid “nuclear sharing.” Many Japanese people take pride in the belief that their country plays a leading role in advancing nuclear disarmament.

The gap between the public’s aspirations and the private machinations of its current leaders is difficult to reconcile.

Prime Minister Abe, like US President Trump, governs his country with a mix of nationalism and authoritarianism. His political opponents seem incapable of mounting a serious challenge to his leadership or his policies. But the absence of effective opposition is not an indication of popular support. Abe’s approval rating is not that much better than Trump’s. And like the current US president, he holds on to power with a dedicated minority of loyalists, disingenuous manipulation of the mass media and the resignation of a dispirited majority who see no compelling alternative.

Abe appears to have injected his nationalist agenda into the selection of the name for the new era. Press reports highlight that Reiwa (令和) is the first Japanese dynastic name not taken from the Chinese classics. The collection of Japanese poetry that inspired Abe’s selection was popular among the military officers of Imperial Japan who led their nation into World War II. Critics panned Reiwa as a cold expression of Abe’s authoritarian tendencies, but it seemed to be well-received and gave an immediate lift to the popularity of a man on track to become the longest serving prime minister in Japanese history.

Abe told the press Reiwa suggests a period when “culture is born and nurtured as the people’s hearts are beautifully drawn together.” His cabinet secretary told the world that Reiwa should be translated into English as “beautiful harmony.” So it may be that the initial appeal of the new name is more in line with the widespread public support for Japan’s pacifist constitution and the spirit of international cooperation than with Abe’s atavistic appeals to the chauvinist ambitions that led to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.

Only time will tell. Japanese attitudes towards nuclear weapons may be the most important window into the ultimate meaning of Reiwa. Making sure the Japanese people know what their government is saying and doing about nuclear weapons may be the best way to ensure that window is clear.

Also: today we’re releasing a short documentary that we filmed in Hiroshima last year. It covers some of the issues around the Japanese Foreign Ministry and US nuclear weapons, as well as firsthand accounts of the bombing.