Nuclear Weapons, China, and a Strategic Defense Initiative for this Century

Nuclear Deterrence

Nuclear Weapons, China, and a Strategic Defense Initiative for this Century

A modern strategy for addressing the threats we now confront must be conceptually similar to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative and draw from the lessons it conveyed. It must also maintain the sufficiency of our triad and apply technologically advanced answers to the array of new threats we face.

After the USSR

In 1997, fifty former U.S. statesmen wrote to President Bill Clinton to warn of the costs of policies driven by politics, rather than geopolitical assessments and imperatives. These experts were bipartisan.

Signatories included Senator Sam Nunn and two prominent Russia experts who served on the Reagan National Security Council staff, Dr. Richard Pipes of Harvard, and Jack Matlock, who served as our ambassador to the USSR from 1987 to 1991. Their analyses issued from a comprehension of Russian history, which includes the loss of more than twenty-five million of its citizens to Adolf Hitler’s onslaught.

Our commitments to the present members of NATO must endure without question and be exemplified by our steadfastness. This, however, must not preclude our seeking to reach new understandings and accords that will help the Russian people, thus limiting the prospects for enhanced Sino-Russian cooperation.

Russia’s population is dwindling, but it remains a great military power with profound intellectual capital and a long history of outreach to the West. Russia is fundamentally a European state: Moscow’s future must not lie with China. A new relationship with Russia must be based on fairness, reciprocity, and an unceasing commitment to expose malevolence and corruption when expressed by that state.

Sino-Soviet Alliance

The Sino-Soviet Alliance began on February 14, 1950; months later, the Korean War would begin. This alliance began to cleave in the mid-1950s over doctrinal differences. By 1959, relations were in a state of freefall, with the USSR’s withdrawing its technical support for China’s atomic bomb program, which, nonetheless, did succeed in exploding a device in 1964.

Although its understandings with China predated the propagation of the Russian collusion hoax, Russia was propelled further into China’s orbit by this fabrication. Indeed, in November of last year, Russia announced that a roadmap for future military ties with China was signed. We, therefore, have no choice but to be concerned that a Sino-Russian alliance may emerge. 

Russia’s military technology, buttressed by China’s ongoing theft of American intellectual property, threatens to equip the People’s Liberation Army of China, so that, within the next decade, it may credibly rival the military power of the United States. China’s economy dwarfs Russia’s, but Russia offers military technology, energy resources, intelligence, and diplomatic relationships that China does not possess; thus, Russia’s correlation with China must be stopped.

Russia and China are building dozens of nuclear power plants throughout the globe. These plants may serve as redoubts for Russian or Chinese forces, even as these nations conscript the elites of the developing countries in which they are built.

China has deployed its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to shape its relations, alliances, and connectivity on a global scale. To this might, Russia brings its supremacy in the provision of natural gas to NATO nations. Turkey and Germany are already bound to this font.

How must we respond? Our reply must be multifactorial. We cannot act alone. Our outreach must be to the Russian people, for our nations have excelled in science, in literature, and in all the arts.

Our shared history reaches back to John Paul Jones’s service as an admiral in Catherine the Great’s navy. Russian trading forts and settlements once dotted Alaska’s and California’s coasts, and, in 1863, Russian naval ships took positions off New York and California to express support for the Union, thus helping to thwart possible European intervention on the side of the Confederacy. Most memorably, our citizens, as allies, defeated Hitler’s evil through monumental, shared sacrifices.

America’s affinities with the Russian people must not be subverted by kleptocratic elements within the Kremlin that seek power through volatility and subversion. Both sides must step away from dangerous rhetoric, voiced by demagogues and unaccountable commentators, and speak to issues of common interest. Positive rhetoric will enable us to contest Russia where we must, without placing a pall over any chance of progression in our relationship.

Necessary Actions

To separate Russia from China, we must offer an alternative. Reincorporation of Russia into the Group of Eight and greater American and Western European economic investment in Russia, in exchange for its curtailing aspects of its relationship with China and with Iran, can offer a way forward.

As was demonstrated during the communist era, Beijing’s and Moscow’s interests are not convergent. Russia’s outlook is primarily European; its people oppose communism and do not seek to live under any other nation’s shadow. China, in contradistinction, has enshrined a neo-imperialist form of Marxism-Leninism to suit the prerogatives of its new emperor, Xi Jinping.

With these facts in mind, America and its allies must use the full spectrum of soft power to delimit and, in time, rupture Russia’s relations with China. The world is at risk. Bold diplomacy and action are needed.

Arms Control

To deter nuclear war, arms control agreements must be married to prudent force structure policies and initiatives. To serve the cause of peace, arms control agreements must be both equitable and verifiable. To be meaningful, they must lead to binding force structure reductions. Further, the reductions of specific systems must enhance and not perturb strategic stability, which is a function of deterrence.

The 1922 Washington Naval Treaty and the London Naval Treaties of 1930 and 1936 were not farsighted, verifiable, nor comprehensive in their membership, for Japan and Italy were not parties to the final treaty. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, which limited Germany’s naval tonnage, was construed differently by both parties, for Germany errantly viewed the treaty as the beginning of an Anglo-German alliance.

This misconstruction emboldened Hitler’s aims: The treaty did not quash them. Together, these documents failed to prevent global war. Multiple parties to the treaties violated provisions and disguised their substantial preparations for conflict.

America’s treaties with the Soviet Union to limit nuclear weapons have produced inconsistent results. SALT I and SALT II were proven to be both difficult to verify and ineffective in limiting the Soviet Union from dramatically increasing its nuclear forces. START I, SORT, and the New START Treaty led to historic reductions in Washington’s and Moscow’s nuclear arsenals, but never included China.

The New START Treaty has been extended by the Biden administration until 2026, but since it constrains America and Russia, but not China, its utility is limited. This treaty does not meaningfully address the destabilizing nature of HGVs.

As secretary of state, I directed that an American delegation meet with its Russian counterparts in the summer of 2019, in Geneva, to discuss future pathways for arms control. I also directed that steps be taken to include China in three-party talks, while recognizing that multiparty negotiations are extraordinarily challenging, for if handled improperly they can instigate the formation of deleterious unions.

China rejected this invitation; while U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces have been constrained, to a degree, by arms control, Beijing is committed to achieving formidable nuclear capabilities. The difficulties in attaining meaningful and enduring arms control treaties were illustrated in 2019, for the United States was compelled to formally withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), due to Russian non-compliance.

During the past decade, China’s expansion of both its strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces placed the limits expressed in the bilateral treaties between the United States and Russia in sharp relief. Chinese nuclear forces represent a palpable threat in that their rapid expansion in capabilities is woven into conventional and regional strategies that seek to displace the United States as the preeminent power in the Indo-Pacific. America’s position, once considered unalterable, is the foundation for peace in the Indo-Pacific and must be preserved.

China’s nuclear forces provide a final component in its spectrum of power, which it wields to intimidate and to control. In response, America must induce economic costs for China if it does not agree to negotiate meaningful limits on its offensive nuclear capabilities, which must include its hypersonic weapons.

America must pursue tripartite arms-control outcomes that support security and stability; China’s nuclear ambitions must be constrained. We must use various means of power to compel Chinese force reductions, which need to be codified in verifiable nuclear accords.

Our conception and paradigm for global arms control must reflect today’s realities. Any acceptable arms control regime involving nuclear weapons must include China for it to be meaningful.

China must be an active participant moving forward. Further, we must not condone negotiations that devolve into mere concerns for lower system numbers on our part, when such cuts might lead to instabilities due to reductions in either the diversity or the survivability of approved platforms.

Of special concern are next-generation weapons, being developed by our adversaries, which could reduce the threshold for the tactical employment of nuclear weapons of reduced yield. A tactical nuclear exchange, at whatever level, would dramatically increase the potential for global nuclear war by escalation or miscalculation.

America must retain tactical nuclear weapons to deter this type of aggression. Advanced weapons must be pursued if they are necessary to match potential belligerents. Further, we must not agree to any limits on overseas deployments, in order to preserve our geostrategic options.