As the dust settles on the inconclusive Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which ended last week in New York, it’s worth noting that it produced something that was quite significant. Biden, in his signed opening conference statement, closed ranks with Trump Administration officials on Chinese nuclear misbehavior. In specific, he spotlighted China’s reluctance to negotiate effective nuclear arms limits as required by Article VI of the treaty.
As I and Thomas Grant, a former nonproliferation legal adviser at State, argue in the attached The Hill piece, “China: A Nuclear Nonproliferation Deadbeat,” Beijing’s nuclear antics have not only got Biden agreeing with former Trump officials, but Senator Ted Cruz and the Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons singing on this point from this same sheet.
There’s some weirdness here but it’s hardly as significant as the substantive concern these divergent actors share: China’s nuclear build-up and the major threat it poses to achieving any nuclear peace. It flies in the face of the NPT’s clear requirement for nuclear-armed parties to the treaty to engage in good faith negotiations on effective measures to limit nuclear weapons threats. This China has repeatedly refused to do.
Both Tom and I thought the Biden Administration would dim the Trump Administration’s spotlight on China’s nuclear build-up and the NPT compliance concerns it raises. We were wrong. Now, the challenge is to brighten this spotlight and to propose “effective measures” that Beijing cannot ignore without losing face. At the end of our piece, we suggest several ideas.
August 31, 2022
Author: Henry Sokolski and Thomas Grant
By Henry Sokolski and Thomas Grant
It’s gone unnoticed, but the Biden and Trump administrations agree on something important: By refusing to join arms control talks, China is flouting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a nuclear arms control cornerstone. And they aren’t the only ones saying so. Japan’s prime minister, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are too.
Sound weird? It is. But so is Beijing’s nuclear behavior. Last year, U.S. commercial imagery satellites spotted breakneck work on 350 Chinese missile silos. Each could hold a three-to-10 warheaded missile. That foreshadows 1,050 to 3,500 Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warheads. By contrast, the United States has 400 silos with missiles carrying only one warhead each.
More recently, evidence emerged that China is significantly expanding its nuclear test facilities at Lop Nur. Combined with Beijing’s construction of two “peaceful” breeder reactors (which produce super-weapons grade plutonium, which makes creating smaller, lighter warheads for missile delivery much easier) and two reprocessing plants (which extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel), and China is already off the starting blocks to a nuclear arms race.
In autumn 2020, President Trump’s Pentagon estimated China had a nuclear arsenal in the “low 200s,” poised to “at least” double by 2030. A year later, Biden’s Pentagon upped this projection: China will have “at least 1,000” warheads by 2030.
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