Sunday, in Singapore, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida lamented China’s unwillingness to clarify its nuclear weapons holdings. His comments came not more than two weeks after Secretary of State Antony Blinken invited Beijing to collaborate on nuclear nonproliferation. Neither referenced the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
As the attached op-ed, “China’s Nuclear Buildup Violates the NPT,” by Thomas Grant makes clear, that’s a mistake. Article VI of the NPT requires NPT members to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race.” China has repeatedly refused to enter into such talks either with Washington or Moscow. Worse, China has launched a major build up of its nuclear arsenal.
Mr. Grant worked on Chinese NPT compliance issues at the State Department. He argues that China’s nuclear build up is an act of bad faith to the NPT. Under the treaty, he notes, “a country must not seek to change the environment surrounding negotiations to such an extent as to pre-determine the outcome of the negotiations.” Although U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons numbers declined in 2022, the Pentagon estimates China will triple its arsenal and achieve rough parity with the U.S. in deployed systems by 2030.
The question now is what, if anything, the United States and like-minded nations will say or do. One step would be to spotlight how Beijing’s nuclear behavior raises NPT compliance concerns. So far, less than two months before the NPT Review Conference at the UN, though, next to nothing has been said. That’s worth changing.
June 14, 2022
Author: Thomas Grant
China’s Nuclear Buildup Violates the NPT
By Thomas Grant
At an international security conference in Singapore on June 12, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida bemoaned China’s secrecy about its nuclear weapons buildup. His comments came only weeks after Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly urged Beijing to work with Washington to promote nuclear nonproliferation. What’s odd is that neither mentioned the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). That’s a mistake.
Certainly, as China races to carry out the largest nuclear weapons build-up since the end of the Cold War, it’s time members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) hold Beijing to its NPT obligations. These include entering into good-faith talks like those with Russia that helped bring an earlier arms race to a close.
That’s what Article VI of the NPT legally binds China, the United States, Russia, the UK, and France to do. Yet, so far, China’s refusal to come to the table has attracted scarcely a word. One hopes that might change at the NPT Review Conference this August, because the pressure on China needs to be principled and consistent if the NPT is to have any chance of fulfilling its promise of effective measures toward nuclear arms control.
China’s build-up presents a serious challenge to strategic stability. For nuclear strategists in the United States and allied countries, the immediate question that China’s build-up raises is the pragmatic one of how best to maintain the credibility of our long-standing nuclear deterrent in a strategic environment that China seeks to dominate. For diplomats and other policymakers who address policy-relevant audiences at home and abroad, China’s build-up calls for reasoned arguments grounded in particular international legal obligations that China is trespassing. It is by the very race for dominance of the strategic environment that China avowedly pursues through its build-up that China most seriously trespasses the core international legal obligation of Article VI of the NPT.
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