Just before this week’s presidential election, Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. envoy for arms control, pleaded with NATO members not to share sensitive nuclear technology with China. He made this request to pressure Beijing to join nuclear arms negotiations with Washington and Moscow.
Certainly, reaching limits on the future growth of Russian and Chinese nuclear forces is desirable. In China’s case, special attention needs to be paid not just to how many warheads it has, but to how it might exploit its “peaceful” civilian nuclear infrastructure to ramp up those numbers.
Limiting such a possible ramp up should have a more prominent place on America’s arms control agenda. Mr. Billingslea’s NATO plea is a start. What more is needed? Last week, Henry Sokolski spoke to this question before the Air Force Association’s Nuclear Deterrence Breakfast Series.
It is unclear just how large China plans to make its nuclear arsenal over the next decade. Compounding this uncertainty is China’s latent capacity to make many hundreds of nuclear weapons by tapping existing and planned uranium enrichment and plutonium recycling plants. This possibility puts our Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, on edge. With any bad luck this could prompt them to go nuclear.
To address this, the United States should propose a time-out on reprocessing and cap existing enrichment capacities at their current levels throughout the Pacific Rim, including the United States. Henry Sokolski makes a number of other suggestions at the close of his talk.