With the current crisis in Ukraine, it’s tempting to downplay arms control concerns with China as an academic indulgence. That, however, would be a mistake. As dangerous as Russia currently is, China will be far more threatening in the future.
Certainly, we now know that pledges Moscow made not to invade Ukraine or to threaten it with nuclear weapons now demand enforcement lest Moscow’s might against Ukraine be seen as right. The same should apply to China’s dramatic nuclear weapons build-up (“at least 1,000 weapons by 2030,” according to the Pentagon), and its repeated refusal to join with Washington in talks to limit its arsenal as required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
As I argue in the attached Real Clear Defense piece, “Stop Blinking at China’s NPT Misbehavior,” Beijing’s nuclear weapons cynicism clearly flies in the face of its Article VI NPT obligation to negotiate limits on the nuclear arms race “in good faith.” Its repeated refusal to join in such talks should be raised at the NPT Review Conference this August.
Trump officials tried to make the case for doing so in the waning days of their administration. Critics, however, dismissed this effort because they did not believe the administration was as serious itself about proposing new nuclear arms limits. In contrast, the Biden Administration is unlikely to be subject to such criticism.
Still, the State Department’s annual arms control compliance report says nothing about China’s possible noncompliance with the NPT. The report also makes it clear that the department is disinclined to further investigate nuclear testing compliance concerns Chinese nuclear activities have raised.
Just this week, Eliot Kang, the Administration’s top State Department nonproliferation official, addressed Russia’s noncompliance with its nuclear security assurances to Ukraine. Russia, he noted, had violated its pledges not to invade Ukraine after Kyiv surrendered roughly 1,700 nuclear arms and not to threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear armed states, such as Ukraine.
These violations, Kang said, “will no doubt impact the atmosphere of the NPT Review Conference,” and should be discussed. He’s right; they should be and China’s NPT nuclear misbehavior should as well.
May 4, 2022
Author: Henry Sokolski
By Henry Sokolski
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department released its annual arms control compliance report. What stood out was not what it contained but what it failed to mention — China’s crash ramp-up of its strategic nuclear arsenal and its refusal to negotiate limits to these efforts. Under Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), China is obligated to enter into such talks in good faith. Yet, China has repeatedly rebuffed efforts to engage it in such talks. On this, the State Department report was silent. That’s a mistake.
For years, the State Department has insisted that nuclear disarmament is a key objective of the NPT. Washington renewed its New START warhead limits with Russia last year. American nuclear weapons numbers have fallen from over 30,000 in the mid-1960s to roughly 3,700 today. Yet, as U.S. and Russia’s deployed strategic nuclear weapons numbers have declined — now down to roughly 1,400 on each side— China’s are on the rise.
Last November the Pentagon estimated that China will have 700 warheads by 2027 and “at least 1,000” warheads (emphasis added) by 2030. It’s unclear how China will deploy all these weapons. It’s constructed 3,000 miles of underground missile tunnels that could base many hundreds of mobile missile launchers. It’s also building 350 vulnerable missile silos for possible prompt launch and a fleet of submarines that by 2030 could launch hundreds of nuclear warheads or more.
How will China produce the nuclear materials it needs for these weapons? The Pentagon says China could tap its civilian nuclear sector — particularly its fast reactor and plutonium reprocessing systems. These plants cannot produce economic nuclear electricity but are excellent for producing weapons and super-weapons grade plutonium, which is most desirable to expand China’s arsenal.
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