Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Beijing’s nuclear sleight of hand

Negotiators in Washington, Moscow and at the UN should be aware that once parity approaches, Beijing could prove much less willing to abandon its own nuclear ambitions

Officially, Beijing’s position on nuclear weapons is one of complete and thorough disarmament globally. This view was reaffirmed by Wang Qun (王群), China’s disarmament ambassador to the UN at the UN General Assembly on Friday.

Wang said nuclear disarmament should be based on the principle of global strategic stability and involve a “viable long-term plan” composed of “phased actions.” Meanwhile, Beijing has voiced support for efforts by Washington and Moscow to reduce their nuclear stockpiles to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads each as part of a successor to the START treaty.

While it is difficult to disagree with calls for nuclear abolition along a moral line — current stockpiles, albeit reduced, are still enough to blow us out of existence many times over — Beijing’s enthusiasm on the matter is far less humanistic than it would like us to believe.

Key for China, as stated by Wang, is strategic stability, which at present it does not enjoy. Despite the impressive modernization of its military, China’s estimated 200 nuclear warheads are insufficient to deter rivals such as the US or Russia, whose arsenals remain in the thousands. Beijing is aware that a country that seeks to become the dominant power regionally, if not globally, cannot hope to freely flex its muscles with a nuclear component about the size of the UK’s.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Michael Fagan said...

There is also the mad old game-theory argument that "proliferation" would actually result in a lower probability of a nuclear exchange. The assumptions are not to be trusted though.

Test-ban treaties and stockpile reductions are all well and good, but surely the most effective way to deal with nuclear weapons is to find relatively cheap and effective ways of countering their delivery systems.

FOARP said...

This piece seems to be based on the somewhat crazy premise that the prospect of having 20-50 of their major cities and military bases destroyed is "insufficient deterrence". And where is the evidence that the PRC is aiming for parity?