Printer Friendly

America's nuclear meltdown towards "global zero".


CHINA'S 2008 "White Paper on National Defense--still the most definitive statement of Beijing's strategic doctrine--asserts that "all nuclear-weapon slates should make an unequivocal commitment to the thorough destruction of nuclear weapons." Consistent with this statement, China already has responded favorably to the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement between the U.S. and Russia. Although this response should be encouraging to the Obama Administration, New START likely is to be viewed in Beijing as merely a first, tentative step toward global zero, rather than a dramatic signal that alters Chinese strategic calculations and threat perceptions regarding America. In China's view, the U.S. and Russia, as "the two countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals, bear special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament" and should "further drastically reduce their nuclear arsenals in a verifiable and irreversible manner, so as to create the necessary conditions for the participation of other nuclear-weapon states in the process of nuclear disarmament."


Although New START commits the U.S. and Russia to significant reductions in deployed strategic warheads, limiting them to no more than 1,550 each, it places no limits on either state's nondeployed nuclear warheads. Given that the U.S. currently has 5,113 warheads in its nuclear stockpile (not including "several thousand" warheads that are retie5 and awaiting dismantlement), and China's nuclear capabilities are estimated at around 240 nuclear warheads, it is unlikely that the Chinese will believe that New START has created anywhere near the "necessary conditions" to enable China to begin force reductions of its own. The Chinese have not placed a precise number on the level of force reductions they expect of the U.S. and Russia, but it almost is certain that some semblance of nuclear parity with Beijing will be required.

In any case, given Pres. Barack Obama's own admission that global zero is unlikely to be achieved in his lifetime, the Chinese have cause to question whether the U.S. and Russia voluntarily will relinquish their nuclear superiority any time soon. Under these circumstances, America will be waiting a long time for any Chinese reciprocity on nuclear force reductions. At a minimum, Beijing's posture will stiffen domestic opposition in the U.S. to further cuts in America's own arsenal.

At the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India welcomed New START as a "step in the right direction" toward global zero and stated that he was "encouraged" by the "U.S. Nuclear Posture Review" (NPR). That position is consistent with the stance of successive Indian governments of various political persuasions that have advocated global nuclear disarmament since India gained independence. The present Congress Party-led government has called for negotiations on a multilateral, "nondiscriminatory" and "verifiable" Nuclear Weapons Convention that would ban the "development, production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons" in a "time-bound" manner.

India's development of an indigenous nuclear capacity, despite New Delhi's strong stance on nuclear disarmament, would appear at first glance to undermine the credibility of its stance on global zero. However, Indian leaders have maintained that the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995, despite the failure of the nuclear weapons states to take concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament in a time-bound manner, left New Delhi no choice but to seek a nuclear deterrent to protect its "autonomy of decisionmaking" (i.e., as a defense against nuclear blackmail). In light of its own experience, India's response to the Obama Administration's global zero agenda has emphasized the connection between comprehensive nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation as "mutually reinforcing processes."

Apart from rhetorical support for nuclear disarmament, India has not made any commitment to join the U.S. and Russia on the path to zero in the near future. Given the historical and existing defense linkages between India and the USSR/ Russia, and the developing security partnership between the U.S. and India, New Delhi has little reason to view the continuing strategic nuclear superiority of America and Russia as a security threat. However, in keeping with its moral and political stance against nuclear weapons, India will continue to insist that both states must take the lead by making even further cuts to their nuclear arsenals. For example, Singh, while welcoming the New START agreement, also called on "all states with substantial nuclear arsenals to further accelerate this process by making deeper cuts that will lead to meaningful disarmament."

India vs. China and Pakistan

The greatest influence over when India will begin nuclear force reductions remains its assessment of the security threats emanating from its nuclear armed regional competitors, China and Pakistan. India maintains a minimum credible deterrent nuclear posture aimed primarily toward these states, with which it has a history of unresolved territorial disputes that have erupted into outright conflict, including the 1962 border war with China and recurring clashes with Pakistan over Kashmir. Any commitments India is likely to make on nuclear force reductions will be linked to both of these states doing the same.

From the Chinese perspective, NPR takes some of the essential steps necessary to achieve the eventual eradication of nuclear weapons. These steps include the decisions to abstain from the development of new nuclear warheads, limit the potential targets and the circumstances under which the U.S. might use nuclear weapons, and elevate nuclear proliferation and terrorism as security threats above the possible threat posed by other nuclear weapons states. China will, however, view NPR as not going far enough in a number of areas. First, the U.S. has stopped short of committing to a "no first use" policy or unconditionally exempting non-nuclear weapons states or states within nuclear-weapon-free-zones from the threat or use of nuclear weapons," all policies that China has adopted. Regardless of whether those commitments are themselves believable or reliable, Chinese officials will use them as a reason to be skeptical of U.S. commitments toward global zero, given that the retention of offensive options will require America to maintain a much larger nuclear arsenal at a higher level of alert than China possesses.

Second, although the U.S. has stated in NPR that it only will use nuclear weapons in "extreme circumstances" where its "vital interests" are at stake, as long as those terms remain undefined--particularly where the status of Taiwan is concerned--China will argue that NPR remains strategically ambiguous and does not, therefore, reduce Beijing's threat perceptions of U.S. nuclear forces. Chinese officials will use this ambiguity within NPR to deflect U.S. calls to improve the transparency of China's own nuclear force modernization program, which has the ostensible goal of avoiding destabilization of the strategic balance between the two countries. Thus, this aspect of NPR will not reduce the incentives for China to magnify its deterrent capabilities by maintaining opacity about the nature and scope of its nuclear modernization activities. Yet, prodding China to increase transparency regarding its arsenal and doctrine is an important goal of the U.S. in getting to zero.

Third, the Chinese are likely to be concerned particularly about the greater emphasis within NPR and Washington's "2010 Ballistic Missile Review" on ballistic missile defense and the upgrade of conventional ballistic missile capabilities, both of which most directly threaten the strategic balance between the two countries. Within NPR, the U.S. specifically links the pursuit of ballistic missile defense as a means to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons for deterring an attack (nuclear, biological, or chemical) on America or its allies. However, U.S. theater missile defense cooperation with Japan, or potentially with Taiwan, provides the opposite incentive to China by raising the prospect that its smaller arsenal and delivery capabilities will be unable to penetrate U.S. missile defenses, thereby calling into question the credibility of Beijing's nuclear deterrent.

Although aware of China's concerns, the "U.S. Ballistic Missile Review Report, 2010" explicitly foresees a role for missile defense to counter China's military modernization program, including the development and deployment of advanced and anti-ship ballistic missile capabilities. The report describes Chinese advances in those systems as having created a "growing imbalance of power across the Taiwan Strait in China's favor."

Strategic arms reductions and the possibility of missile defense cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, suggested within NPR, have become possible only because the underlying conflict of strategic interests between the two countries has dissipated significantly since the end of the Cold War. These conditions do not apply in the case of China, because each side remains uncertain about the other's future intentions within the Asian theater. That especially is true in relation to Taiwan, but there is mutual wariness more generally in terms of China's regional aspirations and Washington's reaction to them.

The continued US. emphasis on--and development of--ballistic missile defense, however understandable, has the potential to undermine the Obama Administration's global zero agenda, particularly by eroding Chinese support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or a fissile material cutoff treaty. If improvements in U.S. ballistic missile defense capabilities undermine the credibility of China's nuclear deterrent, Beijing likely will be compelled to increase the number and quality of its nuclear warheads, which would, in tom, increase requirements for fissile material. In short, from China's perspective, NPR does not go far enough to reduce Beijing's concerns about U.S. nuclear forces and, therefore, does not provide significant additional incentives to join America on the path to global zero.

India, meanwhile, has made a number of proposals to the Conference on Disarmament regarding steps toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, including the "reduction of the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines," the negotiation of a treaty among nuclear weapons states on the "no first use" of nuclear weapons and the nonuse of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states. The specific steps within NPR to limit the potential targets and the circumstances in which the U.S. nuclear arsenal may be used certainly reduces the "salience" of nuclear weapons within Washington's nuclear posture. However, India is likely to argue that it is the U.S. that needs to go much further in establishing its bona tides on disarmament by emulating New Delhi's nuclear doctrine, which explicitly commits to a no-first-use policy and exempts all non-nuclear weapons states from attack.

The specific measures contained in NPR also are unlikely to influence the future development of India's own nuclear doctrine, because India is an emerging strategic partner of the U.S. and, therefore, an unlikely target of America's nuclear forces. Rather, India's nuclear posture and decisions to join arms control treaties, such as the CTBT and a fissile material cutoff treaty, will be influenced most by developments in the nuclear programs of its regional competitors, Pakistan and China.

Apart from the no-first-use posture and negative security assurance given to non-nuclear weapons states, India's nuclear doctrine centers on the maintenance of a "credible minimum deterrent." Precisely what that means in terms of the adequacy of the size and quality of India's nuclear arsenal and delivery systems is calculated primarily with China, rather than Pakistan (much less the U.S.), in mind.

China has loomed large in India's strategic calculations since Chinese forces defeated the Indian army decisively in the October-November 1962 border war. The decision to develop a nuclear capability largely was spurred by China's first nuclear weapons test in 1964. Likewise, India's 1998 nuclear tests were motivated at least as much by increasing fears about being exposed to Chinese nuclear coercion if New Delhi failed to take the next step from fission to thermo-nuclear weapons--as it was by serious and continuing conflicts with Pakistan over control of the disputed territory of Kashmir.

China's positioning of tactical nuclear weapons on the Tibetan plateau, force projection into the Indian Ocean, and willingness to supply missile and nuclear technology to Pakistan all are seen by New Delhi as indicators of a Chinese strategy to hobble Indian influence within South Asia. Further tensions between the two countries continue regarding unresolved border disputes from the 1962 war over geostrategically significant territory in Arunachal Pradesh (claimed as part of Tibet by China but controlled by India) and Aksai Chin (controlled by China but claimed by India). India particularly has been concerned about China's infrastructure-building programs within the disputed border areas, which would enable the efficient movement of land forces during a crisis.

In response, New Delhi has stationed 100,000 troops and two squadrons of advanced Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft in the northeastern state of Assam as of June 2009. Given these continuing sources of tension between the two countries, Indian support for either the CTBT or a fissile material cutoff treaty most immediately is influenced by how adherence to either treaty will affect the balance of nuclear forces between it and China, rather than any disarmament initiatives of the Obama Administration. Indian negotiators successfully resisted the Bush Administration's pressure to sign the CI'BT as a prerequisite to the successful conclusion of the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement in 2008. Instead, New Delhi merely reiterated its commitment to a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing announced after the 1998 tests.

Questioning nuclear testing

The political commitment of India's Congress-led government to this moratorium was tested in August 2009 after a prominent nuclear official involved in the 1998 tests, Kumitithadai Sauthanam, publicly expressed doubts about the officially claimed yield of the devices tested in 1998, thereby calling into question the credibility of India's nuclear deterrent. That allegation set off a vigorous internal debate about whether India should resist pressure to sign the CTBT. Nevertheless, members of the Indian government vigorously have disputed Santhanam's claims and maintained that no new testing will be required.

The government is well aware that any resumption of nuclear testing would trigger the termination of the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement, and potentially the reversal of the September 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver, which allowed its members to trade with India for the first time. Further testing therefore also would put at risk recently signed contracts for nuclear materials and reactors with countries such as Russia and France, which are essential to the success of the government's ambitious plans to expand nuclear energy capacity. In all likelihood, India will maintain a voluntary moratorium on testing to keep its options open unless--and until--the U.S. and China agree to ratify the CTBT.

In terms of a fissile material cutoff treaty, India officially supports the future development of a multilateral and verifiable treaty that will limit future production of fissile material, but has refused to commit to a voluntary moratorium in the meantime. Clearly, India does not believe it has sufficient fissile material to support a nuclear arsenal in keeping with a "credible minimum deterrent" nuclear posture. India's nuclear arsenal is similar in size to Pakistan's at around 6070 warheads, but only about one-quarter the size of China's. Nongovernmental sources also estimate that China has sufficient enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium to produce between 500 and 1,500 additional warheads.

The U.S.-India nuclear deal potentially has increased India's capacity to produce fissile material by allowing domestic sources of uranium to be reserved for military purposes. The completion of a Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor, due this year, will increase that capacity as well. While there is the potential for a nuclear arms race to develop between the two countries, India so far has shown no signs of attempting to reach parity, in terms of numbers of nuclear weapons, with China. New Delhi instead seeks to maintain a credible minimum deterrent by establishing a survivable nuclear triad of bombers, land-based missiles, and missiles deployed aboard submarines.

Whereas Pakistan remains vocally opposed to a fissile material cutoff treaty that prohibits only the future production of fissile material, India has been able to keep a low profile and avoid making any commitment to a treaty either way. Should this obstacle to negotiations be removed, India still is likely to seek to avoid a farm commitment to a treaty on fissile material until it has built up greater stocks. To buy time, India will seek to link support for a fissile material agreement to additional binding disarmament commitments by the U.S. and Russia within a specific time frame. The most fruitful potential point of leverage for the U.S. on this issue is the prospect of cooperation in the field of high technology, particularly the development of ballistic missile defense systems.

Within the NPR and elsewhere, the Obama Administration clearly has elevated disarmament to the center of its nuclear agenda. The Administration hopes that credible moves toward the goal of zero nuclear weapons will lead to reciprocity in terms of disarmament by other states, as well as encourage greater cooperation on measures to limit nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The question remains, though, how far should America move beyond symbolism in "getting to Zero"? The Obama Administration ought to ensure that, in making moves toward zero, the U.S. will, in fact, receive concrete, reciprocal concessions from China and India regarding their own nuclear disarmament and their commitments to joining the CTBT. However, the prospects for both results look quite doubtful at this juncture.

Lavina Lee is a lecturer in the Department of Modern History, Politics, and International Relations at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and the author of U.S. Hegemony and Legitimacy: Norms, Power, and Followership in the War on Iraq.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Society for the Advancement of Education
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:The World Today
Author:Lee, Lavina
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2011
Previous Article:Budgetary savings from military restraint.
Next Article:A rivalry worth seeing: "Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals" presents dazzling cityscapes that represent the best view painters of Venice--each...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |