Rethinking arms control should include China

Rethinking arms control should include China
© Getty Images

The emerging strategic situation obliges us to rethink past arms control policies. When the administration exercised its legal right to leave the INF treaty due to Russian cheating, the arms control community almost unanimously argued that this decision undermined the architecture of arms control, endangered the New Start Treaty, and would hand Russia an opportunity to produce such weapons without constraint.

However, we now know that Moscow has deployed 4 battalions of the Novator M9729 missile that broke the INF treaty thus threatening both European and Asian targets. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics commented that Latvia knew Russia was violating the treaty long before Washington decided to withdraw. Latvia and the U.S. also knew that Moscow had already targeted the Baltic States with four different types of missiles banned under the INF treaty and deployed in Kaliningrad and European Russia.

ADVERTISEMENT

Since then Russia has also delivered 24 supersonic p-800 (Oniks) anti-ship cruise missiles to the navy this year, In other words, there was and is a strategy behind the deployment of these and presumably other nuclear weapons, which remain the priority procurement for the Russian military.

These missiles were ready for serial production during the life of the INF treaty. This indicates that Moscow recognized no real constraint on its production of these banned system even while the treaty was in force.

Similarly, Ambassador Antonov, despite claiming Moscow’s readiness to negotiate a continuation of the New START Treaty, announced that, Russia’s new strategic weapons do not come under the NEW START Treaty’s rubric. That is, they circumvent the treaty and will not be discussed in any new treaty negotiation, thereby demonstrating the insufficiencies of that treaty and the fatuity of expecting Moscow to negotiate about these weapons in a new round. Nevertheless, President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE has ordered the administration to prepare a new arms control initiative encompassing both Chinese as well as Russian nuclear weapons, indicating our intention to restore this “architecture” despite Russian violations of virtually every arms control treaty it has signed. 

Yet, here too critics believe this directive represents a ploy engineered by national security advisor John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonSchumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord Why President Trump must keep speaking out on Hong Kong Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE, a known opponent of arms control, to torpedo the entire process by demanding that China, too. be considered. Yet, whatever Bolton or Trump’s motives might be, insisting that China be a full participant in future arms control negotiations is the right call for several reasons. China has hitherto been a free rider on Russo-American arms control agreements to the point where today China’s formidable nuclear deterrent cannot be verified as to numbers and quality of its weapons. Indeed, independent Russian analysts like Alexei Arbatov have opined that China may actually have several thousand nuclear weapons that threaten both Russia and the U.S. not to mention other Asian countries.

For this reason alone, China ought to be included. But there are other, equally urgent considerations involved here. China also rightly insists that it is a global great power and demands that it be accorded this status. Along with that status should come the responsibility of reducing the overall nuclear threat and submitting its forces to the same inspection and verification regimes that U.S. and Russian forces have accepted. Inspections must be restored so that nobody can circumvent any new treaties and that violations be caught and discussed among the parties to any new treaty.

China’s ongoing refusal to submit to the discipline of such negotiations and treaties can only further poison the strategic atmosphere and raise serious doubts as to its intentions that it proclaims are peaceful. China has also continued for many years to support proliferation to Pakistan and North Korea if not Iran. These episodes are well documented despite China’s alleged support for non-proliferation.

Those concerned about stopping further nuclear proliferation argue that the superpowers must reduce their nuclear arsenals to set an example for everyone else. Clearly, this logic also applies to China especially as nobody knows for sure just how big and how capable its arsenal really is. In view of the unresolved issues pertaining to both Iran and North Korea this argument is not a mere rhetorical device to impede real negotiations. Instead, it goes to the heart of U.S. security and that of its allies in Asia and the Middle East. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Given these arguments about the need to include China, Russia’s long-standing record of cheating, and both those states’ huge nuclear buildup, the need for a new treaty with real teeth and genuine verification is urgent. Whatever the administration’s motives are, as long as neither Beijing nor Moscow enters into serious negotiations there is no architecture of arms control to defend. But even if that architecture existed the first responsibility of any administration is the defense of American interests. Looking the other way while those governments enhance their capability to threaten the U.S. and its allies cannot in any way be accounted as a defense of U.S. interests.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.