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Building a New China-U.S. Strategic Stability

Viewed 5175 times 2013-6-18 09:54 |System category:News

Lu Yin
   Since the end of the Cold War, and especially since the beginning of the 21st century, the world order has changed significantly. This has brought major challenges to big power relations.  Furthermore, in this era of globalization which advocates farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper,[ Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999, p.7-8.] it has become urgent that China and the U.S., as the biggest rising power and the biggest established power, to build a new type of strategic stability which would extend beyond the dimensions of their bilateral relationship.
   A theory of strategic stability called the classic arms control theory, served as the basis for handling the relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, big power relations moved towards a multi-polar model, but the pattern of nuclear power relations has not changed significantly. While U.S.-Russia relations adopted the U.S.-U.S.S.R. framework,Sino-U.S. strategic stability has not been the focus for a long time since the end of the Cold War.
   Since the beginning of the 21st Century, references to building China-U.S. strategic stability have cropped up only occasionally in talks between the two nations on nuclear policy. But The Ballistic Missile Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review, released by the U.S. Department of Defense in February and April, 2010 respectively, for the first time suggested keeping the strategic stability between the U.S. and Russia and that between the U.S. and China, and start talks with China on U.S.-China strategic stability.This was the first time that the U.S. Administration officially mentioned China-U.S. strategic stability. The move showed Washington’s wish to start dialogues with big powers to keep relationships stable. However, U.S. policy makers, scholars, and policy analysts have not yet come to any consensus regarding how China-U.S. strategic stability can be defined and how it could be maintained. So far, there has been no official announcement on how it will tackle policies related to U.S.-China strategic stability. References to it have been in the context of overall military, security, political or even economic concerns. In recent years, this topic has largely been confined to scholars; the main official channels have been track 1.5 or track 2 strategic dialogue. These include the International Seminar on China-U.S. Nuclear Relationship and Strategic Trust that started in 2004, the China-U.S. Strategic Dialogue that began in 2005, the China-U.S. seminar exchange in April 2008 as well as some academic projects on strategic stability.
   The U.S. did not present any clear cut ideas on the kind of strategic stability it was seeking at any of these dialogues. Below I have listed some key points:
   1. The two main instruments that were employed to maintain stability between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were crisis stability and arms race stability. Both these can be applied to U.S.-China strategic stability, but their roles are completely different.
   2. There are many types of strategic stability. The two key elements are predictability and avoiding mistakes. China-U.S. strategic stability should be one where a minor misunderstanding or a minor incident would not result in strategic miscalculation, nor would it impact the overall relationship or lead to any conflict. In such a relationship, uncertainty and the counterbalance role of strategic weaponry can be minimized.
   3. China-U.S. strategic stability is as important as U.S.-Russia strategic stability, but the approach may not be the same.
   4. U.S.-China strategic stability can be both an objective and a process, so that both sides can gradually improve mutual trust and ease any tensions.
   5. The U.S. does not believe that stability implies that there are no differences at all. There may be differences with strategic stability but they have no impact on the overall relationship.
   U.S. academic circles are clearly focused on how to avoid strategic miscalculations and the escalation of crises into larger conflicts. These ideas, are not confined to nuclear strategic stability and arms control issues, but rather also contained within the concept of the stability of bilateral relations. Strategic stability can also be used to examine the impact of the balance of strategic power on bilateral relations. We should explore new types of strategic stability between China and the U.S. with a focus on the stability of strategic power.
   This will be different from the strategic stability between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R.. The key differences are as follows: first, state-to-state relations will be established on a different basis. Instead of the adversarial relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the China-U.S. relationship is a cooperative partnership. Second, the proportion of the nuclear relationship in the overall relationship is different. The bipolar security mechanism was founded on strategic nuclear deterrence of two nuclear superpowers. They competed against each in a nuclear arms race and their bilateral relations evolved from a bid for nuclear supremacy. In contrast, the nuclear relationship between China and the U.S. is only a minor aspect of the overall relationship. This has long been the case. Third, there is an imbalance of nuclear power between the U.S. and China; whereas Washington and Moscow were about evenly matched. And so it is clear that the former framework of U.S.-U.S.S.R. strategic stability cannot be used for the one between Washington and Beijing.
   We should therefore base strategic stability between China and the U.S. on the two’s common interests and objectives. It must be based on the stability of the overall China-U.S. security relationship, instead of solely on the bilateral nuclear relationship. In the current strategic situation, we should analyze the framework and concrete details of a China-U.S. strategic stability in a broader context.
II
   There are several forces driving a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability.
   Firstly, it is both realistic and necessary. If you add the economic volume of China and the U.S., the largest developing country and the largest developed country in the world, it comes to one third of the global total. Their combined foreign trade volume accounts for one fifth of the global total. China and the U.S. are each other’s second-largest trading partners. In 2011, bilateral trade reached US$446.7 billion, up 15.9% from the previous year and was at an all-time high. China and the U.S. are heavily interdependent economically and politically. The two countries have cooperated on almost all global issues including the handling of the global financial crisis, anti-terror and non-proliferation initiatives, anti-piracy, disaster relief, climate change, energy cooperation, and humanitarian crises, etc. Their bilateral relationship has a profound influence on world economics, politics and security. This relationship is now the world’s most important and most complicated bilateral relationship. This kind of relationship is a first for both countries. So we should start with those requirements that are realistic and start to build a permanent strategic relationship while dealing with global issues, maintaining regional security and enhancing world peace. In this way the transformation of the global order can be carried out peacefully. Because of this, nuclear stability as viewed under the traditional framework is not suited to the diverse and complex China-U.S. relationship.
   Secondly, the inherent weakness of the strategic stability between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (Russia) has been becoming prominent. The strategic stability between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. largely depended on the stability of nuclear power relations between the two nuclear superpowers.  The two sides reinforced their “mutually assured destruction” model by agreeing to a number of arms control treaties. The idea was that neither side would dare to launch preemptive strikes against the other. For a period of time, the arms race was under control and this was an effective deterrent to nuclear war. Their “stability” was a kind of “stable conflict” but it never solved the conflict. It primarily catered to the convenience of the world competition of the two superpowers. Their chief concern was the insurance of ‘a stable conflict’ between themselves rather than a halt to it. Such strategic stability did not change the nature of the arms race, but allowed it to proceed “in a stable way”, without harming the security interests of the other party. Neither country abandoned the arms race, and for a period of time, the arms race even escalated. The global security environment dramatically changed at the end of the Cold War. U.S.-Russian strategic stability, inherited the U.S.-U.S.S.R. strategic stability framework, gradually became imbalanced and the inherent weaknesses were exposed further. In 2002, the Bush administration withdrew from the ABM treaty, which was regarded as the cornerstone of traditional strategic stability. In arms control negotiations, the U.S. and Russia bypassed verifiability and irreversibility. Both emphasized in traditional arms control and disarmament treaties. Because of this, a race began in the field of missile offense and defense, sparking a proliferation of missile and WMD and resulted in the risk of space wars.Compared with the Bush administration which destroyed the cornerstone of traditional strategic stability, the Obama administration has tried hard to “build a world free of nuclear weapons” and returned to traditional arms control negotiations. The Obama administration and the Russian government have promoted the NEW START treaty. This has played a positive role in maintaining global strategic security and stability.
   However, the New START treaty did not make any substantive restrictions on the development of the Ballistic Missile Defense system (BMD) or on advanced conventional weapons; moreover, the treaty allowed the U.S. to keep its strong “upload” capability. This shows that the framework of U.S.-Russia strategic stability has become increasingly fragile. The latest U.S.-Russia Missile Defense Talks have failed with Russia has threatening to withdraw from the treaty and the U.S. insisting on its right to deploy BMD. This makes it even more urgent for China and the U.S. to establish a new type of strategic stability.
   Thirdly, several channels have been set up to help build a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability. It will not be easy to ease the competitive relationship between the U.S. and Russia in strategic weapons. Hence global security issues, including nuclear security issues, will need the cooperation of China and the U.S.. Several channels have been set up to this end. The two sides have already reached some consensus on how to establish a new type of strategic stability. China has always advocated the need for a multilateral ban on all nuclear weapons. In September, 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao made five proposals on this topic at a speech at a UN Security Council Summit on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. His first proposal was to “maintain the global strategic balance and stability and vigorously advance nuclear disarmament”. The Obama administration says it wants to “build a world free of nuclear weapons”, has worked positively towards reducing nuclear weapons and has always pushed for non-proliferation. The Obama administration has frequently applied the term “strategic stability” when talking about the overall stability of the China-U.S. relationship. Meanwhile, Chinese and U.S. leaders have attached great importance to improving their mutual trust. This serves as an important precondition for establishing a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability. Both Obama and Hu have frequently stressed the importance of mutual trust in official speeches.
   There has also been a growth in the number of channels in which the two sides can cooperate and improve their mutual trust in the security area. In recent years, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense and the Chinese military have successfully improved their cooperation with the U.S.. High-level dialogue and a series of dialogue mechanisms, such as defense consultative talks and military maritime consultative talks, have served as effective channels and brought exchanges to a new level. The Chinese military has also improved transparency, which has significantly improved China-U.S. strategic trust. China and the U.S., have worked together to indefinitely extend the NPT, improved negotiations on the CTBT, implemented The Chemical Weapons Convention, strengthened export controls and cooperated over setting up security support for the IAEA. Meanwhile, China has played an important role in the Six Party Talks aimed at resolving the DPRK nuclear issue and took an active part in the six party negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue. This has all been welcomed by the international community.Furthermore, the two sides have established strategic security dialogue channels at various levels. Of these, the China-U.S. strategic and economic dialogue has greatly helped the stable development of China-U.S. relations and has become an important official channel to establish a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability. Unofficial channels include the International Seminar on “China-U.S. Nuclear Relationship and Strategic Trust” and the China-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.
III
   There are both opportunities and challenges associated with setting up a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability. As China moves into a more prominent position in the global order, the U.S., the established power for many decades, has tended to view China as its adversary and competition between the two has grown more intense. When we look at ways to construct a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability, we should take this into account.
   Firstly, the lack of mutual trust on security issues is the most serious obstacle. Strategic stability, whether we are talking it in the narrow or broad sense, is inseparable from bilateral security and military relations, rather it will be the foundation of any China-U.S. strategic stability. Because of the significant disparity in nuclear weapons capability between China and the U.S., it is urgent that we establish an overall security environment in which the weaker side can enjoy a sense of safety and security. Therefore building up mutual trust is very important.
   China and the U.S. have built up comparatively stable mutual trust in the economic area, but in other areas such as foreign policy, this is not the case. China’s domestic issues create the most distrust between the two. This is related to fundamental interests such as state sovereignty, rather than economy and trade, thus it has always lagged far behind trust in other areas.
   The three main obstacles to improving China-U.S. mutual trust can be found in their military relations. First, the U.S. continues to cooperate with Taiwan in defense and military areas, such as U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Second, U.S. military vessels and aircraft continue to conduct intensive reconnaissance activities along China’s coastline––a practice that has all the hallmarks of the Cold War era. Third, the U.S. continues to limit military-to-military exchanges by using domestic law restrictions, mainly The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000.  This has made it impossible to make any progress on military-to-military exchanges and has made mutual trust in the security area even more fragile. The Taiwan question has always been the core issue affecting mutual trust. In recent years, cross-strait relations have been improving. The Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang (KMT) Party have been cooperating in many areas. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) heralded a new era in cross-strait economic relations and there is now space to explore the possibility of establishing a cross-strait military and security confidence-building mechanism. However, the U.S. still sells arms to Taiwan. The last arms sale was in September 2011, when Washington announced a US$5.8 billion deal. China naturally protested.  According to incomplete statistics, over the past 30 years, the U.S. and Taiwan have made more than 80 arms sales, totaling approximately US$40 billion, that’s a yearly average of US$1.3 billion. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 restricts 12 areas of U.S.-China military-to-military exchanges, including nuclear exchanges. In fact almost all the areas which are key to improving mutual trust are restricted by this act. Meanwhile, the frequency of U.S. reconnaissance activities in China’s EEZ air space and sea areas has remained high. This has had a serious impact on the security environment and has made China very insecure because militarily it is weaker than the U.S.. Low levels of trust in the military arena have resulted in strategic mistrust, which is more dangerous. U.S. behavior, which is often aggressive, has made it difficult for Chinese policy makers, the military, scholars, and the general public to trust the U.S.. The security and military relationship lags far behind the economic relationship and this will not help in establishing a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability. At the beginning of 2009, the U.S. moved its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. increased investment in economic, diplomatic and military areas. Although the U.S. officials have said this move is not aimed at containing China’s development,its new strategy has given China more pressure. The U.S.’ “return” to Asia-Pacific, has stirred up regional security. For example, the Korean peninsula crisis has escalated, relations in the South China Sea have become even more tense, and several countries have attempted to change the security status quo. China’s efforts in the past few years to cooperate with ASEAN countries under the framework of The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea have been seriously impeded. Because China is still weak, especially in military strength, and the Chinese people are very aware of the hundreds of years of humiliation China suffered at the hands of the foreign nations, as well memories of recent events such as the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999 and the EP-3 air collision incident in 2000, it may be all too easy to spark the idea that the U.S. is the “enemy”.Chinese mistrust of the U.S. can be found in strategy researchers to policy makers and to ordinary citizens. It has its roots in history, but it can also be blown up by the media. This is not a good foundation for establishing a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability.
   Secondly, asymmetric factors in the bilateral nuclear relationship pose challenges to China-U.S. strategic stability. Overall nuclear strategy and posture have not undergone any substantial change and continue to maintain the bipolar structures of the Cold War. The U.S. and Russia are still the world’s two main nuclear powers. The China-U.S. nuclear relationship is unbalanced. This kind of asymmetry concerns both sides. China still possesses a small nuclear arsenal, it has not sought to develop or update them to the same level as that of the U.S.. U.S. nuclear weapons development puts China at a disadvantage and makes China suspicious. Likewise, China’s growing national strength and progress in its military modernization has concerned the U.S..
   The U.S. has long had a bigger and more advanced stockpile of nuclear weapons than China. However, all three of the U.S.’ Nuclear Posture Reviews have indicated that advances in U.S. nuclear weapons puts China’s strategic security in a more disadvantageous position and raised concerns in China over the disparity in nuclear weapons between the two sides. Analyzing reports out of the U.S. on its strategic weapons has revealed the following three facts: first, the U.S. has significantly increased the number of its nuclear-powered Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs) to be deployed in the West Pacific Ocean, and at the same time increased the number of targets for nuclear strikes against China.The U.S.’ new Asia-Pacific policy, especially the part concerned with boosting the number of sea-based strategic weapons, has posed serious challenges to China’s nuclear arsenal. Second, the U.S.’ development and deployment of missile defense systems has caused strategic instability to both those countries with equivalent nuclear strengths and those much weaker than it. The U.S. has stressed that the BMD system is purely defensive and is targeted at such countries as the DPRK and Iran, and not Russia or China. But this is not a convincing argument.  Even some U.S. officials responsible for missile defense projects believe that there is a China factor in this, especially the system aimed at Northeast Asia. Third, the U.S. development of space-based radar would allow the U.S. to locate China’s nuclear weapons and weakens China’s ability to deploy its strategic weapons.  These moves will reinforce the imbalances in the China-U.S. nuclear relationship and mar efforts to establish China-U.S. strategic stability. This is causing China to grow more concerned about being transparent about its nuclear capabilities and making it rethink its long-standing hold on developing its nuclear weaponry.The latest Ballistic Missile Defense Review and Nuclear Posture Review have exacerbated Chinese concerns, because in these reports, the U.S. put China on a par with Russia and hinted that it would use the same framework of U.S.-U.S.S.R. strategic stability for U.S.-China strategic stability. But the former is one between powers with balanced nuclear forces, and the latter is one where the relationship is clearly unbalanced. It brings to mind the pressure of “nuclear coercion” that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. gave to China during the Cold War. China cannot possibly accept this.

   Finally, U.S. domestic politics represents a very obvious hurdle. Building a new type of China-U.S. strategic stability requires that the U.S. adopt a more mature and more stable China policy on security and defense issues. Washington should address China’s major security concerns so that the two sides can build a strong and stable relationship. Foreign policy should never be separated from its domestic origin. There is no foreign policy without domestic politics and the country. U.S. foreign policy and its arms control policies are influenced by domestic politics. The influence of party politics and interest groups on U.S. foreign policy has been growing since the end of the Cold War.
   Party politics produces uncertainty. U.S. party politics is bipartisan politics. The Republicans are keen on military strength, they are in favor of arms races, and do not worry about increasing military budgets. They oppose treaty-based arms control. The Democrats favor multilateralism and internationalism. They are better at dealing with foreign relations through multilateral negotiations and cooperation and prefer to promote and maintain arms control treaties.  As governments are voted in and out of office in the U.S., this will no doubt affect U.S. arms control policy. This will have a negative impact on traditional strategic stability and the new type of strategic stability.
  The influence of interest groups is still growing. The lobbying activities of interest groups can significantly impact U.S. foreign policy. There is some research that suggests that interest groups now have control of U.S. politics, so that the interests of a small fraction of people are protected.

  The arms industry is one of these interest groups. And they are influential. They are represented by military agencies under the administration and private military industries, and they wield significant influence over U.S. arms control and security policies. Their power was very obvious during the Cold War and continues to exist today. They naturally prefer war, because then they can earn huge profits. Even in peace-time they work to create imaginary enemies and they often exert influence on the China-U.S. security relationship. Obstacles to China-U.S. Relations––such as the Taiwan issue––reflect the influence of these military interest groups. It will be difficult to remove their influence because they are now so rooted in U.S. politics.

IV

   Although there are enormous challenges to establishing a new type of strategic stability, such a strategic stability would be very beneficial in stabilizing the China-U.S. nuclear power relationship and improving overall stability between the two countries. It would also be a positive factor in shaping a stable global security environment. The new type of strategic stability between China and the U.S. would help to improve mutual trust, make conflict less likely, and help to ease tensions if in the event of a conflict. Below are some principles which would be worth following.
   Fundamental principles, acceptable to both side, need to be established in the first stage. 1) The two sides should respect each other and improve their mutual trust. They should seek to understand and respect each other’s interests and security concerns and try to find common ground between their strategic interests as a starting point to develop their bilateral relationship. 2) Both sides have to accept the significant disparity in their nuclear weapons capability. Balancing nuclear power based on mutually-assured destruction cannot serve as the foundation of China-U.S. strategic stability. The nuclear counter-strike capability of the weaker side should not be weakened unilaterally. 3) Take initiatives to create favorable domestic and international environments and clarify the responsibilities and obligations of the two sides. 4) As the stronger side, the U.S., should take initiatives to show its sincerity; meanwhile China should honor its commitments and cooperate with the U.S.. Issues should be tackled from simple to complicated, steady progress should be pursued, and gradually the two sides will achieve substantive results.

   Secondly, the two sides should substantially reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy until the only role of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attacks. China has already adopted this as all along it has been upholding the no-first-use policy. China has resolved to never be the first to use nuclear weapons, nor will it use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or against nuclear-weapon-free zones.This is a long-term policy and China will continue to uphold it in the future. China has also been calling on all nuclear weapon states to follow this policy. Since the U.S. does want to accept a uniform policy statement, both sides may explore some new policy interpretations, with the main point being the weakening of the role of nuclear weapons, until some consensus can be reached. To avoid any “ideological” influences from memories of the Cold War, we recommend that discussions deal with concrete elements, rather than policy statements.A good foundation for strategic stability would be one in which both sides agreed to substantially restrict the use of nuclear weapons. Both sides should declare that the purpose of their strategic weapons is solely to deter nuclear attack. This would mean that China’s nuclear arsenal’s purpose is solely to launch retaliatory nuclear strikes.In this case, it is not necessary for China to maintain a large nuclear arsenal. This would prevent a nuclear arms race. This would also help the U.S. and Russia reduce their nuclear arsenals, and help China from being pushed to develop its nuclear weapons. When China became a legal nuclear state, it never intended to make it a priority to develop its nuclear weaponry. China does not want the kind of nuclear strike capability that the U.S. is pursuing. If nuclear weapons are merely to be used as a deterrent and the U.S. accepts this, it would benefit Washington both in terms of public opinion and its moral position. There is commonality between this policy and the U.S. policy of developing conventional weapons. The former can reinforce the credibility of the latter and help to defuse criticism over its BMD system and also relieve the pressure on the U.S. for keeping its nuclear arsenal. This policy could also help the U.S. strengthen its position as the leader of global efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and reinforce U.S.-Russia strategic stability.

   It would not make it easy for China and the U.S. to use the objective of restricting nuclear weapons and to use them only to deter nuclear strikes as a framework of a new type of strategic stability. Because their relations are so complex, this process must be gradual, and one that will inevitably encounter many difficulties. A possible step-by-step route could be: 1) Improve bilateral cooperation in regional nuclear non-proliferation, anti-nuclear terrorism, the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the joint exploration of nuclear safety. They could also work together to remove those political roots at the heart of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. 2) Strengthen the taboo against nuclear weapons and clearly oppose any action to develop nuclear weapons of any size and conventional strategic offensive weapons. 3) The U.S. to gradually phase out all arms sales to, and military cooperation with, Taiwan, remove the restrictions on China-U.S. military-to-military exchanges imposed by the Taiwan Relations Act and FY2000 Defense Authorization Act, and also phase out reconnaissance activities in or over Chinese EEZs, and improve China-U.S. mutual trust, especially in the security area. 4) Examine the impact of the U.S.’ BMD system to both sides’ economy, security situation and the U.S.’ soft power. 5) Conduct in-depth discussions on the issue of transparency. Because China has been increasingly transparent in the security and military areas, the U.S. should accept current levels of military transparency and stop coercing China into adopting levels of transparency that are demanded unilaterally by the U.S. and set up in its own interests.  Meanwhile, China will gradually accept several institutionalized practices of military transparency that accompany globalization. 6) Establish effective mechanisms to manage possible security and military crises and conduct simulation exercises. 7) Continue to conduct extensive discussions on the guiding principles, implementation methods, and practical steps towards establishing the new type of China-U.S. strategic stability and try to reach consensus in theory and practice.
   Such a China-U.S. strategic stability will ensure that ties are based on a much more solid foundation. It can make it less likely that the two sides misread each other resulting in nuclear accidents, and it can also reduce the likelihood of security crises. It will also help to prevent an arms race and strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation mechanism. It will also show that China and the U.S. are sincere about building a world free of nuclear weapons. Actions speak louder than words and actions deserve more trust. By restricting nuclear weapons to a solely deterrent role they will show that they are sincere about a nuclear weapons free world, and also show that they are taking concrete actions to achieve that.

   To conclude, the establishment of a new type of strategic stability will be an important way to building a stable and mature big power relationship. It will not only improve Sino-U.S. relations but it will also create a model for these new types of strategic stability that can be built between nuclear states in this new security environment. Building strategic stability would massively improve ties between the two nations in respect of their mutual trust, areas of commonality and creating a much more stable bilateral relationship.

 

 

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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