The China Nuclear Horn and the Race to the End

China nuclear threat: US expert fears ‘unnecessary arms race’ | World | News | Express.co.uk

PUBLISHED: 08:00, Sat, Apr 25, 2020

Frank O’Donnell fears a “dangerous arms race” (Image: GETTY)

THE increasingly fractious relationship between China and the United States, with Washington last week accusing Beijing of carrying out a series of nuclear tests last year,could result in an unpredictable and dangerous arms race between the world’s three superpowers, an US expert has warned.

Frank O’Donnell, a nonresident fellow in the Stimson Center South Asia Program, was speaking after a report published by the US State Department about possible breaches of a “zero yield” standard for test blasts in related to activities at China’s Lop Nur nuclear test site throughout the course of 2019. The document claims: “China’s possible preparation to operate its Lop Nur test site year-round, its use of explosive containment chambers, extensive excavation activities at Lop Nur and a lack of transparency on its nuclear testing activities raise concerns regarding its adherence to the zero yield standard.”

China subsequently denied the allegations, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian insisting his country was committed to a moratorium on nuclear tests.

He added: “China has always adopted a responsible attitude, earnestly fulfilling the international obligations and promises it has assumed.

“The US criticism of China is entirely groundless, without foundation, and not worth refuting.”

The report suggested tests of the nature outlined in the report would represent a breach of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  Both nations have signed the CTBT, but neither has so far ratified it.

Mr O’Donnell is sceptical about the claims outlined in the US report. He told Express.co.uk: “China’s aggressive expansionism in the East and South China Seas and continuing lack of transparency around the origins and current status of coronavirus infections within its borders remain concerns for global security.

“However, there is still no solid proof that China is changing its positions on the different issue of its nuclear policy and posture.

“In the US State Department’s recent report, strongly alleging that China has resumed supercritical nuclear testing at the Lop Nur facility, the supporting evidence provided for this allegation renders it little more than conjecture.

“In sum, the evidence presented is that, firstly, the facility has been recently augmented, including a claim that this includes ‘explosive containment chambers’.

“However, the terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty permit subcritical explosive tests, which “simulate aspects of nuclear explosions using chemical explosives.

“But since a subcritical mass of plutonium (or a surrogate material) is used, no actual nuclear explosion occurs.”

Mr O’Donnell pointed out: “The US, Russia, UK, and probably China have all conducted subcritical tests.

“It is telling that the US State Department reference to ‘explosive containment chambers’ does not specify the truth that such chambers could be utilised for such subcritical testing, and that such activities are consistent with regular practice by other nuclear weapons states, not least the US.”

Mr O’Donnell added: “If the Trump administration is truly concerned with Chinese nuclear testing activities and transparency, it should ratify the CTBT, as China has stated that it will ratify the Treaty following US ratification.

“Following this ratification, it could seek to negotiate an agreement with China and Russia regarding inspections of test facilities to determine that only subcritical tests are being conducted.

“That the US State Department seeks to generate these allegations, instead of pursuing these specific arms control and confidence-building initiatives as part of its diplomacy toward these states, indicates that it seeks to generate a general aura of a mushrooming Chinese nuclear threat.

“This serves to justify its recent departure from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, probable looming departure from the New START Treaty, and continuation of an unnecessary nuclear arms race with China and Russia.”

China Fires Back At Babylon the Great

‘Inconsistent with facts’: China hits back at US accusation of ‘lowering the standards’ of nuclear non-proliferation

24 Apr, 2020 12:37

FILE PHOTO: The construction of a nuclear reactor at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Taishan, China. October 2013. © Reuters / Bobby Yip

China’s foreign ministry has slammed the US for “politicizing” the way other nations work on civilian nuclear power projects.Washington had earlier claimed China is undermining global non-proliferation safeguards.

“In recent years, the United States has been using various pretexts to discredit and suppress the normal cooperation in nuclear energy between other countries,” the ministry’s spokesperson, Geng Shuang, told reporters at a daily briefing on Friday.

Some senior US officials even publicly stated that cooperation in nuclear energy should be used as a geopolitical tool. China strongly opposes this way of politicizing cooperation in nuclear energy.

Geng was answering a question about the recent policy report by the US Nuclear Fuel Working Group, whose members include Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. In their report, published on Thursday, the officials accused Beijing and Moscow of not holding their trading partners to the “same high standards” as the US does, and of using “lower standards as a selling point.” It was further claimed that Chinese and Russian companies allow foreign countries to import nuclear technology “without the same non-proliferation safeguards required by the United States and its allies.”

Dismissing the report’s claims as “completely inconsistent with the facts,” Geng said that Beijing has always promoted the use of civilian nuclear power in a “responsible manner.”

He stressed that China will continue to “strictly abide by its international non-proliferation commitments” and to conduct cooperation with foreign states “on the basis of mutual respect and to mutual benefit.”

Last week, the US State Department expressed concern over China allegedly violating the ‘zero-yield’ standard during its underground nuclear tests in 2019. ‘Zero yield’ refers to a nuclear test without an explosive chain reaction that would be similar to the one caused by a nuclear warhead. Beijing said that these allegations were “entirely groundless” and reiterated that the country is fulfilling all of its obligations under international law.

Why Australia Will Go Nuclear (Daniel 7)

Op-Ed: What is Paul Dibb’s real question about Australia’s defence?

In the 15 March edition of The National Interest, renowned Australian strategist Professor Paul Dibb, AM, in his piece, ‘How Australia Can Defend Itself Against China’s Military’, raised two main points – both of which pose the question – what is meant by ‘Australian defence?’ asks Dr John Bruni of SAGE International.

The centrality of ANZUS

It is a given that Australia has long sheltered under the ANZUS Treaty in order to ward off opportunistic military forays against the country’s national interests in its immediate region. When ANZUS was founded in 1951, the types of threat Australia worried about were communist bloc or aligned countries seeking to harm Australia in traditional military ways.

Back then there was no cyber war, no drones, no battlefield robots, virtual or augmented reality. The high frontier of space, so central to all military operations today and to international commerce, would not be conquered until the 1956 launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite.

Most military planners believed that war, any war would resemble World War II, but with the possible addition of nuclear weapons.

Between 1951 and 2020, the price all Australian governments have and continue to pay to maintain ANZUS is to lend support to American military activities.

As recent history has shown, Australian governments have lent their support to American military operations even if these were deemed unpopular by the Australian public. ANZUS is Australia’s equivalent of nuclear deterrence. No belligerent country could ever be entirely sure if the US would intervene on Australia’s behalf in a state-on-state war.

For 69 years this strategic ambiguity has served Canberra well.

However, since the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016, old certainties are less clear as the US is seen to be moving toward a more transactional and less sentimental approach in foreign policy.

As the US is currently in an election year, four more years of a Trump presidency would certainly present problems to all treaty allies of the US. However, the likely alternative of a Joe Biden presidency does give some hope for a partial restoration of old alliance values and solidarity.

For Australia, a Biden presidency might jolt the country out of its current strategic navel-gazing and return it to the country’s more natural role of strategic complacency.

Many would breathe a sigh of relief were this to happen, but the one silver lining of President Trump has been in making Australian policymakers think hard about what Australia’s role in the world would be like without any guarantee of US strategic commitment.

The Dibb prognosis

According to Dibb, at the crux of his article are two major points, firstly:

“A $1.1 billion upgrade to the Royal Australian Air Force Base at Tindal, which is about 300 kilometres south of Darwin, to lengthen the runway so that US B-52 strategic bombers as well as our own KC-30 air-to-air refuelling aircraft can operate from there.”

And secondly:

“The announcement by the US State Department that Australia has been cleared, at a cost of about $1.4 billion, to purchase 200 AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missiles (LRASM), which can be fired from our F/A-18 Super Hornets and the F-35s when they are delivered.”

Dibb’s piece is interesting in that central to these two points assumes that whoever the incumbent is in the White House, post-November 2020, Australia’s national security policy will maintain a strongly American focus.

The problem for Australian policymakers is that in this new age we are living through, it won’t matter how pro-American the Canberra elite is, if a US administration does not think an Australian strategic problem aligns with American interests – Australia may not have Washington’s support.

Furthermore, there is an assumption that the presence of USAF aircraft on Australian soil would be enough of a deterrent to prevent any form of Chinese or Russian hybridised military action against Australian interests along archipelagic south-east Asia and the south Pacific.

But these foreign, though allied, aircraft will not be under the sovereign direction of the RAAF or the Australian government. They will be under the authority of the US government. Here the decision to use them in support of Australian defensive measures stops with Washington.

While the signalling of American strategic support for Australia is important to keep the ANZUS Treaty relevant, for the Australian government, American support should never be taken for granted.

After all, if NATO and its much-vaunted ‘Article 5’ whereby an attack on one is considered an attack on all is currently being questioned among many NATO member states – ANZUS – which does not have a similar mechanism for automatic mutual support, should give Australian authorities pause for thought.

So, let us look at the known strategic threats to Australia.

The Lucky Country

From a state-on-state level, Australia remains the lucky country. Canberra has good, pragmatic relations with many regional states. Australia’s position as a farm and a mine for Chinese industry means that it is highly unlikely that the PRC would deliberately use force against Australia under any rational circumstance.

However, as an American staging base, Australian territory hosting US facilities may come under PRC attack should the destruction of these facilities be accorded a high priority by Beijing. This would only happen should a conventional war break out and rapidly escalate between Chinese and American forces over touchstone issues like Taiwan or the South China Sea.

For more peripheral hybridised operations directed against Australian interests, potentially sparked by non-state actors along Australia’s arc of strategic interest, from archipelagic south-east Asia to the south Pacific, the upgrading of RAAF Tindal to host US strategic bombers is less about Australian defence and more about America building-up power projection redundancy should its forward positions in South Korea and Japan decline for political reasons.

Does this add to or diminish Australian security? It is a polarising topic.

For defenders of ANZUS, any increase in US personnel flowing through to Australia increases the country’s defensibility under any and all circumstances. This is the public line of their argument, and it makes sense to maintain the close US-Australian relationship since being close to the US does give Australia access to critical technologies and intelligence.

Making Australia relevant to America therefore is a rational action to take in spite of any known gaps. From an Australian perspective, the commitment of ‘penny packet’ forces to protracted and unpopular American military missions to the Middle East or elsewhere is a small price to pay for keeping Australia as a steadfast ally foremost in the minds of American politicians and policymakers.

Fear of abandonment is strong among the Canberra political and policy-making elite.

For sceptics of ANZUS, any increase in US personnel or facilities in Australia limits our foreign policy options and damages the Australian brand among countries whom it trades with but who are not enamoured with US strategic and foreign policy.

Furthermore, sceptics have a far darker assessment of America’s commitment to Australian defence. For them, the US will do what the US does in order for it to advance its own interests – even at the expense of its ‘enabling’ allies.

But like with most polarising topics, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. And it is up to Canberra to navigate between its sovereign needs and requirements and those of its primary ally and trading partners. Not an easy task by any stretch. Made worse by the fact that Australia has no clear strategic narrative.

So, upgrading RAAF Tindal for USAF strategic bombers can be seen both as a net strategic gain for Australia and a net detriment, depending on where one sits on the ANZUS Treaty.

Increasing the base’s capacity to host domestic KC-30 air-to-air refuelling aircraft is important, not so much for the sovereign defence of Australia though there is that element to it, but for in-flight refuelling of RAAF fighter planes escorting USAF strategic bombers in long-range missions designed to ‘signal intent’ or to conduct harassment of PRC maritime traffic in the South China Sea.

The second point, the purchase of 200 AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missiles again can be seen as a way for the RAAF to better defend Australia against seaborne conventional naval threats.

Is this purchase based on a need to hedge against localised naval developments along Australia’s strategic arc?

Yes, but only at the very outside of likely scenarios. A country always has to hedge against fast-changing circumstances. But modernising and building a fleet of warships and fighter planes to alter the regional balance of power and threaten Australia is not something that any state in south-east Asia or the south Pacific can do easily, stealthily or affordably.

And, whatever these states have in their existing orders of battle are neither of the numbers nor of the quality that Australia has to worry about.

So, the purchase of these long-range anti-ship missiles again is more likely to keep the RAAF technologically up to fighting alongside the USAF in anti-PRC missions should an outbreak of war take place between China and the US.

And what of the threat from China to Australia? Is it a military threat or something else?

The China question? 

China has run intelligence operations against the Australian government by attempting to buy influence through the country’s politicians and political parties. It has run cyber operations against Australian businesses.

But China lacks the capacity for sustained long-range probing flights or a sustained naval presence in or near Australian waters. Much of China’s military is deployed close to its coastline and to countries that are in close geographic proximity to it.

Long-range (naval) missions are usually limited to occasional short-duration forays towards Alaska or Queensland. The country’s strategic ballistic missile fleet is also limited in size and capacity.

The level of threat to Australia from Chinese physical assault is therefore small, but manageable. The threat China poses to American facilities in Australia is a larger concern. And it is a concern that squarely puts Australian territory in harm’s way.

For instance, a Chinese ballistic missile strike against Pine Gap with either conventional high explosive, nuclear or EMP warheads could degrade or destroy a significant American intelligence outpost in a relatively unpopulated part of Australia.

Casualties would be low, but the facility’s loss would cause immeasurable shock to the US and Australian governments. Operationally, much of Pine Gap’s intelligence-gathering capacities might be re-routed to other American facilities, however, if the US were fighting Chinese forces, in a fast-moving war where real-time and near real-time intelligence is of the essence, the loss of Pine Gap would hurt US warfighters and their allies.

A similar attack on RAAF Tindal would put the Australian government in an even greater quandary. While Pine Gap is a US facility on Australian soil, RAAF Tindal is a sovereign Australian military facility, hosting American strategic air assets. How would Canberra react to the loss of this critical forward base in northern Australia?

If Australia were actively assisting American forces in a hot war with the Chinese over the South China Sea, RAAF Tindal might be considered a viable target by Chinese strategic missile forces, eager to roll back the reach of American aircraft.

Returning to Dibb’s two points, successive Australian governments have made it clear that it sees its continuing interest in keeping the US as the indispensable strategic partner, while at the same time keeping the PRC close as an economic partner.

The peculiar nature of this balancing act is not lost on some commentators who have observed that in this case, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Australia will never abandon the US for fear that no other Western country will be in a position to replace the US as Australia’s senior strategic ally.

China on the other hand is a ‘work-in-progress’. With China, Australia can make hay while the sun shines until the PRC milch-cow dries up or changes into something completely different. It is dispensable.

Made all the more because of the PRC’s cultural and political divergences from Australia in its human rights record, its politics and the heavy-handed social practices of the CCP.

Unless or until Australia’s politics and society adapt to CCP norms and conditions, a highly unlikely event,these divergences will never be breached making communist ruled China a country to be economically exploited but never truly trusted.

So, can Australia defend itself against the Chinese military? This is perhaps the wrong question.

For contemporary Australia, the PRC is an intelligence threat first and foremost.

The country’s efforts should therefore be marshalled to counter PRC influence operations, commercial espionage, cyber attacks and spying activities. This would make Australia safe from Chinese encroachments and manipulations.

Australia’s geographic distance is still the country’s greatest strategic asset.

The fact that China needs Australian raw materials and agricultural products to fuel and feed its industries makes Australia indispensable in keeping the Chinese economic juggernaut and autocracy alive.

Ironically in spite of the great leverage it holds over the PRC, Australia in a very tepid way believes itself to be a ‘middle power’ but usually acts like a small power.

If on the other hand the question is asked, can Australia help defend American interests located in Australia against the Chinese military? This is another point entirely and will depend on whether the Chinese military is actively targeting American facilities in Australia and Australian sovereign facilities harbouring American strategic assets.

If we assume that this is the case, then lengthening RAAF Tindal’s runway and purchasing 200 long-range anti-ship missiles will only be relevant to Australia’s ‘defence’ if it is part of a planned American offensive against the PRC.

And that can only mean that an Australian government’s ability to choose not to engage in such a US offensive is highly constrained, further undermining Canberra’s exercise of sovereignty in its own defence.

If Australia’s defence is really part of an American offensive posture, Dibb’s points may make Australia capable of slipstreaming into a planned US attack on Chinese forces. It does not mean that Australia’s sovereign defensive capabilities are any stronger because:

  1. Australia is acting as a facilitator and enabler of American power in the Indo-Pacific.
  2. US bases on Australian territory expose Australia to the risk of a pre-emptive Chinese ballistic missile strike against them, should regional tensions between Washington and Beijing escalate to open warfare.

What people are now suggesting is that Canberra invest in Patriot anti-ballistic missile/anti-aircraft batteries in order to plug the obvious gap in American military asset protection in Australia. The central question becomes, who should be responsible for this? The Australian or American governments?

SAGE International Australia (SIA) is an independent, not-for-profit think tank dedicated to deepening the understanding of global strategic and political issues.

SAGE International Australia aims to advance knowledge on international security trends and conflict resolution by providing high-quality research, analysis and policy debate and advice. SIA aims to deepen conversation with government, academia, civil society and the media on key political and security issues that contributes to local, national and global stability, peace and prosperity.

Dr John Bruni, author of ‘On Weapons Decisions’, is the founder and chief executive of SAGE International Australia, a South Australia-based online think tank and consultancy operating out of Adelaide since 2008. 

Dr Bruni is also on the board of directors of the Royal United Services Institute of Defence & Security Studies Australia (RUSIDSS-A), an institution he has been involved with for well over two decades.

Dr Bruni has long-term experience in teaching international relations, politics and security. He is a researcher and analyst who has worked for IHS Jane’s, London and the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies & Research (ECSSR), Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Dr Bruni has written extensively on national security and defence related issues including the Northeast Asian balance of power. He is also member of the MAST Technical Conference Committee.

The Raging China Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

China may have conducted low-level nuclear test blasts, U.S. says | Article [AMP] | Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China may have secretly set off low-level underground nuclear test explosions despite claiming to observe an international pact banning such blasts, the U.S. State Department said in a report on Wednesday that could fuel U.S.-Chinese tensions.

The finding, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may worsen ties already strained by U.S. charges that the global COVID-19 pandemic resulted from Beijing’s mishandling of a 2019 outbreak of the coronavirus in the city of Wuhan.

U.S. concerns about Beijing’s possible breaches of a “zero yield” standard for test blasts have been prompted by activities at China’s Lop Nur nuclear test site throughout 2019, the State Department report said.

Zero yield refers to a nuclear test in which there is no explosive chain reaction of the type ignited by the detonation of a nuclear warhead.

“China’s possible preparation to operate its Lop Nur test site year-round, its use of explosive containment chambers, extensive excavation activities at Lop Nur and a lack of transparency on its nuclear testing activities … raise concerns regarding its adherence to the zero yield standard,” the report said, without providing evidence of a low-yield test.

Beijing’s lack of transparency included blocking data transmissions from sensors linked to a monitoring center operated by the international agency that verifies compliance with a treaty banning nuclear test explosions.

The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) allows activities designed to ensure the safety of nuclear weapons.

A spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which verifies compliance with the pact, told the Wall Street Journal there had been no interruptions in data transmissions from China’s five sensor stations since the end of August 2019 following an interruption that began in 2018.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A senior U.S. official said the concerns about China’s testing activities buttressed President Donald Trump’s case for getting China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord to replace the 2010 New START treaty between Washington and Moscow that expires in February.

New START restricted the United States and Russia to deploying no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads, the lowest level in decades, and limited the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.

“The pace and manner by which the Chinese government is modernizing its stockpile is worrying, destabilizing, and illustrates why China should be brought into the global arms control framework,” said the senior U.S. official on condition of anonymity.

China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal, arguing its nuclear force is defensive and poses no threat.

Russia, France and Britain – three of the world’s five internationally recognized nuclear powers – signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which still requires ratification by 44 countries to become international law.

China and the United States are among eight signatories that have not ratified it. But China has declared its adherence to its terms, while the United States has observed a unilateral testing moratorium since 1992.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)

Dealing with the Pakistani Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8:8)

India Pakistan conflict: China sell nuclear weapons to Pakistan as ...

How the United States Should Deal With China in Pakistan

Introduction

By the end of 2019, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China’s high-profile development initiative in Pakistan, had shifted to a new phase. Whereas the first CPEC projects were mainly devoted to building new physical infrastructure, like power plants and highways, the next iteration of CPEC will tackle a wider array of projects intended to spur economic development and job creation.

Changes in CPEC were motivated by Pakistan’s political and institutional realities as well as by the broader evolution of China’s globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which CPEC has always been a prominent part. Yet the early stages of CPEC were themselves slowed or stymied by Pakistan’s own weak institutions and domestic political cleavages. The next phase is almost certain to yield similar if not greater frustrations.

In the midst of CPEC’s transition, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has unveiled a decidedly more critical view of China’s infrastructure initiatives in Pakistan,one aligned with Washington’s tougher posture in the global competition with China. Although there is much to criticize in CPEC, the administration’s current fixation on commercial and economic issues threatens to distract U.S. policymakers from deeper concerns, including how Chinese political influence contributes to illiberal governance and undermines personal freedoms in Pakistan. Washington needs to keep one eye on the prize of regional stability, especially in the context of deepening hostility between India and Pakistan, and the other eye on the longer-term geopolitical challenges posed by China’s increased involvement throughout the region.

U.S. policymakers should also remember that even when China’s overseas policies are dangerously flawed, foreign leaders and citizens will respond better to a United States that does less finger-wagging and more concrete problem-solving. For Pakistan as for so many other states around the world, the U.S.-China global competition is in itself of little practical concern when compared to other pressing needs, such as economic development, public health, and security. Until U.S. officials hone their messages and policies to better appeal to the interests of overseas audiences, they are likely to be greeted with lackluster, even dismissive, responses.

Playing CPEC Politics

Amid much fanfare, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Islamabad in April 2015 to announce the launch of CPEC. Pakistan’s leaders characterized the initiative as nothing less than a “fate changer,” a transformative development package that would simultaneously deliver economic growth, political stability, and security to Pakistan. By extension, CPEC would also help address China’s concerns about the threat of Islamist ideology along its western border. Even if China’s official statements were more circumspect about Beijing’s specific funding plans, promises of$40 billion–$60 billion or more in Chinese investment, with an emphasis on Pakistan’s troubled energy sector, stole the headlines in Pakistan.

Although CPEC is unlikely to live up to these early claims, the achievements of the past five years should not be dismissed. Pakistan received at least $19 billion in new infrastructure, including Chinese-built power plants that have reduced, if not eliminated, the country’s once debilitating rolling blackouts. Beijing claims that its projects have created jobs for an estimated 75,000 Pakistani workers, and other China-backed infrastructure improvements are literally set in concrete, such as roads, rails, and the new deep-sea port of Gwadar in Balochistan Province. These are significant accomplishments for Pakistan, which has been challenged by a difficult business environment, contentious politics, and long-standing domestic and regional security threats.

Daniel Markey

Daniel Markey is the author of China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia (Oxford University Press, 2020). He is also a senior research professor in international relations and the academic director of the Master of Arts in Global Policy program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

For its part, the administration of former U.S. president Barack Obama initially voiced a cautious welcome to Chinese infrastructure investments in Pakistan as a means to advance the shared aim of developing Pakistan’s economy and, over time, delivering economic opportunities to its people that, the argument went, would undercut the appeal of radical ideologies. Instead of opposing CPEC, U.S. officials even sought ways to harmonize initiatives from the United States Agency for International Development in Pakistan with new Chinese-sponsored ones.

Of late, however, the Trump administration has adopted a very different stance on CPEC. In November 2019, the most senior official in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Ambassador Alice Wells, took the stage at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, and delivered a forceful critique of CPEC. Applying the Trump administration’s general assessment of the BRI to Pakistan, Wells cited several U.S. concerns about CPEC: its relatively high costs, the long-term effects of its debt burden on Pakistan’s economy, the lack of transparency in its bidding processes that has fueled allegations of corruption, and the paucity of new jobs it has created for Pakistani workers.

Rather than seeking to harmonize U.S. and Chinese development efforts, the Trump team now seems intent on highlighting their differences in a bid to raise Pakistani awareness and stir skepticism about China’s aid offerings. In the ambassador’s words, “After four years of CPEC, people in Pakistan are beginning to ask tough questions about what kind of deals their prior government struck with Communist China and what Pakistan really gains.”

Washington’s policy shift as articulated in the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy documents reflects a toughened line on great power competition, especially with regard to China. Trump administration officials have expressed similar views in other instances as well. For example, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his February 2020 trip to Kazakhstan to warn local audiences about the dangers posed by business deals with China.

Not surprisingly, Chinese and Pakistani officials responded harshly to the tougher U.S. line. Beijing was especially keen to refute U.S. officials’ arguments that China had ensnared Pakistan in debt traps. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing publicly complained that Wells made use of inaccurate information and propaganda and went on to claim that China, unlike the U.S.-backed International Monetary Fund, would never force Pakistan to repay loans on a strict timeline if doing so would harm Pakistan’s interests. From Beijing, Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department and Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang also rejected U.S. “smears,” observing that half of Pakistan’s outstanding debts are from multilateral financial institutions and that “more than 80 percent of CPEC projects are funded by direct investment or grants from China.”

Pakistan’s response took a similar tone. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui also pushed back on U.S. claims, highlighting the CPEC projects that had already been built and the “enormous economic benefits for the people of Pakistan.” The Senate of Pakistan passed a resolution declaring the U.S. statement “uncalled for, unwarranted and unprecedented” and claiming Washington was “promoting fiction and presenting a biased perspective.”

Prominent political backers of Pakistan’s close ties with China, like Senator Mushahid Hussain, explained that “CPEC is central to Pakistan’s future, and it’s a pivot of our strategic relationship with China and for which Pakistan has benefited already.” Even Shehbaz Sharif, the opposition leader in the National Assembly and brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, fell in line. In a tweet, he declared, “I believe President Xi’s Belt & Road Initiative, based on the idea of win-win partnerships, shows the way forward & is an incredible model of interstate relations. Pakistanis will remain grateful to their Iron Brother for not only CPEC but also being an ally & all-weather friend!”

These responses are critically important for what they reveal about the politics of CPEC. Neither Beijing nor Islamabad is eager to air any frustrations about the other in public, much less to accept Washington’s criticism of initiatives that enjoy the personal backing of both Xi and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa. Moreover, each of the three successive Pakistani political parties that has held power since the end of Pervez Musharraf’s military rule in 2008 bought into CPEC and supports tighter relations with Beijing. Few prominent Pakistanis are willing or able to backtrack or disavow Beijing now.

Shifting Moods in Pakistan

That said, just underneath the Pakistani and Chinese desire to defend CPEC for political reasons lie specific grievances and concerns. These have shifted perspectives on both sides over the past five years. German Marshall Fund fellow Andrew Small goes so far as to argue that the period from 2015 to 2020 encapsulated both the rise and fall of CPEC.1 He explains that “the story of the last few years has been one of the two sides rediscovering their limitations” and anticipates that the future will return both countries to an earlier pattern of lower-profile ambition on the economic development front, even if “closed, secretive” cooperation on sensitive security matters continues.

Small is right to emphasize that both sides’ CPEC ambitions underwent dramatic downsizing. Neither Beijing nor Islamabad is discussing new Chinese initiatives or investments in Pakistan at a scale close to the magnitude touted in 2015. However, China-Pakistan relations are also unlikely to have come entirely full circle as the two sides will more than likely build on the CPEC foundation. Their relationship has matured in ways that cannot be undone.

In Pakistan, the most readily identifiable shift on CPEC came during the 2018 national elections, when Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party defeated the incumbent leadership. For years leading up to the national campaign, Khan played the outsider card and repeatedly criticized the government for cutting unfavorable and opaque deals with Beijing. He called for a greater commitment to job creation and social programs rather than heavy infrastructure projects. Khan largely muted his criticism soon after assuming office, however, in large part because Pakistan’s economy had fallen into crisis and his government required external bailouts to stay afloat. Lacking leverage with Beijing, Khan failed to renegotiate the CPEC deals struck by the previous government.

Khan was hardly alone as a disgruntled Pakistani critic of CPEC. As this author recently argued, the benefits of Chinese investments were unevenly distributed across Pakistani society, yielding predictable jealousies and frustrations.2 For some among Pakistan’s elite, from business tycoons to establishment politicians to military leaders, CPEC held the promise of business opportunities and new resources. For many others, including ethnic minorities like the Baloch, who have often found themselves marginalized from Pakistan’s political and economic decisionmaking, CPEC looked like another exploitative raw deal, unlikely to offer them economic development or new social welfare benefits commensurate with its costs, which were likely to include population displacement and environmental degradation. Lacking transparency about the terms of the Chinese deals, some Pakistani critics began to grumble about China as a new “East India Company,” bent on using its economic heft to exploit Pakistan in a new version of imperialism. In short, rather than alleviating Pakistan’s socioeconomic disparities or mitigating long-standing political grievances, CPEC threatened to exacerbate them. As a consequence, initial public euphoria over CPEC dimmed. Similarly, Pakistan’s generals gradually shifted gears from excessive optimism in 2015 to a more careful pragmatism, though they remain firmly committed to a close strategic partnership with China.

Driving Pakistan’s careful pragmatism has been a string of Chinese diplomatic moves demonstrating that China would not back Pakistan unconditionally. For instance, in September 2017, China joined India in signing a BRICS summit antiterror declaration that included specific mentions of Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. Beijing’s departure from a long-standing practice of shielding Pakistan from such criticism surprised Islamabad. Similarly unwelcome were Beijing’s February 2018 and 2020 votes to gray-list Pakistan on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and its April 2019 capitulation to pressure in the United Nations for blacklisting Pakistani terrorist Masood Azhar. In each instance, Islamabad would have preferred Beijing to have more forcefully taken Pakistan’s side. Moreover, the April 2018 summit in Wuhan between Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi put Pakistan’s leaders on notice that China had no immediate interest in seeing another flare-up in its own border tensions with India. That message surely disappointed Pakistan’s generals, who have for decades seen China-India tensions as a means to force India to prepare for a two-front war rather than focusing only on Pakistan.

Pakistani army concerns about China have been reinforced by an abiding determination to avoid overdependence on any outside partner if it might threaten Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. Senior military officials in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi claim to have reached the conclusion that although Beijing is a valuable friend, it is not a treaty-bound ally that would step into a military conflict on Islamabad’s side. To the contrary, one senior Pakistani official noted how “every nation must be prepared to win its own battles,” and Pakistan is no exception.3

Beijing’s shifting stance on CPEC has been similarly understated yet significant. Some of its moves have been consistent with a global recalibration on the BRI that was discussed extensively during Beijing’s second Belt and Road Forum in April 2019. At that meeting, China sought to address widespread concerns among other BRI partners about how Chinese investments could impose excessive debt burdens, contribute to corruption, exacerbate environmental degradation, and advance China’s own strategic aims without necessarily contributing to local economic development.

Beijing has also recalibrated its involvement in CPEC as a consequence of Pakistan-specific frustrations. According to a 2017 long-term plan, both Beijing and Islamabad have long planned to shift investment from infrastructure to industrialization, but delays on CPEC projects and concerns about the financial viability of future projects raised or reinforced doubts among Chinese companies and policymakers. At a November 2019 meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Cooperation Committee, the Chinese side decided not to announce any new financial commitments until previous projects were completed. With Pakistan’s GDP growth slowing from a high of 5.2 percent in 2018 to 3.3 percent in 2019 to an estimated 2.4 percent in 2020, the country’s already difficult business environment has begun to look even less attractive to Chinese investors.

Beijing has shifted from touting CPEC as a flagship for the BRI to describing it as a pilot project. This move reveals a trimming of expectations and ambitions driven mainly by Pakistan’s on-the-ground realities rather than China’s own strategy or plans. Such a reclassification offers the important lesson that Beijing’s overseas initiatives are heavily dependent on the politics and interests of its partners, even if they are all smaller and less powerful than China.

In short, CPEC is changing, both tangibly and rhetorically. Yet the CPEC game is far from over. CPEC cannot fail—that is a political and diplomatic impossibility. For Pakistan, China remains an important partner and lifeline. For China, CPEC remains both a closely watched test case for the export of China’s development model and a prestige project for Xi.

Reflecting the persistence of these close ties between China and Pakistan, leaders on both sides are quick to note that new CPEC initiatives are under way, informally dubbed “CPEC 2.0.” These efforts are expected to focus on “industrialization, agriculture, and socioeconomic development, with a particular emphasis on special economic zones” in order to better address the desire of Khan’s government to create more jobs for Pakistani workers. At the same time, China is ramping up its public diplomacy in Pakistan by starting an Urdu-language news service, undoubtedly as a means to pump out a steady stream of positive stories about CPEC and tamp down public frustrations and suspicions.

Despite these commitments, there are many reasons to anticipate that CPEC’s second phase could run into even more challenging headwinds than did the first. Building physical infrastructure was challenging, but with Chinese enterprises, engineers, and workers in the lead, it was not entirely at the mercy of Pakistan’s own governing institutions and human capital. By contrast, many of the core elements of CPEC 2.0 will touch politically sensitive and contentious issues, from land rights and education to economic and institutional reform. Even quite measured expectations could go unmet unless both sides take a patient, long-term perspective.

A Smarter U.S. Policy

U.S. policymakers are correct to sense that under CPEC’s surface lies a degree of frustration, uncertainty, and reduced ambition in both Islamabad and Beijing. Even if Trump administration officials only aim to give voice to concerns quietly shared by many Pakistanis, however, Washington’s approach has been too heavy-handed, tone deaf to the political and diplomatic exigencies facing Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders.

Moving forward, Washington’s policy should take two ground realities into account. First, Pakistani leaders—like those across Asia—have no particular desire to take a side in the brewing geopolitical competition between the United States and China. Self-interested more than ideological, they would prefer to extract benefits from both Beijing and Washington, even to play them off of each other. Moreover, many Pakistanis tend to question U.S. motivations, doubting Washington’s noble, liberal rhetoric about freedom and assuming those words mask ulterior aims, from safeguarding commercial and security interests to practicing outright imperialism. To be sure, Chinese rhetoric about noninterference in the sovereign affairs of other states strains credulity for many Pakistanis, but in the aftermath of a terribly fraught two decades of dealing with the United States, Washington’s claims of beneficence ring equally hollow.

Second, U.S. policymakers should keep in mind that CPEC is only one slice of the China-Pakistan relationship. Moreover, different infrastructure projects are likely to have different political consequences. Rather than framing the U.S. policy response as a narrow competition over the commercial and economic issues of “cost, debt, transparency, and jobs,” U.S. policymakers should train their focus on three broader aspects of China’s relationship with Pakistan.

The first and most immediate concern should be with respect to China’s impact on regional stability, especially between India and Pakistan, but also in the context of U.S. plans for a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Second, now and for the foreseeable future, Washington should come up with more effective ways to compete with Beijing’s growing political influence, including its role in strengthening repressive, illiberal governance in Pakistan. Third, over the long run, the United States will want to weigh the geopolitical implications of the China-Pakistan defense partnership, including how China’s presence in Pakistan will better enable it to project military power into South Asia and the Middle East.

Regional Stability

Over the past year, India and Pakistan have again reached the brink of war. Another India-Pakistan military crisis may be brewing this summer. Even as Trump administration officials perceive China as a global competitor, they would also be smart to appreciate Beijing’s role as a potential diplomatic partner when it comes to restraining India and Pakistan from war. If tensions in China-U.S. relations inhibit cooperation in the midst of a South Asian crisis, all sides will lose.

At present, U.S. and Chinese officials appear to hold different views on how to assign responsibility (and blame) for tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad, which could lead them to work at cross-purposes in the event of a crisis. Whereas Washington tends to see Indian military strikes against Pakistan as justified responses to terrorist outrages on Indian soil, Beijing emphasizes Pakistan’s strategic obligation to respond forcefully to aggression by its much larger neighbor. This mismatch is dangerous and warrants an intensive round of strategic stability talks between U.S. and Chinese diplomats, during which the two sides could at least share their assessments and discuss processes for better choreographing future diplomatic engagements with New Delhi and Islamabad.

In Afghanistan, the United States would also benefit from improved information-sharing with Beijing as U.S. diplomats navigate the tricky dual issues of an intra-Afghan peace process and a U.S. military drawdown. Washington has long perceived Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad as a point of potential leverage with Kabul, specifically as a means to encourage Pakistan to place greater pressure on its friends among the Taliban. Although China never delivered a breakthrough in support of U.S. war aims in Afghanistan, neither has it played a spoiler.

Both China and the United States fear the implications of an all-out Afghan civil war or even the return of a 1990s-style Taliban-led regime that would serve as a haven for al-Qaeda or other international terrorists. With these common interests in mind, Washington should open a regular dialogue with Beijing on Afghanistan, if only as a means to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings as the two powers deal separately with the Taliban, the government in Kabul, Pakistani officials, and representatives from other major regional players like Russia and Iran.

Competing for Influence

China’s political influence is growing in Pakistan as it is elsewhere in Asia. To the extent that the United States aims to remain politically relevant on the continent, it should above all avoid the traps of competing on Beijing’s terms or focusing on an explicit comparison between U.S. and Chinese development models as an “us or them” choice.

Rather than aping Chinese infrastructure investments, U.S. officials should instead think more broadly about what makes the United States an especially attractive partner. U.S.-style education, scientific research, and technological innovation tend to land at the top of that list. All are widely valued by Pakistanis because they offer a means to address real-life needs. The United States has wisely invested in Fulbright scholarships for thousands of Pakistanis to study in the United States, and the Pakistani government has reciprocated with millions of dollars in scholarships to support Pakistani PhD students in the United States. Unfortunately, Trump administration visa and immigration policies threaten to restrict Pakistanis from traveling and working in the United States, and the overall number of Pakistani students in American schools already pales (even in per capita terms) in comparison to those in India and China.4 With due consideration of security issues, these policies should be reconsidered.

Similarly, Pakistanis have much to gain from trade with the United States. Washington has for decades failed to offer Pakistan’s textile industry favorable access to U.S. markets, owing mainly to protectionist policies. More than Obama-era U.S. taxpayer–funded aid or even the Trump administration’s federally backed financing for investment, enhanced trade in textiles would kickstart economic growth, create jobs, and improve Pakistan’s trade balance. It would also drive greater Pakistani demand for imports of cotton and LNG from the United States to power its factories.

The United States should work to help a wider cross section of Pakistanis benefit from outside investments, even if some of those investments began with CPEC. Working bilaterally or through multilateral institutions, the United States should encourage Pakistan’s government to enact market-opening reforms and offer technical assistance where possible. During his February 2020 visit to Islamabad, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross correctly highlighted the need to improve “Pakistan’s business environment, including through developing a consistent tax framework, promoting regulatory transparency, and strengthening the intellectual property ecosystem.” Beyond exhortations and encouragement, the United States should share its considerable technical expertise on all of these issues with Pakistan by, for instance, expanding aid projects focused on Pakistan’s business climate.

In addition to new policies on education, trade, and investment, the United States should aim to compete with Chinese influence in Pakistan in smaller ways that nonetheless show how a can-do approach can address everyday problems faced by millions of Pakistanis. An example of one such successful U.S. policy was the decision by the U.S. embassy and consulates throughout Pakistan to publicize reliable air quality data from their own monitoring equipment. In a country where roughly 128,000 people die annually from air pollution and where official state sources tend to downplay the severity of the issue, the move has had a disproportionate and positive effect. The publication of U.S. data advances the cause of Pakistani environmental activists who are working to raise awareness about air pollution, promote healthier practices among children and the elderly, reduce emissions by encouraging different commuting patterns, and pressure local authorities to do more to address environmental issues. U.S. policymakers should consider whether there are other, analogous policies that would leverage and highlight U.S. technologies, data, and free access to reliable information.

Washington should also reflect on which aspects of Chinese influence in Pakistan are likely to have the most detrimental consequences for U.S. interests in the region over the long run. Certain types of infrastructure carry with them more political influence than others. Big-budget Chinese power plants or railway lines are, in this context, likely less worrisome than fiber-optic cables and telecommunications hardware. In January 2019, Chinese telecom giant Huawei installed a 510-mile fiber-optic line from the western Chinese city of Kashgar to Islamabad, just one piece in a larger network that will tie Pakistani data flows to China. Chinese telecommunications technologies bring with them the potential for Beijing to gain greater control over data, more effectively censor and surveil communications, and erode freedoms, including Pakistan’s freedom to oppose ever closer and more exclusive ties with China. In other words, the main U.S. challenge is not related to infrastructure or industrial competition between Chinese and Western firms; instead, it is a story about political influence, illiberal governance, and technological trends that undermine freedom.

U.S. officials have made their concerns about Huawei abundantly clear, but not even close allies like the United Kingdom are entirely willing or able to forego Chinese equipment. Pakistan and other cash-strapped states are even more likely to buy from China. In countries like Pakistan, the United States would be smart to develop and disseminate technological tools—both hardware and software—that enable Pakistani journalists, politicians, and academics to access reliable information and data and safely share their ideas with others. In partnerships with American technology companies, the U.S. government can benefit from efforts like Project Shield, a free service developed by Jigsaw (a company owned by Google parent Alphabet) designed to protect the websites of journalists and activists from distributed denial of service attacks that would otherwise shut them down. Furthermore, U.S. support for Pakistan’s defenders of human rights and liberal values need not be limited to the online world. The U.S. government should also expand its assistance to programs like Scholars at Risk, an organization that partners with academic institutions to offer temporary refuge to academics threatened by harassment or incarceration.

Long-term Geopolitical Considerations

Over nearly six decades, ties between Beijing and Islamabad have centered on military and strategic cooperation far more than on economic development. As Pakistan’s all-weather ally and main external balancer against India, China has supplied the Pakistani military with important components in its nuclear, missile, and conventional arsenals.

Looking to the future, a core question for U.S. policymakers will be how Chinese arms, from tanks and jets to tactical nuclear-capable missiles and drones, are likely to affect the India-Pakistan military balance. U.S. planners need to keep a close eye on the evolution of China-Pakistan defense cooperation, especially in the nuclear realm, but also in new areas like cyberwar, where Chinese assistance to Pakistan could tip the balance against India in a future conflict. China has historically been willing to circumvent arms control agreements to help its friends in Pakistan, so as tensions grow between Washington and Beijing, the obstacles to new arms transfers may diminish.

This issue assumes greater strategic relevance to Washington as policymakers are increasingly eager to bolster India as a partner and counterweight to China in Asia. U.S. policymakers will need to consider the net effect of U.S. support to India and Chinese support to Pakistan, bearing in mind that New Delhi may be inclined to train its new arms on Pakistani targets rather than on Chinese ones. A South Asian arms race could turn into a costly—and exceedingly dangerous—distraction from Washington’s competition with Beijing.

At the same time, Washington should consider the long-term potential that Pakistan offers China in terms of military power projection. There are many reasons to anticipate that China will eventually establish a permanent naval presence on Pakistan’s coast at or near Gwadar. A second military base of the sort that the People’s Liberation Army opened in 2017 in Djibouti is not something that, in itself, should inspire undue concern at the Pentagon. Still, it would offer China the strategic benefit of an overland route to the Arabian Sea, a critical point on the way to the hydrocarbon-rich Persian Gulf.

This is but one facet in the wider story of China’s expanding presence in the Middle East, a new development with uncertain consequences for the United States, whose own interest in the region appears to be waning. Even so, American military planners will need to assess the implications of these developments for U.S. forces in the region.

Conclusion

It is not surprising that the Trump administration aims to sharpen the distinctions between Chinese ventures like CPEC and the United States’ own overseas initiatives. Indeed, Washington has every reason to make sure that international audiences understand that Beijing’s BRI projects often come with hefty price tags and may not deliver on promises of jobs or sustainable economic growth. U.S. diplomats are correct to sense that audiences in countries like Pakistan are now more sensitive to the limitations of partnership with China than they were in the recent past. Future phases of CPEC are likely to be more fraught with difficulty than was the first.

Yet the Pakistani case is illustrative; although Pakistan’s own enthusiasm for CPEC has waned over the past five years, Washington’s criticism of the China-Pakistan relationship is unlikely to win friends or influence in Islamabad. Too many Pakistanis are politically and financially beholden to China. Rather than publicly talk down China’s initiatives, U.S. diplomats should talk up U.S. ones. Rather than competing on Chinese terms, U.S. officials should focus on the United States’ unique advantages. Rather than being distracted by the terms of CPEC’s investments in physical infrastructure, Washington should keep an eye on strategic and political developments in China-Pakistan relations of greater long-term significance.

The United States has little to lose from new Pakistani roads, power plants, or railways. Even a new Chinese-built port at Gwadar is unlikely to deliver significant strategic advantage to China in the near term. However, where Chinese involvement in Pakistan’s telecommunications, security, and defense technologies tilts the balance toward repressive, illiberal rule and regional instability, U.S. policymakers should take action. Along the way, they should also aim to find a balance between outcompeting China in political and strategic terms and pursuing tactical cooperation with Beijing on issues of immediate importance, such as preventing war between India and Pakistan and countering international terrorism in Afghanistan.

This will not be an easy balance to strike. But in South Asia as elsewhere around the world, U.S. policymakers would be better off grappling with the complexity of the challenge posed by China’s growing influence than by merely railing against it.

Daniel Markey is the author of China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia (Oxford University Press, 2020). He is also a senior research professor in international relations and the academic director of the Master of Arts in Global Policy program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Notes

1 Andrew Small, The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Politics (London: Hurst Publishers, 2020), 186, 183, https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/the-china-pakistan-axis/.

2 Daniel Markey, China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), https://global.oup.com/academic/product/chinas-western-horizon-9780190680190.

3 Author’s meetings with senior Pakistani military officials, October 2019, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

4 Pakistan student total in 2018–2019 was 7,957, compared with 202,014 from India and 369,548 from China. See “2019 Fast Facts” from the report “Open Doors,” Institute for International Education, https://www.iie.org/-/media/Files/Corporate/Open-Doors/Fast-Facts/Open-Doors-2019-Fast-Facts.ashx?la=en&hash=1FF4995155DE3E0F186A1E880D2CB6A0C7302C42. On new U.S. visa restrictions for Pakistan, see Ashfaq Ahmed, ed., “U.S. Drastically Reduces Visa Validity for Pakistanis in Certain Categories,” Gulf News: Pakistan, March 6, 2019, https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/pakistan/us-drastically-reduces-visa-validity-for-pakistanis-in-certain-categories-1.62487952. On visa application rejection rates (Pakistan at 47.9 percent, India at 26.1 percent), see Natasha Frost and Dan Kopf, “What Are the Chances of Being Rejected For a Travel Visa to the U.S.?,” Quartz, August 28, 2019, https://qz.com/1696508/what-are-the-chances-of-being-rejected-for-a-tourist-or-business-visa/. On the Trump administration’s spike in rates of denial for work visas, see “H-1B Denial Rates: Past and Present,” National Foundation for American Policy, April 2019, https://nfap.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/H-1B-Denial-Rates-Past-and-Present.NFAP-Policy-Brief.April-2019.pdf.

The US and China Nuclear Horns (Daniel 7)

US Containment Policy Towards China: Threats To Security In South Asia – OpEd

Irfan Mahar*April 7, 2020

US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping at APEC Summit. Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen\

“The Future of Politics will be decided in Asia and the United States will be right at the centre of the action” — Hillary Clinton

South Asian region is home to a large population that faces multiple internal and external problems. The biggest challenge for South Asia as opined by various writers is peace and security. Former Advisor to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz emphasized on the need for South Asian political leadership to develop a clear narrative on security issues which are a great hindrance to the peaceful development and stability of the states of the region. Internally regional states have been experiencing instability, underdevelopment, poverty, corruption, illiteracy, sectarian conflicts, terrorism, and many other problems.

Externally the involvement of foreign powers also remains a big source of tensions throughout the region. Particularly, when it comes to the US-China relations and their security policies in South Asia which mostly revolve around three major factors i.e. human rights, trade, and security. Both Washington and Beijing have contending world views which lead them to the divergence of opinions concerning security interests in South Asia.

However, an interesting fact to note is that on one hand the United States considers China as a staunch adversary and on the other hand, they are major trade and business partners worth $737.1 billion during 2018 and worth $559 billion during 2019. Furthermore, the US introduced the policy of “Rebalancing or Pivot to Asia” which is considered as part of a greater strategy of containment of China. Beijing’s fast economic growth compelled the US, being a dominant power, to introduce a new policy that aims to contain the increasing Chinese influence in Asia via looking over the changing global economic, political, financial structures of the world. In this regard, Washington has been trying to engage with more nations in the South Asian region particularly India and Pakistan.

For containing Beijing, Washington adopts a two-pronged policy based on hard and soft power, United States has historically been involved in the South Asian region owing to multiple reasons such as Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, India-Pakistan nuclear tests, 9/11 incident, Washington-Delhi rapprochement, and above all for the containment of China.

The rise of Beijing compelled the United States to engage deeply with South Asian nations to limit Chinese influence and engagement, particularly with Delhi to create a balance of power in the region. In this regard, the Chinese factor became the major reason for Washington to make India an important trade and investment partner.

In addition to this, increasing strategic significance of the Indian Ocean with growing Chinese presence worried the US. The ocean provides direct access to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. As for Chinese policy concern toward the US, it pledges to opt the policy of hedging i.e. two contradictory policy directions simultaneously being pursued, which in this case are: balancing and engagement.

On one hand the state maintains a strong military, builds and strengthens alliances, while on the other hand it builds trade networks, increases diplomatic links, and creates multilateral frameworks. Hence, China projects soft power through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and tries to make more alliances. Moreover, China aims at changing the global structure in which the US has a dominant position through political, economic, and financial structures of the world. Moreover, Beijing particularly aspires to be the regional hegemon particularly in South Asia because of its near abroad and first testing ground for success of BRI project to become successful globally.

While the growing Indo-US nexus has posed serious threats to the security of the South Asian region. Pakistan, being a strategically important nation, could best serve American interest through being a part of American policies and actions in which Afghan issue and BRI keep much importance. Also, Washington keeps an attentive eye over Afghanistan and Iran in the region for limiting Chinese influence therefore it doesn’t want Iran and Afghanistan draw closer to China by being part of BRI. China and Iran share cordial relations but American sanctions over Iran create restrictions for Beijing to engage with Tehran for trade and other exchange of goods.

The presence of the US forces in Afghanistan, after 9/11, has worsened the security condition of the region. Because of this South Asian region has become fragile giving birth to multiple terrorist elements such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban rendering the region unstable and fragile. Moreover, Washington’s support for the Indian-led transport corridor project under development in Iran and Afghanistan results in growing Indian influence and involvement in both the countries. Resultantly Delhi misuses its influence and involvement in both states against Pakistan and carries out terrorist activities on Pakistan’s soil as is evident from the arrest of an Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, who entered Balochistan, one of the provinces of Pakistan, from Iran with malicious aim of carrying out terrorist activities.

Therefore, all these acts of Washington to contain Beijing in South Asia gives birth to many security concerns in the region. Such as increasing interstate tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan, insurgency, violent conflicts, and security problems ranging from militancy to organized crime which makes it more complex and insecure.

*The writer is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, and Ph.D. scholar in the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan.

The China Nuclear Horn Refuses to Negotiate with Trump

China is Willing to Negotiate on Nuclear Arms, But Not on Trump’s Terms

President Trump announced to the world in a March 5 tweet that he would propose “a bold new trilateral arms control initiative with China and Russia.” China immediately rejected the idea the very next day. It would be wrong, however, to infer that Chinese leaders are opposed to nuclear arms control. They are not. They are just not interested in what Trump appears to be offering.

There are good reasons for China to suspect Trump’s motives. He used China as a scapegoat when withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, for example, and he may be using this vague new initiative to justify allowing the New START Treaty to expire. China was not a party to either agreement. Walking away from treaties with Russia and blaming China for it is unlikely to encourage Chinese leaders to come to the negotiating table.

Trump premised his announcement of this new initiative with a questionable claim that China will “double the size of its nuclear stockpile” before the end of the decade. That sounds ominous, but in fact China has only about 300 warheads and barely enough plutonium to get to 600. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia each possess more than 6,000 warheads. Any new agreement based on parity among the three states would require steep U.S. and Russian cuts even if China did indeed double its arsenal.

China certainly would welcome major U.S. and Russian reductions. But there is no sign either nation is willing to make them. On the contrary, Trump and President Putin have announced ambitious nuclear modernization programs that dwarf China’s. Since neither of the two countries are planning to reduce their arsenals, it is difficult for Chinese leaders to understand what Trump wants to discuss. Neither the president nor his aides have provided a tentative agenda or cited desired outcomes.

Despite Trump’s apparent failure to engage China, if he or his successor wants to bring China to the negotiating table, there is a path to follow. Below are four steps the United States can take to convince Chinese leaders to negotiate on nuclear arms.

Step 1. Pursue International, not Multilateral, Negotiations

There is a marked difference between international and multilateral negotiations, and it matters to China.

Chinese leaders perceive multilateral agreements negotiated by a few powerful nations, including bilateral agreements such as New START, as hegemonic—or dominant—behavior. Since the beginning of the nuclear arms race, China has opposed allowing decisions about nuclear weapons to be made without the participation of non-nuclear weapons states.

Conversely, Chinese leaders see international agreements negotiated in the United Nations, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or CTBT, as more inclusive and equitable. Their outcomes are more stable.

In the past, Chinese communist leaders were skeptical of international nuclear arms control agreements. They described the Partial Test Ban Treaty as an attempt to “consolidate the nuclear monopoly.” They believed its true motivation was to prevent non-nuclear weapons states, such as China at the time, from joining the nuclear club.

Chinese communist leaders’ views on nuclear arms control evolved after their government obtained a seat at the United Nations in 1971. Familiarity with the organization led to a better understanding of how it works, who it represents, and what it does. China joined the NPT in 1992 and signed the CTBT in 1996. The test ban treaty was the first international nuclear arms control agreement China had a hand in writing. It was an empowering experience that made China willing to take the next step and negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, or FMCT, that would ban the production of uranium and plutonium for use in making nuclear warheads.

The entry into force of the CTBT and the FMCT would prevent China from developing new types of nuclear warheads and producing the fissile material it would need to further expand its small stockpile. Working with China in the United Nations to complete those two treaties is the most effective way a U.S. president can verifiably cap the size and sophistication of China’s nuclear arsenal.

Step 2. Accept Mutual Vulnerability

Accepting mutual vulnerability sounds defeatist. But all it means is that no one can win a nuclear arms race. The United States cannot prevent China from being able to retaliate and deliver some number of nuclear weapons if the United States should ever choose to use nuclear weapons first during a war.

Unfortunately, the United States refuses to acknowledge its vulnerability to Chinese nuclear retaliation. From China’s point of view, that means the United States is still seeking invulnerability.

China maintains a comparatively small nuclear force. It has about 300 nuclear warheads and enough weapons-grade plutonium to produce several hundred more. The United States has around 6,000 nuclear warheads and enough weapons-grade plutonium to make about 5,000 more. China’s small nuclear force encourages U.S. war planners to imagine they could wipe it out at the beginning of an armed conflict.

Chinese war planners calibrate the size of their nuclear arsenal based on their assessment of whether such a disarming first strike is likely. The more the United States appears to invest in trying, the larger China’s numbers will become. U.S. dreams of invulnerability also encourage China to develop less vulnerable nuclear forces, including mobile missiles and submarine-based missiles.

Unlike the former Soviet Union, China is not overly concerned about the huge disparity in nuclear forces. Chinese leaders do not appear to believe a massive U.S. nuclear first strike is likely. But they are very worried about a highly accurate conventional first strike that could threaten China’s nuclear weapons. The United States currently deploys very large numbers of precision-guided conventional munitions on China’s periphery. As the quantity and quality of those munitions increase, so does the level of China’s anxiety about the survival of its nuclear weapons.

This concern encourages China to add to its small nuclear force. At the same time, the Trump administration is increasing the already overwhelmingly superior U.S. nuclear force. If the goal is to stop China from building more nuclear weapons, it would be much more effective, and far less expensive, to look for ways to assure Chinese leaders that unless China uses nuclear weapons first, the United States will not attack China’s nuclear forces in the event of war. If the U.S. goal is instead to seek invulnerability to Chinese nuclear retaliation, Chinese leaders will continue to enlarge their arsenal.

Step 3. Take No-First-Use Seriously

China is serious about not using its nuclear weapons first in an armed conflict. In a statement after its first nuclear test in 1964, the Chinese government declared it will “never at any time and under any circumstances be the first to use nuclear weapons.” It also stated that China did not develop nuclear weapons because it intends to use them, stating, “China’s aim is to break the nuclear monopoly of the nuclear powers and to eliminate nuclear weapons.”

That logic is hard for many Americans to understand. But it is the same logic that underpins the Non-Proliferation Treaty. U.S. commentators frequently overlook it, but the NPT requires nuclear weapons states to disarm. The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to eliminate their nuclear weapons because they were afraid many other nations, such as China, would acquire them.

Chinese leaders see no-first-use as prerequisite for elimination. They believe the only legitimate purpose of nuclear weapons is to free a country from the fear of being attacked with nuclear weapons. From China’s point of view, any nation that imagines nuclear weapons can be used to fight and win wars can never be genuinely committed to nuclear disarmament.

U.S. officials in successive administrations have not considered China’s no-first-use pledge to be credible, and they have spent the last several decades testing China’s resolve during bilateral discussions. For example, they have asked what China would do during a war if the United States did something like blow up the Three Gorges Dam, destroy Chinese nuclear power plants, or take out China’s nuclear weapons with high-tech conventional bombs. Regardless, China regularly reaffirms its commitment to what it deems a core principle.

China has never required other states to commit to no-first-use as a precondition for negotiations. But a U.S. no-first-use commitment would dramatically alter U.S.-China nuclear relations for the better. It would greatly increase Chinese confidence in U.S. intentions. And it would cost the United States next to nothing, since there is no imaginable circumstance that would require the United States to use nuclear weapons first.

Step 4. Discuss Limits on Missile Defense

When the United States and the Soviet Union finally realized that no one could win a nuclear arms race, they decided to talk. Negotiators quickly discovered that limiting offense was impossible without limiting defense as well, since an effective way to counter defenses is to build more offensive weapons. That is why on the same day President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, or SALT, agreement, they also signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM, Treaty, which put strict limits on missile defenses. Unfortunately, the Bush administration pulled the United States out of the treaty in 2002.

Limiting missile defense is even more important to China today than it was to the former Soviet Union. The huge disparity between U.S. and Chinese nuclear forces and China’s vulnerability to a U.S. conventional first strike make even a marginally effective U.S. missile defense system appear to be a problem because it would be more effective against a small retaliatory strike following a U.S. first strike. It is not unreasonable for Chinese leaders to worry that a U.S. president who believes the United States is protected from Chinese nuclear retaliation might be more willing to risk using nuclear weapons against China first. Investing in more offensive missiles, and new missile types that might defeat the U.S. defense system, are understandable Chinese responses to U.S. missile defense expansion.

There is no existing proposal for international negotiations on missile defense. But there is a proposal in the United Nations for negotiations to prevent an arms race in outer space. Since long-range missile defense interceptors also can be used to attack satellites in orbit, missile defense is a topic that should be discussed in such negotiations. The United States refuses to consider such a treaty despite serious concerns about space security. Some observers think it is because talks at the United Nations on this topic would lead to international discussions on missile defense. The United States should embrace rather than avoid that opportunity. Joining UN discussions on missile defense would significantly increase Chinese confidence in U.S. intentions to negotiate on nuclear weapons.

The Bottom Line

The first two steps listed above are prerequisites for getting China to the nuclear negotiating table. The Chinese leadership’s distaste for multilateral rather than international negotiations is deeply rooted in Chinese communist ideology and unlikely to change. And if the United States is unwilling to accept vulnerability to Chinese nuclear retaliation, what is there to discuss? What is the point of negotiating with a more powerful nuclear rival that believes that it is invincible?

The next two steps are not required but are highly recommended. Why does the United States insist on maintaining the option to use nuclear weapons first? It is difficult to imagine an answer that would not undermine Chinese confidence in U.S. intentions. And negotiations that begin with a refusal to discuss the age-old battle between offense and defense are unlikely to get very far. China, despite considerable progress, still sees itself as scientifically and technologically inferior to the United States. Chinese leaders understand that a reliable defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles is still out of reach, but they worry about an unforeseen breakthrough.

China is willing to negotiate on nuclear arms, but the United States cannot expect to dictate the terms. There is no need for what President Trump calls “bold new” initiatives. There already is a formidable set of essential tasks waiting to be addressed. If Trump really wants to do something to avoid a new nuclear arms race, pressing the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and starting negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty are two bold initiatives he can accomplish right now.

The New Nuclear Race (Daniel 7)

Not Good: Why Russia and America Are Racing to Build Intermediate-Range Nuclear Missiles

The old INF treaty has been killed.

Key point: Washington and Moscow are building new missiles once banned under the INF Treaty. How much might this destabilize the world?

The U.S. military on Aug. 18, 2019 successfully tested a ground-launched, intermediate-range, nuclear-capable cruise missile.

It’s exactly the kind of kind of missile that the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, or INF, had banned before the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump in early August 2019 formally withdrew from the treaty.

This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

With INF dead, the world’s nuclear balance is in flux. In the near term at least, it’s clear that the United States and Russia intend to deploy shorter-range nukes. It seems unlikely that a new treaty will halt these deployments.

The flight test of America’s new “conventionally-configured, ground-launched cruise missile” took place at San Nicolas Island in California, the Pentagon announced.

“The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers [310 miles] of flight,” the Defense Department stated.  “Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform [the Defense Department’s] development of future intermediate-range capabilities.”

The missile appears to be a version of the Tomahawk cruise missile, which U.S. forces also deploy in sea- and air-launched versions.

The U.S. military previously deployed a ground-launched Tomahawk from 1983 to 1991. The missile type boasted nuclear warhead and a 1,600-miles range. INF compelled the Americans and Russians respectively to withdraw 400 and 1,500 ground-launched nuclear missiles with a range between 310 and 3,400 miles.

Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin doomed INF and heralded the return of quick-striking intermediate missiles.

The first sign that the 1987 agreement was in trouble came in 2011, when the administration of then-U.S. president Barack Obama warned that new, intermediate-range nuclear-armed cruise missile—under development in Russia since 2008—could violate the terms of the treaty.

The U.S. State Department in 2013 first raised the issue with the Kremlin. Later the same year, the White House formally announced that Russia was in violation of the treaty.

The Americans were responsible for their own provocations. In 2015 the Pentagon began installing missile defenses in Romania. The non-nuclear SM-3 missile-interceptors are designed to hit ballistic missiles launched by Iran at the United States, and are not capable of stopping intermediate-range nukes launched from Europe.

But the Russians viewed the SM-3s as a threat and cited them as an indication that the Americans were developing their own intermediate-range weapons. Sometime in 2017 the Russian military finally deployed its new intermediate-range missile, the SSC-8, at a site along Russia’s western frontier.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration advanced plans for a host of new nukes, including smaller “tactical” atomic weapons that the White House might be more willing to use than larger, more powerful strategic weapons.

The Trump administration also cited China as a rationale for canceling INF, as Beijing was never party to the 1987 treaty.

Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, released in early 2018, codified U.S. rearmament plans, effectively mirroring Russia’s own new atomic deployments. INF’s demise freed both countries to develop and field a class of weapons that for decades have been absent from Europe.

The new policies only increase the chances of blundering into a nuclear war,” commented Bruce Blair, a Princeton University nuclear scholar.

The United States could negotiate a new treaty to replace INF, Trump said in his February 2019 state-of-the-union address. And that treaty could include China, Trump claimed.

That’s unlikely to happen, explained Gregory Kulacki, a nuclear expert with the Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

The United States probably would have to agree to broad limitations on its own weaponry in order to bring China to the table. But the Trump administration consistently has wanted fewer, not more, restrictions on its weapons.

“Decades ago the United States entered into a treaty with Russia in which we agreed to limit and reduce our missile capabilities,” Trump said in his speech. “While we followed the agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms. That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing.””Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others,” Trump added, “or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.”

The problem for China isn’t nuclear weapons, rather non-nuclear ones. “China has a small number of nuclear-armed ground-based intermediate-range missiles that would fall under the original INF treaty limits,” Kulacki wrote. “But it also has a much larger number of conventionally-armed missiles in this class that seem to be the major concern of U.S. advocates of withdrawing from the treaty.”

“Figuring out how to negotiate an expanded INF treaty that would require China to dismantle them would introduce a number of new and difficult issues to resolve, but it could also lead to some very productive conversations on how to build trust and preserve the peace in East Asia,” Kulacki added.

“Sadly, I suspect U.S. advocates of killing the INF treaty have no intention to talk to China about joining it.”

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

The History of the Australian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

The lesser known history of the Maralinga nuclear tests — and what it’s like to stand at ground zero

By Mike Ladd for The History Listen

Mon at 2:00pmMon 23 Mar 2020, 2:00pm

Posted Mon at 2:00pm

Photo: It’s not until you stand at ground zero that you fully realise the hideous power of these nuclear tests. (ABC News)

I thought I knew all the details about Maralinga, and the nuclear bomb tests that took place there six decades ago.

But when I set out to visit ground zero, I realised there were parts of this Cold War history I didn’t know — like Project Sunshine, which involved exhuming the bodies of babies.

Maralinga is 54 kilometres north-west of Ooldea, in South Australia’s remote Great Victoria Desert.

Between 1956 and 1963 the British detonated seven atomic bombs at the site; one was twice the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

There were also the so-called “minor trials” where officials deliberately set fire to or blew up plutonium with TNT — just to see what would happen.

Photo: Years ago it would have been dangerous to visit this area. (ABC RN: Samantha Jonscher)

One location called “Kuli” is still off-limits today, because it’s been impossible to clean up.

I went out to the old bomb sites with a group of Maralinga Tjarutja people, who refer to the land around ground zero as “Mamu Pulka”, Pitjantjatjara for “Big Evil”.

“My dad passed away with leukaemia. We don’t know if it was from here, but a lot of the time he worked around here,” says Jeremy Lebois, chairperson of the Maralinga Tjarutja council.

Photo: Jeremy Lebois is hopeful that one day, the landscape will return to normal. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

Thirty per cent of the British and Australian servicemen exposed to the blasts also died of cancer — though the McClelland royal commission of 1984 was unable to conclude that each case was specifically caused by the tests.

It’s not until you stand at ground zero that you fully realise the hideous power of these bombs.

Even after more than 60 years, the vegetation is cleared in a perfect circle with a one kilometre radius.

“The ground underneath is still sterile, so when the plants get down a certain distance, they die,” explains Robin Matthews, who guided me around the site.

Photo: Robin Matthews works as a guide in the area, which is now safe to visit. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

The steel and concrete towers used to explode the bombs were instantly vaporised.

The red desert sand was melted into green glass that still litters the site.

Years ago it would have been dangerous to visit the area, but now the radiation is only three times normal — no more than what you get flying in a plane.

The Line of Fire

Australia was not the first choice for the British, but they were knocked back by both the US and Canada.

Robert Menzies, Australia’s prime minister at the time, said yes to the tests without even taking the decision to cabinet first.

David Lowe, chair of contemporary history at Deakin University, thinks Australia was hoping to become a nuclear power itself by sharing British technology, or at least to station British nuclear weapons on Australian soil.

“In that period many leaders in the Western world genuinely thought there was a real risk of a third world war, which would be nuclear,” he says.

Photo: Prime Minister Robert Menzies believed the nuclear tests were a chance to work with Britain. (Getty: PA Images)

The bombs were tested on the Montebello Islands, at Emu Field and at Maralinga.

At Woomera in the South Australian desert, they tested the missiles that could carry them.

The Blue Streak rocket was developed and test-fired right across the middle of Australia, from Woomera all the way to the Indian Ocean, just south of Broome.

This is known as “The Line of Fire”.

“The Line of Fire from Woomera to Broome is, funnily enough, the same distance from London to Moscow,” Mr Matthews says.

Photo: The Line of Fire, from Woomera in South Australia to Broome in Western Australia. (Google Maps)

Just as the Maralinga Tjarutja people were pushed off their land for the bomb tests, the Yulparitja people were removed from their country in the landing zone south of Broome.

Not all the Blue Streak rockets reached the sea. Some crashed into the West Australian desert.

The McClelland royal commission showed that the British were cavalier about the weather conditions during the bomb tests and that fallout was carried much further than the 100-mile radius agreed to, reaching Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide.

“The cavalier attitude towards Australia’s Indigenous populations was appalling and you’d have to say to some extent that extended towards both British and Australian service people,” Professor Lowe says.

There are also questions over whether people at the test sites were deliberately exposed to radiation.

“You can’t help but wonder the extent to which there was a deliberate interest in the medical results of radioactive materials entering the body,” Professor Lowe says.

“Some of this stuff is still restricted; you can’t get your hands on all materials concerning the testing and it’s quite likely both [British and Australian] governments will try very hard to ensure that never happens.”

We do know that there was a concerted effort to examine the bones of deceased infants to test for levels of Strontium 90 (Sr-90), an isotope that is one of the by-products of nuclear bombs.

These tests were part of Project Sunshine, a series of studies initiated in the US in 1953 by the Atomic Energy Commission.

They sought to measure how Sr-90 had dispersed around the world by measuring its concentration in the bones of the dead.

Young bones were chosen because they were particularly susceptible to accumulating the Sr-90 isotope.

Around 1,500 exhumations took place, in both Britain and Australia — often without the knowledge or permission of the parents of the dead.

Photo: The faded crest of Maralinga’s Range Support Unit. (ABC RN: Mike Ladd)

Again, it was hard to prove conclusively that spikes in the levels of Strontium 90 during the test period caused bone cancers around the world.

The Maralinga tests occurred during a period that Professor Lowe describes as “atomic utopian thinking”.

“Remember at that time Australians were uncovering pretty significant discoveries of uranium and they hoped that this would unleash a vast new capacity for development through the power of the atom,” he says.

Project Ploughshare

Photo: A painting from the old servicemen’s bar at Maralinga. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

Some of the schemes were absurdly optimistic.

Project Ploughshare grew out of a US program which proposed using atomic explosions for industrial purposes such as canal-building.

In 1969 Australia and the US signed a joint feasibility study to create an instant port at Cape Keraudren in the Kimberley using nuclear explosions.

The plan was dropped, but it was for economic not environmental or social reasons.

The dream (or was it a nightmare?) of sharing nuclear weapons technology with the British was never realised.

Walking Together

An ABC-wide initiative to reflect, listen and build on the shared national identity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

All Australia got out of the deal was help building the Lucas Heights reactor.

The British did two ineffectual clean-ups of Maralinga in the 1960s.

The proper clean-up between 1995 and 2000 cost more than $100 million, of which Australia paid $75 million.

It has left an artificial mesa in the desert containing 400,000 cubic metres of plutonium contaminated soil.

The Maralinga Tjarutja people received only $13 million in compensation for loss of their land, which was finally returned to them in 1984.

Photo: The red dirt and scattered trees of the Maralinga landscape. (ABC RN: Mike Ladd)

As we were leaving the radiation zone, the Maralinga Tjarutja people spotted some kangaroos in the distance.

Over the years some of the wildlife has started to return.

Mr Lebois takes it as a good sign.

“Hopefully, hopefully everything will come back,” he says.

Walking Together is taking a look at our nation’s reconciliation journey, where we’ve been and asks the question — where do we go next?

Join us as we listen, learn and share stories from across the country, that unpack the truth telling of our history and embrace the rich culture and language of Australia’s First People.

The Danger of China’s Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Yes China’s Nuclear Missile Subs Are a Danger (But That’s the Point)

All about deterrence.

Key Point: ICBM submarines are a vital part of any country’s nuclear triad. Here’s why they matter.

China for decades has struggled to develop nuclear ballistic-missile submarines. The country finally might be on the cusp of deploying reliable boomers.

This piece originally appeared in October 2018 and is being republished due to reader’s interest.

An effective Chinese ballistic-missile submarine fleet over the long term could have a stabilizing influence on the world’s nuclear balance. But in the short term, it might heighten tensions. Especially if Beijing lets popular fervor drive its build-up.

That’s the surprising conclusion of a new report from Tong Zhao, a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, based at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

A fleet of survivable nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) would reduce China’s concerns about the credibility of its nuclear deterrent and lessen the country’s incentives to further expand its arsenal,” Tong writes.

“Such benefits, however, will be tempered by vulnerabilities associated with Beijing’s current generation of SSBNs. In the near to mid-term, developing an SSBN fleet will require China to substantially enlarge its previously small stockpile of strategic ballistic missiles, possibly exacerbating the threat perceptions of potential adversaries and causing them to take countermeasures that might eventually intensify an emerging arms competition.”

Beijing began developing boomers as far back as 1958. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the country completed its first boat. But the Type 092 SSBN never deployed on an operational patrol. “It was reportedly too noisy and might have had other safety and reliability issues,” Tong explains. “Moreover, the missiles it carried had very short ranges.”

The newer Type 094 class of SSBNs, each armed with a dozen, longer-range JL-2 nuclear-tipped missiles, began to enter service around 2006. A Type 094 apparently conducted China’s first undersea deterrence patrol in 2015. “China has obtained, for the first time, a demonstrably operational underwater nuclear capability. This represents the start of a new era for China’s sea-based nuclear forces.”

As of late 2018 there are four Type 094s in service. Beijing has not publicly released a detailed plan for its SSBN fleet expansion, but the U.S. military expects China to build between five and eight of the vessels, in total, according to Tong and various military reports and statements.

The U.S. military has responded to the China’s new boomers by boosting its own anti-submarine capabilities. “Between Chinese efforts to create a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent and U.S. endeavors to strengthen anti-submarine countermeasures, tensions are brewing under the surface of the South China Sea and the broader Pacific Ocean,” Tong explains.

But the Type 094s and future Chinese SSBNs could actually end up encouraging stability rather than conflict. Today SL-2s about boomers account for nearly half of China’s approximately one-hundred-strong arsenal of long-range nuclear missiles. That proportion is likely to rise as more SSBNs enter service.

As they have the potential to be more survivable than land- and air-launched nukes, the SL-2s could change the attitudes of Chinese leaders toward the country’s atomic deterrent. “If China’s SSBNs significantly contribute to the credibility of its overall nuclear deterrent, China would have less of an incentive to further enlarge its nuclear arsenal,” Tong writes.

In other words, China ultimately might need fewer nukes overall if a larger proportion of the weapons are submarine-launched missiles. In an era of escalating nuclear buildups in the United States and China, a relatively smaller and stabler Chinese arsenal could have a cooling effect, according to Tong.

But Beijing must convince other powers that a growing boomer fleet contributes not only to its own national security, but to the stability of the whole world. “China has a few unilateral steps that it should take to ensure that the growth of its SSBN fleet is as undisruptive as possible to regional security dynamics and to its own security interests.”

For one, China must build only as many SSBNs as it truly needs in order to maintain a credible at-sea deterrence. Four or five Type 094s could be enough for one boat to be on patrol at all times. If Beijing builds significantly more than five SSBNs, it could mean that the Communist Party has let irrational nationalistic sentiment shape its force structure, as the Party allegedly has done in its breakneck acquisition of aircraft carriers.

“If China allows nationalistic sentiments to induce it to build a massive sea-based nuclear capability beyond any practical security needs, this could raise doubts in foreign countries about Beijing’s strategic intentions and contribute to an unnecessary, damaging strategic arms competition,” Tong warns.

But for China’s rivals, a small but reliable Chinese boomer fleet could be as calming as a big one is alarming.

David Axe edits War Is Boring . He is the author of the new graphic novels MACHETE SQUAD and THE STAN. This piece originally appeared in October 2018 and is being republished due to reader’s interest.

Image: Reuters