The China Nuclear Horn Prepares for Nuclear War: Daniel 7

China said to speed up move to more survivable nuclear force

By ROBERT BURNS , Associated Press

March 01, 2021 – 5:35 AM

WASHINGTON — China appears to be moving faster toward a capability to launch its newer nuclear missiles from underground silos, possibly to improve its ability to respond promptly to a nuclear attack, according to an American expert who analyzed satellite images of recent construction at a missile training area.

Hans Kristensen, a longtime watcher of U.S., Russian and Chinese nuclear forces, said the imagery suggests that China is seeking to counter what it may view as a growing threat from the United States. The U.S. in recent years has pointed to China’s nuclear modernization as a key justification for investing hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming two decades to build an all-new U.S. nuclear arsenal.

British and Canadian Horns Invade the South China Sea

And last month, the Royal Canadian Navy frigate Winnipeg passed through the contested Taiwan Strait to emphasise a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Beijing doesn’t want any of them in its backyard.

“By dispatching naval assets to the South China Sea, France and the UK are contributing to the US’ anti-China stratagems,” states the Beijing-controlled China Daily. 

It accuses the West of a “crafty” and “neo-imperial” scheme to support Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia “which could in turn provoke regional crisis”.

China has constructed a network of artificial island fortresses to impose an arbitrary claim over the entire South and East China Seas. It has authorised its Coast Guard to “open fire” on intruding vessels and “unauthorised” structures.

“It is not China that is responsible for the regional instability, but the US and its Quad allies, along with wannabe members such as France. They should focus on improving economic ties through trade and investment, not provoking problems between regional states,” Chinese Communist Party media warns.

French armed forces Minister Florence Parly announced earlier this month that the submarine FS Emeraude voyaged through the South China Sea to “enrich our knowledge of this area and affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, regardless of the sea where we sail.”

Beijing was incensed.

“The French military has no place in the South China Sea,” state-controlled media declared, accusing Paris of a “destabilising” act. “It appears as though Paris is interested in expanding its destabilising neo-imperial influence into Southeast Asia too, which can only end in disaster just like it has in large swathes of Africa.”

Nevertheless, a French amphibious ship and frigate departed Toulon for South East Asia last week. The FS Tonnerre’s commanding officer told Naval News that he would “work to strengthen” France’s partnership with the US, Japan, India, and Australia.

Beijing has been increasing its military activities in the East and South China Seas in the past year. A near-constant chain of warship and aircraft manoeuvres and live-fire weapons tests have signalled its determination to enforce domination over the contested waterways.

Meanwhile, the Beijing-controlled South China Morning Post has again accused the US of “ratcheting up” tensions in the region after the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur sailed by on Wednesday.

It quoted People’s Liberation Eastern Theatre Command staff as saying: “Theatre troops remain on high alert and are ready to counter all threats and provocations at any time.”

Beijing’s state-controlled media has taken aim at Britain’s historic rivalry with France in a “wolf-warrior” diplomatic gibe.

“France is engaged in ‘friendly’ competition with the United Kingdom. Not wanting to feel ‘left out’, France might have mistakenly thought that it wise to join the growing militarisation of this body of water,” the China Daily asserts.

Despite the chaos and bitterness surrounding Britain’s “Brexit” separation from the European Union, the island nation has found a common cause with its cross-channel neighbours in the South China Sea.

Britain, France and Holland all have colonial ties to the region.

All maintain a degree of presence there.

Britain remains part of the 1971 Five Power Defence Arrangement designed to support its former colony, Malaysia. Signatories include Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Similarly, France maintains ties with its former colony Vietnam while managing its own Pacific territories such as Reunion Island.

And The Netherlands, which says it will send a warship to accompany HMS Queen Elizabeth, has emphasised that the United Nations Law of the Sea must form the basis of any dispute resolution.

Meanwhile, Germany is planning to send a frigate to Japan as a sign of solidarity over its East China Sea dispute with Beijing. It’s also expected to visit Australia and South Korea.

“We want to deepen our ties with our partners in the democratic camp,” Germany’s secretary for defence Thomas Silberhorn said.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

The Growing Chinese Nuclear Horn: Revelation 7

China’s drive for military supremacy: Beijing’s armoury of weapons and the terrifying missiles so high-tech that they are almost impossible to stop 

By Ian Birrell And Glen Owen For The Mail On Sunday

09:18 07 Feb 2021, updated 18:33 07 Feb 2021

China is spending huge sums to create hypersonic missiles that will go so fast (up to twenty times the speed of sound) that military chiefs believe they will be invulnerable to any form of defence.

Indeed, some analysts fear that human capability to respond to such lethal weapons will be inadequate and that the only way to protect against them would be to rely on artificial intelligence and computer systems.

Travelling several miles a second as they deliver surprise attacks within minutes of being launched, they have been described as a ‘game-changer’ for warfare.

Although America, too, has such Star Wars-style weapons in development, General John E. Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command, told a Senate committee three years ago: ‘We don’t have any defence that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.’

Such missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads, would deliver precision attacks on people, vehicles and buildings.

To test such weapons, the Beijing government said three years ago it was building a wind tunnel that simulated conditions up to 25 times the speed of sound. And a contractor has said it has carried out a six-minute test flight for a hypersonic missile.

The complexities of developing hypersonics – using sophisticated sensors, guidance systems and innovative propulsion methods – have been compared to building the atomic bomb.


This is a revolutionary material with enormous defence and manufacturing potential. One atom thick and the thinnest and lightest material known to man, it conducts heat, absorbs light, stretches and is 200 times stronger than steel.

It was invented by researchers in 2004 at Manchester University – with China’s President Xi Jinping having made an official visit to their lab.

Among its military applications are as coatings on ballistic missiles, wiring in hypersonic vehicles exposed to high temperatures, camouflage of vehicles and body armour for troops.

Chinese troops take part in marching drills ahead of an October 1 military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China at a camp on the outskirts of Beijing, China, on September 25, 2019

Chinese reports suggest that the Z-10 attack helicopter – a rival to Boeing’s Apache – has been equipped with graphene armour developed at the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials. The institute has ties to three universities in Britain, where it collaborates on two centres specialising in research into the use of graphene in the aerospace industry.

Chinese media have reported plans to use graphene coatings on military installations on artificial islands built in the South China Sea, an area where Beijing has controversially deployed Jin-class ballistic missile submarines armed with nuclear missiles.

Norway intelligence warns about new nuclear weapons technology developed by the Russian Nuclear Horn

Norway intelligence warns about new nuclear weapons technology developed by Russia

Technology runs ahead of international arms treaties and several of the new systems are tested and will be deployed near Norwegian territory in the north.

Objectives with such tailored weapons could be to easier penetrate missile defense systems, or to compensate for conventional inferiority, according to the annual report from Norway’s Intelligence Service (NIS).

Several of the new weapons do not fit into the traditional framework of arms control treaties.

Last week, Russia and the United States in a last-minute call agreed to extend the New Start Treaty by another five-year period. The treaty is a successor to previous negotiations on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Although the global stockpile of nuclear weapons has been substantially reduced, the picture is way more complex than during the Cold War, the NIS report presented on Monday said.

In a phone interview, Chief of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes, elaborated.

“It is our worry that the New Start Treaty is not sufficient enough to cover the new technological developments,” Stensønes said and added the agreements should be updated.

Two nuclear weapon systems of particular worry are the Poseidon and the Burevestnik.

The Poseidon is a nuclear-powered, nuclear-tipped underwater mega-drone. Burevestnik, which NATO designates as SSC-X-9 Skyfall, is a nuclear-powered cruise missile with global reach and the ability to counter future missile defense systems. 

None of the systems are yet ready, but testing and development take place in northern Russia, areas the Norwegian Intelligence Chief defines as “near Norwegian territory,” that be the Barents Sea, White Sea, Kola Peninsula and Novaya Zemlya.

The Barents Observer has previously reported about the 2019 disastrous test in the White Sea when a Burevestnik explosion outside Nenoksa test range was followed by a radiation spike in Severodvinsk, a city 40 kilometers to the east. The missile was reportedly tested at Novaya Zemlya in 2017, 2018, and possibly also this winter.

It has been unclear where and how testing of the Poseidon nuclear-powered drone takes place, but a previously published photo shows the Akademik Aleksandrov, a ship sailing special missions for the Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research, en route out of Severodvinsk with the mega-drone onboard. Nuclear submarines to carry the Poseidon, like the Belgorod and the Khabarovsk, are currently under testing and construction at the yards in Severodvinsk.

Significant risk

Nuclear activities in Norwegian neighboring areas constitute a significant risk, the Norwegian intelligence report reads.

Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes. Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret

Vice Admiral Stensønes said the new weapons are difficult to counter as “they fly low or travel underwater.”

The report points to three reasons why Russia feels threatened, making the country’s nuclear deterrence more important.

Firstly, Russia claims NATO has changed patterns from normal patrols and intelligence gatherings to simulated attacks on Russian targets, including with strategic bombers. Part of the Russian narrative is that NATO is coming closer to its borders. Secondly, Moscow accuses NATO of introducing new areas of warfare, like the use of digital operations and militarization of the space, potentially being used to attack Russian ballistic missiles before launch. Thirdly, Russia blames the United States for undermining the global security balance and arms control treaties, by that pushing the world towards a new nuclear arms race.

The Norwegian Intelligence Service rejects the above listed misguided narrative that NATO is causing insecurity.

Moscow, however, considers an undermining of the strategic balance as an “existential threat” that could justify the use of nuclear weapons.

Tactical nukes

Last year, Kremlin for the first time published a policy paper on nuclear deterrence policy guidelines. The paper hints that should Russia face the prospect of being defeated in a conflict with NATO, the use of tactical nuclear weapons could be an option aimed for the purpose of escalation for de-escalation.

The Norwegian annual intelligence report is spelling out the shift in policy: “Russia has no self-imposed restriction on non-first use” [of nuclear weapons].

Okolnaya Bay near Severomorsk in the Kola Bay holds one of the naval storages for nuclear weapons. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Newspaper Izvestia on Sunday listed Russia’s new strategic weapon systems aimed to ensure the country’s security from potential threats. Most of the weapons are either under testing or deployed in the north. Novaya Zemlya, the White Sea and the Barents Sea are Russia’s most important testing areas for these new weapons.

On the Kola Peninsula are nuclear warheads stored at a large national-level facility and at several smaller base-level facilities.

These storages hold a large number of nuclear warheads to both non-strategic and strategic nuclear weapons, according to the Norwegian intelligence report.

“The storages are adequately secured, but transport of nuclear warheads by train and on-road pose a risk of incidents that could cause releases of radioactivity.”

In peacetime, the report says, is it only the strategic forces that normally have nuclear warheads deployed. “The majority of nuclear weapons are in storage and will first be transferred to military units in times of possible conflict.”

The Threshold of the Chinese Nuclear Horn

Nuclear numbers: Assessing China’s threshold of ‘unacceptable damage’

Nuclear deterrence works on the principle of causing unacceptable damage in response to nuclear use. But what kind of damage do nations find unacceptable? How does one calculate what would be unacceptable to another? Answers to these questions are difficult, but important because a fair assessment of what the adversary would find unacceptable can help to right-size one’s own nuclear arsenal.

Different countries, like different individuals, have disparate thresholds of damage absorption. For instance, during the Cold War, the US concluded that the USSR would be deterred if 50% of Soviet industry and 25% of its population were to be destroyed. Meanwhile, President Kennedy’s hesitation to lose even one American city during the Cuban missile crisis revealed America’s low damage threshold.

Interestingly, in the case of Communist China, Premier Mao had created the image that his country had a high damage-taking capacity. Dismissing nuclear weapons as a “paper tiger”, he suggested that American nuclear use could not deter China because even if 50 million Chinese died, an equal number would survive to carry the country forward. But is this assumption true even today? How does modern China perceive damage?

The answer to this question should be of particular interest to India. Of course, the declared nuclear doctrines of no first use by India and China minimise the possibility of a deliberate nuclear war. But since India is compelled to retain a nuclear capability for deterrence, it also becomes necessary to premise the force structure on certain intelligent parameters. An assessment of the damage tolerance threshold of China is one of them.

Such an exercise requires a methodical and continuous study of China’s strategic culture so that one may avoid the pitfalls of mirror-imaging. Amongst the many factors that can help assess damage tolerance thresholds, five are particularly relevant. The first is to understand the historical experiences since a country that has been through more wars and experienced losses is expected to have a higher damage tolerance threshold. China has experienced severe upheavals such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. 45 million people are estimated to have died in these two events and several more suffered immense deprivation and misery. This, however, happened, in the 1960s-1970s. China’s participation in the Vietnam war too had ended in 1975. Modern China built since then, has little experience of sufferings caused by inter-state wars.

Secondly, damage acceptability depends on the nature of the political system, with the assumption being that a closed, authoritarian system would be able to take more damage than a democracy. While China is authoritarian, the Chinese Communist Party is extremely careful to sustain an image of legitimacy based on popular support. This, however, is not as easy to maintain today as it once was owing to society having become better educated, expressive and digitally connected. Therefore, the Party decision-making cannot afford to be insulated and ignore the mood of the masses.

The third factor is the level of economic development, since an economically well-off and materially aspirational society is believed to have a low stomach for damage. Given China’s pride in its economic achievements and with the large middle class having tasted a certain quality of life, it can be expected to be risk-averse and have a low damage tolerance level.

Fourthly, the damage threshold varies depending on the value a country places on the objective it seeks. The more a country is politically, economically and emotionally invested in the objective, the greater its willingness to bear damage. For instance, in case of a conflict over Taiwan, which China considers an existential threat, its threshold of damage is likely to be higher than in case of conflict in high Himalayas or over areas disputed with India.

Lastly, the nature of the leadership can push the threshold up or down, such that highly nationalist leaders, willing to take risks, have a higher damage absorption capacity. President Xi Jinping does appear to be more risk-loving than others. But, as the leader of a 90-million strong Party, even he cannot be averse to opinions of others. In fact, given the “China dream” that he has sold to his citizens, he has a larger “face” to defend too. And, any act that results in damage to his people can be perceived as his inability to control the situation and dent his image.

Contemporary China, therefore, appears to have a far lower threshold for taking damage than it once projected. This is further illustrated by the manner in which it sought to hide figures of the dead, both from the pandemic, as well as from the clash with Indian soldiers in Galwan valley. While non-transparency, and a tendency to play down losses, has always been a Chinese trait, this propensity is exacerbated by factors, such as its current demographic reality. The harsh imposition of one child policy has led to a situation where a young male bears responsibility for a number of aged family members. His untimely death, then, adversely impacts the wider society and popular sentiment. This is an even greater problem since the society is today better networked over digital platforms.

These, and more such insights, should help India to calculate the “right” size of its nuclear arsenal in order to signal credible deterrence. India has articulated the idea of credible minimum deterrence, which eschews excessive stockpile accumulation in favour of building just enough to cause unacceptable damage. And, as is apparent, contemporary China’s ability to absorb damage does not need much.

Manpreet Sethi is Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies.

The Saudis and Iranians will never reconcile: Daniel

Can the Saudis and Iranians reconcile?

A Riyadh-Tehran rapprochement is unlikely, but not impossible.

Under the former Trump administration, the Saudis and its Gulf allies were strongly backed by Washington to challenge Iran’s assertiveness across the Middle East. The Gulf alliance’s interests fit neatly into the US’ ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against the Shia-majority country.

With the new Biden administration, which has indicated it wants a return to the Iran nuclear deal, there is not much incentive for Riyadh to continue to confront Iranian expansion across the region from Yemen to Iraq and Lebanon.

But will a change in political conditions help both sides develop common ground? On Monday, the GCC leadership was in Iraq. It has been reported that backchannel talks are taking place between Iranians and Saudis there.

Sami Hamdi, an Arab political analyst and head of the International Interest, a political risk analysis group, believes that the Biden administration’s attempt to rejoin the nuclear deal will just make things even more complicated for Riyadh.

“Saudi fears that the nuclear talks are in essence a discussion between Washington and Tehran over a power sharing agreement whereby the two parties will cooperate and acknowledge each other’s interests at the expense of Saudi Arabia,” Hamdi tells TRT World.

For the Saudis, Hamdi believes a US green light to Iranian expansion might be disastrous, due to huge discrepancies between the two countries’ military strength and political ambitions.

The Saudis have traditionally been cautious and have outsourced their security, being generally “insular and reactive” while Iran is far more ambitious and self-reliant, according to the analyst.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, meets with Saudi King Salman, right, at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 20, 2020. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AP Archive)

Tehran’s heavy sway in Iraq and its expansion into Yemen, Syria and Lebanon is “cementing its influence over institutions and decision-making processes” in those countries, Hamdi says.

Tehran’s ‘siege’ over Riyadh

The Iranian march across the Middle East will just increase Riyadh’s pain further, according to Hamdi.

“Riyadh believes Iran has surrounded the Kingdom [regionally] via Iraq to the North, Iran mainland to the East, Yemen to the South, and [globally] through political engagement with the Biden administration,” he says.

As a result, the Saudis believe the nuclear negotiations threaten “a complete re-ordering of the power dynamics” in the region through a new US-Iran axis, Hamdi observes.

Despite all these changes, the Kingdom has remained paralysed by its lack of political vision under the inexperienced leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, whose domestic and foreign policies have been severely criticised across the board.

“Their relations could not be normalised because there are no political conditions for that,” says Mehmet Bulovali, an Iraqi-Kurdish political analyst.

He says there is a massive chasm between the political approaches on both sides.

“One [Riyadh] is trying to defend itself while another [Tehran] is acting in a revolutionary mood, which could not be persuaded to live in a low-profile or an isolated way. The [revolutionary] Shia Persian establishment wants to rule over the Islamic world,” the analyst tells TRT World.

Bulovali thinks rapprochement is based on flimsy grounds. “It’s like a sheep and a wolf wanting to negotiate for a mutual agreement to live together. That’s not possible.”

“There are no major political items on which they could really agree on something,” he adds.

The main issue between the two sides is security, but they can not address this because they don’t trust each other, he says.

Hamdi believes a political rapprochement between the two is a possibility if both countries develop a political mechanism of sharing information in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

“Saudi Arabia is not after an expansion of its own influence, but rather a check on Iran’s powerful influence. If it feels such a check exists (even if it is outside Riyadh’s control), it will be more inclined to respect a rapprochement with Iran,” he says.

“The second scenario is an increased security presence to check Iran’s militias. However, this is counter-productive in the long term,” he adds.

Gulf-Iraq rapprochement

Recent exchanges of visits between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Iraqi government have increased hopes that Baghdad could be distanced from Iran’s political influence.

Iraq’s President Barham Salih arrives to attend the meeting for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2019. (Credit: The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office / Reuters Archive)

Under the Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi, Iraq has appeared to follow a more independent political path, reestablishing its ties with the Arab world and limiting Iran’s influence, according to Bulovali. “The Trump administration backed Kadhimi on that move. This is a kind of political experiment.”

The GCC Secretary General Nayef al Hajraf was in Baghdad on Monday to hold talks with Kadhimi on various issues including boosting trade and electricity supply from the Gulf to Iraq.

Constant power outages across Iraq was one of the main reasons for large protests across the country, contributing to political change in Baghdad that helped bring Kadhimi to power.

“Al Hajraf’s visit is the continuation of GCC’s policy to develop better relations with Iraq,” says Bulent Aras, a Gulf expert and professor of international relations in the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University.

“If we go back to 2011, when the then-Iraqi government declared that it will support Shia rebellions across the Gulf, their relations hit bottom. But since then, both sides have worked to fix relations,” Aras tells TRT World.

According to Aras, the GCC leadership has three main objectives on the development of its relations with Iraq. First, the GCC wants to convey its political perspective to Iraq and expects Baghdad to align its policies accordingly, he says.

“Its second objective is to contain Iran,” says Aras. This objective was probably the main motive for the recent engagement between the GCC and Iraq, he says. “Under the Biden administration, the regional political balance will change and Iraq will play an important role in that,” Aras views.

The main objective of the GCC is to bring Iraq back into the fold of the Arab world in a way “Iran could not feel itself comfortable there anymore,” Aras says.

Lastly, the GCC wants to develop its trade and cultural connections with Iraq, he adds.

During the recent visit, Kadhimi also demanded the GCC to fulfill its pledge to aid Iraq’s reconstruction, which was promised in a joint conference three years ago, according to Aras. While the GCC promised $88 billion for the reconstruction, only $30 billion was given to Iraq.

“It’s crucial for Iraq’s reconstruction,” he says.

“If those promises were not met, it could also lead to a break-up in ties,” he concludes.

The China Nuclear Horn Will Continue to Grow: Daniel 7

China may seek to close nuclear gap after US and Russia agree to extend New START treaty

• The deal between Moscow and Washington gives Beijing the chance to play catch-up, but it may face increasing pressure to join future talks on non-proliferation

• One military source says the country now has around 1,000 warheads, but less than 100 of these are active

The extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia to 2026 may not only prevent an out-of-control arms race but also gives China an additional five-year buffer period.

Chinese military experts and sources said the extension, announced by the White House on Tuesday, means the gap between China and the two nuclear giants, which own 90 per cent of the world’s warheads, will not widen and Beijing can spend the next five years catching up.

In the 1980s, the US and former Soviet Union each possessed more than 10,000 warheads, but these stockpiles have been cut to between 5,000 to 6,500 under the New START, which aims to reduce the total to just 1,550 as the ultimate goal.

China has not disclosed how many warheads it has, but an assessment by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put the number at 320.

However, a source close to the Chinese military said that its stockpile of nuclear warheads had risen to 1,000 in recent years, but less than 100 of them are active. “Both the US and Russia have competed with each other to upgrade their nuclear arms over the past few years, especially their intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs], submarine-launched and airborne missiles, as well as other new weapons to upgrade their nuclear triad capability,” the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, said.

A nuclear triad is a three-pronged structure that consists of ground-based ICBMs, plus submarine and air-launched missiles.

“Nuclear warheads would be distributed to the rocket force only when a war is likely to happen,” the source said.

Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator and former PLA instructor Song Zhongping said Beijing might use the five-year period to narrow the nuclear modernisation gap with the US and Russia.

“Since [late leader] Deng Xiaoping’s era, the Beijing leadership has believed that the country doesn’t need so many expensive weapons, because the exorbitant maintenance costs would drag down China’s economic development,” the source said

The treaty restricts US and Russian warheads, but China is not a party to it. Photo: AFP

The source said China has a strict nuclear arms control mechanism which means only the chairman of the Central Military Commission – now President Xi Jinping – has the right to decide the deployment of nuclear warheads.

“Based on the fact that China currently has only about 100 nuclear warheads in active service, it is not enough to completely destroy all major cities in the US,” Song said

The Growing Nuclear Horns: Daniel

Who’s next? Nuclear proliferation is not fast, but it is frightening

Experts worry about East Asia and the Middle East

Jan 30th 2021

IN MARCH 1963 President John Kennedy lamented his failure to negotiate a ban on nuclear tests. “Personally,” he warned, “I am haunted by the feeling that by 1970, unless we are successful, there may be ten nuclear powers instead of four—and by 1975, 15 or 20.”

Kennedy was wrong. While many countries explored the idea of nuclear weapons from the 1950s to the 1990s, comparatively few took the next step of actually trying to develop the ability to build them (see chart). Of those few some stopped because the country itself dissolved (Yugoslavia), some because of changes to domestic politics (Brazil), some because of pressure from allies (South Korea) and some through force of arms (Iraq).

The parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) now include 185 countries which have renounced the nuclear path, as well as five nuclear-weapon states that the treaty recognises as such—America, Britain, China, France and Russia. The four nuclear states outside the treaty either never signed it (India, Israel and Pakistan) or withdrew from it (North Korea).

Nine nuclear-weapon states is a long way from Kennedy’s nightmare. What is more, recent years have seen increasing interest in moving beyond the NPT’s preservation of the status quo and pushing for a world in which nuclear weapons are illegitimate. This is the goal of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which commits its parties to not making, using or hosting nuclear weapons. Having been ratified by 52 of its 86 signatories, it entered into force on January 22nd.

But this “nuclear ban” is born as much from frustration as from hope. The NPT was a deal in which non-nuclear-weapon states got both access to civilian nuclear technology and a commitment that the nuclear-weapon states would seek to negotiate disarmament. Though the American, Russian, French and British arsenals did shrink after the end of the cold war, there has been little progress since. Indeed there has been some backsliding. America left the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (which Russia was breaking) in 2019.

The New START treaty, a ten-year-old cap on American and Russian nuclear forces to which Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agreed a five-year extension on January 26th, is now the only bilateral arms-control agreement that binds the two countries. A grim panoply of new American and Russian weapons has been announced in recent years, from American miniature warheads to Russian underwater drones designed to drench coastal areas in radioactive fallout. China, for its part, has been upgrading its initially modest nuclear forces into considerably more than the bare-bones deterrent they once were.

As major nuclear powers have added to their nuclear capabilities some proliferators have paid little price for acquiring them. Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation points out that in the late 1990s America’s policy was to “cap, roll back and eliminate” the embryonic Indian and Pakistani arsenals through sanctions and censure. But as it became clearer that India would serve as a bulwark against Chinese power, America bent its own rules to allow civilian nuclear co-operation and helped ease India into international regimes governing nuclear exports.

Great-power sabre rattling, a sense that some countries get to bend the rules and a reassessment of America’s role as a steadfast ally during the presidency of Donald Trump may all have provoked interest in proliferation. What is more, though the bomb’s spread has slowed, it has never stopped—and proliferation begets proliferation, whatever speed it unrolls at. Iran’s nuclear programme spooks Saudi Arabia. North Korea’s arsenal casts a darkening shadow over South Korea and Japan.

They could if they wanted to

Despite a dalliance with the idea of following China into the nuclear club in the 1960s, Japan is for obvious reasons generally seen as making a case for nuclear caution. At the same time it is the only non-nuclear-armed state which operates major facilities for enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium from spent reactor fuel, both potential routes to fissile material for a bomb. And in 2017 North Korea tested some of its nuclear-capable missiles by flying them over the archipelago to splash down in the Pacific beyond.

Such experiences change perspectives. Japanese conversations about nuclear weapons were once “sotto voce” and confined to a small cluster of “very conservative thinkers”, says Richard Samuels of MIT. Now, he writes in an article with his colleague Eric Heginbotham, “What once had been nearly taboo…has a conspicuous presence in Japan’s security discourse.”

The idea is still deeply unpopular. Mark Fitzpatrick, who used to oversee non-proliferation policy at the State Department, reckons that Japanese scientists would only comply with an order to produce nuclear weapons “in the event of a sharp deterioration in Japan’s security situation”. But his examples of such deteriorations are hardly outlandish. “In the imaginings of Japanese policymakers,” he says, “the most likely scenarios would be if South Korea goes nuclear or if the Koreas unify and keep Pyongyang’s existing arsenal.”

South Korea lacks enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, and is thus rather less well-placed than Japan to develop nuclear weapons. But it is closer to North Korea, and more worried. “Politicians are trying to normalise and remove the stigma of discussing nuclear weapons in public discourse,” according to Toby Dalton of the Carnegie Endowment, a think-tank, and Ain Han of Seoul National University.

On a technical level, the country has sought to acquire submarines powered by nuclear reactors, the fuel for which is closer to weapons-grade than that for power stations. And on January 13th it announced tests of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. No other non-nuclear state has ever seen a need for such a capability.

Polls show that a majority supports either the development of nuclear weapons or the return of the American ones stationed there during the cold war. But extending American deterrence is harder today. For America to use nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula would always have been a momentous decision, but in the past it would not have put millions of Americans on the frontline. Now that North Korean missiles can apparently reach North America, attacking Pyongyang puts New York at risk. Strategic calculations are sensitive to such things, and both South Korea and Japan know it.

Taiwan has similar worries; China’s increased ability to strike half way round the world could affect America’s willingness to come to the island’s aid in extremis. But though the country explored nuclear options as recently as 1988, the fact that, today, such efforts would furnish a much more powerful China with a pretext for pre-emptive strikes and possibly invasion makes rekindling them unappealing.

Mr Biden has not said how he plans to address North Korea’s increasing nuclear prowess and its impacts. He will be keen to avoid doing anything which encourages proliferation elsewhere. American promises, blandishments and threats have often checked nuclear ambitions among its allies. A real sense of what American and international displeasure could mean economically might well change what South Koreans say about nuclear weapons.

But North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons. And any deal with America which legitimised North Korea’s arsenal in an effort to stop its growth would increase South Korea’s incentive for at least keeping the nuclear option available—a posture known in the nuclear trade as hedging. So would a resumption of North Korean missile tests. Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) in California recently published evidence that North Korea was preparing to test a new long-range submarine-launched missile.

The fear generated by North Korea’s growing arsenal and the fact that Japan, South Korea and Taiwan could all “produce nuclear weapons in perhaps two years—or less in Japan’s case”, according to Mr Fitzpatrick, makes East Asia a hot spot. But it is not the only one. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment divides potential proliferators into two categories: those with ample means but less ambition, and those with greater ambition but fewer means. The East Asians fall into the first category; for the second, look to the Middle East, where insecurity is more violently manifest than in Asia and neither the fetters of liberal democracy nor the pull of alliances as strong.

According to a recent study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, another think-tank, “Personalist authoritarian leaders seem more inclined toward the bomb, [and] their hold on power can in some ways make it easier for them to carry out their plans.” The study notes that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s increasingly autocratic president, has begun to talk like a case in point. In September 2019 he complained to members of his ruling AK party that “some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads…But [we are told] we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept.”

Sinan Ülgen, a former diplomat who leads EDAM, an Istanbul-based think-tank, doubts that Mr Erdogan would act on this rhetoric. “At first the public may like the idea of having nuclear weapons,” he says. “But the cost for an open economy like Turkey would be too big and long-term. No government can sustain it under conditions of democratic elections.”

Not all leaders in the region toil under such constraints. “In discussions in Saudi Arabia, there’s a lot more willingness to talk openly about the possibility of proliferation,” says Gregory Gause of Texas A&M University. The obvious cause is Iran’s nuclear programme. The JCPOA, a deal struck in 2015 between Iran, the five nuclear powers recognised by the NPT, Germany and the EU, saw Iran agree to reduce its uranium stocks and enrichment capability and to have them stringently monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the NPT’s watchdog, in return for relief from sanctions. But after Mr Trump pulled America out of the deal in 2018 Iran ceased respecting its constraints. On January 4th it started enriching uranium to 20% purity—nine-tenths of the way to weapons-grade—and nine days later began work on uranium metals, which can be used to fashion the core of a bomb.

Mr Biden says he will rejoin the JCPOA, in which case Iran has said it will return to compliance. Israel and Iran’s Arab rivals oppose such a revival, just as they opposed the deal in the first place. They see it as legitimising Iran’s nuclear infrastructure while placing only temporary limits on what it can do with it. In 2018 Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, told CBS, an American broadcaster, that the kingdom “does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”. Mr Fitzpatrick reckons that “Saudi Arabia is the proliferation concern number one around the world.”

Despite its announced intention of building 16 nuclear-power stations, Saudi Arabia’s nuclear technology remains far behind that of Japan or South Korea. That need not, in itself, thwart any nuclear ambitions it has or develops. In the past, Western intelligence officials were concerned that Pakistan—which is thought to have had its bomb programme financed by Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and 1990s—might supply a complete nuclear device or know-how to the kingdom.

Alternatively, Saudi Arabia could rely on less-direct outside help. In a forthcoming paper, Nicholas Miller of Dartmouth College and Tristan Volpe of the Naval Postgraduate School describe the growth of an “autocratic nuclear marketplace”. The “gold standard” for deals in which countries buy civilian nuclear-power plants has been that their enriched fuel has to be imported and the used fuel sent out of the country for disposal, thus providing no domestic route to fissile material. Russia and China do not always abide by this standard; and the authors point out that 19 of the 33 reactors exported since 2000 came from those two countries. Last year the Wall Street Journal reported that China was helping Saudi Arabia build a facility for processing uranium ore. That is not the same as enriching it. But it worries Western officials.

China has also armed the kingdom with ballistic missiles. In 2019 researchers at MIIS discovered that a suspected rocket-engine plant south-west of Riyadh bore a resemblance to a Chinese-built facility. This does not necessarily mean it wants nuclear weapons; their perceived utility as conventional weapons is seeing ever more countries build up ballistic-missile forces. But an already established missile capability is definitely a useful thing for a potential proliferator to have.

Wider-spread ballistic-missile capabilities and laxer deals on nuclear fuel are not the only current developments that could be of help to proliferators. America’s National Nuclear Security Administration warns that technological advances like 3D printing and powerful computer-aided design “may create new and worrisome pathways to nuclear weapons”.

But proliferators face new challenges, too. “The world’s capability to know what somebody is doing is much greater than it was at the time that Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons and that gives a lot more time to react,” says Tom Countryman, America’s under-secretary of state for non-proliferation from 2011 to 2017. Non-governmental organisations regularly unearth and publicise secret facilities using “open” sources—most notably images taken by satellites like those which researchers at MIIS used to spot North Korea’s looming missile test and Saudi Arabia’s rocket plant.

The IAEA has honed its remote monitoring capabilities in Iran in recent years, using tamper-proof cameras and radiation detectors that send back a steady stream of data. And Mr Volpe points out that ever more manufacturing technology is likely to be monitored from afar by its creators. Such capabilities could be used for more than scheduling maintenance. He envisages an “Internet of Nuclear Things” in which suppliers can scrutinise the tasks for which the machines they sell are used.

This all offers hope that the covert pursuit of nuclear weapons has become harder. But what of overt pursuit? For a country to leave the NPT would undoubtedly provoke a crisis. But India’s experience shows that a country with real heft can weather such disapproval. As Ms Mukhatzhanova puts it, “Countries that are important, economically and politically, might count on being accepted into the system if they break out.” To try to cut a frankly proliferating South Korea out of the world economy in order to bring it back into the NPT stable would be a huge undertaking.

No way back

Most nuclear-curious states, Iran included, are more interested in hedging than in actually building a weapons programme. Yet hedging by several rivals at once produces a situation where cascading proliferation becomes all too easy to imagine. An Israeli military strike on Iran, for instance, might persuade it of the need for a nuclear deterrent, thus triggering a response by Saudi Arabia which might in turn strengthen ambition in Ankara—or Cairo.

Once the world would have hoped that American diplomacy, engagement and suasion would have kept such risks in check, and over the coming few years they might. But America’s centrality is on the wane. As Mr Gause points out, “A pervasive sense…that the United States is leaving the region” underpins Saudi discussion of proliferation. The risks entailed in offering a nuclear umbrella are clearly increasing. And although Mr Biden has always been a staunch advocate of arms control, the same was not true of his predecessor, and may well not be true of his successor. Proliferation has not proceeded anything like as fast as once was feared. But it has not stopped, and it could well accelerate. ■

This article appeared in the Briefing section of the print edition under the headline “Who’s next?”

Making Peace with the China and Russian Nuclear Horns: Daniel 7

Revitalizing nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and China

Robert Einhorn

Monday, January 25, 2021

The United States will need partners to overcome the growing challenges that the global nuclear nonproliferation regime will face in the years ahead. In the past, Washington was able on several occasions to work cooperatively with Moscow and Beijing in support of shared nonproliferation goals. But with the sharp deterioration of U.S. bilateral relationships with those two major powers in recent years, that cooperation no longer exists. Despite the current acrimonious state of those relationships, the Biden administration will need to find a way to revitalize cooperative efforts on key nonproliferation issues. After restoring now-abandoned bilateral channels for constructive engagement, the administration should seek common ground with Russia and China in pursuing new negotiations with Iran, curbing the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, rebuilding collaboration in securing nuclear materials and facilities, and reinforcing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), including by promoting a successful NPT Review Conference, pursuing nuclear risk reduction measures, strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, and coordinating nuclear export policies.


The record of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime has been impressive, defying dire predictions of a world with many nuclear-armed states. Since North Korea acquired nuclear weapons nearly 30 years ago, no additional country has done so. Many factors explain that positive record, but one of those factors has been the ability of the United States to work constructively with Russia and China from time to time in support of shared nonproliferation goals.

However, with no end in sight to the current precipitous decline in Washington’s bilateral relations with Moscow and Beijing, constructive engagement on today’s nonproliferation challenges has become increasingly problematic. Unless the United States and its two great-power competitors can find a way to carve out areas of cooperation in otherwise highly adversarial relationships, few, if any, of those challenges can be effectively addressed, and the remarkably positive record of international efforts to prevent additional countries from acquiring nuclear weapons will be difficult to sustain.

Limits of historic and existing policies

Previous cooperation on nonproliferation

Despite periods of intense bilateral rivalry, the United States often managed to find common ground with the Soviet Union, and later with Russia and China, on preventing nuclear proliferation. At the height of the Cold War, the United States and the USSR recognized that the instabilities and dangers associated with the emergence of additional nuclear-weapon states could jeopardize their national interests, not least because it could create new power centers and undercut their own dominant positions in world affairs and, for Moscow, raise the specter of a nuclear-armed Germany.

In the Soviet era, this shared interest led to close collaboration in addressing proliferation threats, including in drafting the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and establishing the London Group of nuclear exporters, which became the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Later, Washington worked with Moscow to encourage Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to give up their Soviet-era nuclear weapons and join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. They helped ensure through Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programs that inadequately secured Russian nuclear materials and facilities in the wake of the USSR’s collapse would not leak out and support nuclear developments worldwide.1 Most recently, the United States and Russia worked with other powers to persuade Iran to accept strict limits on its nuclear programs in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

China was a latecomer to nonproliferation. In the nation’s early years, it publicly advocated the spread of nuclear weapons to “break the hegemony of the superpowers.” By the early 1990s, however, it had come to see considerable value in curbing proliferation. It believed that by adhering to nonproliferation norms, it could promote a more stable international environment, needed for its development; maintain the non-nuclear-weapon status of Japan and other Asian neighbors; bolster its credentials as a responsible permanent member of the U.N. Security Council; and build better relations with the United States. Accordingly, it joined the NPT and other instruments of the global nonproliferation regime.

Throughout the 1990s, frequent U.S.-Chinese engagement on nonproliferation was instrumental in encouraging Beijing to put in place its national export control system and cease proliferation-sensitive technology transfers, including any nuclear cooperation with Iran, which China agreed to forgo in exchange for a Clinton administration decision to authorize the U.S. sale of nuclear reactors to China. As host and chair of the six-party talks in the 2000s, China played an active role in pressing North Korea to halt and eliminate its destabilizing strategic capabilities. In subsequent years, China made frequent, often futile efforts at the highest levels to dissuade Pyongyang from proceeding with nuclear and missile tests and to encourage North Korea to accept negotiated limitations.

From sometimes partners to frequent foes

In recent years and especially with the sharp downturn in bilateral relations, Moscow and Beijing have increasingly acted less as Washington’s nonproliferation partners and more as opponents.

This shift has been especially pronounced with regard to Iran, with cooperation as JCPOA negotiating colleagues giving way to strong differences. To a significant extent, opposition by Russia and China to U.S. policies on Iran since 2018 has been shared by Washington’s European allies, but Chinese and Russian opposition has gone well beyond that of the Europeans. Russia and China have aligned themselves closely with Iran and become its principal defenders on most issues of contention.

With Beijing in the lead on North Korea, just as Moscow has the lead on Iran, China and Russia have increasingly distanced themselves from U.S. policy on North Korea and moved closer to Pyongyang. They believe the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions campaign has resulted in North Korea digging in its heels. Worse, they fear that U.S. policy could destabilize the North Korean regime, an outcome that China regards as threatening to its interests and one that many Chinese regard as the actual, unstated goal of U.S. policy on North Korea. Although mostly complying with U.N. sanctions in 2016–2017, Russia and China now seem determined to weaken sanctions and have become complicit in sanctions evasion. They also take issue with what they regard as an unrealistic U.S. approach to negotiations on denuclearization.

Elsewhere, Russia and China have actively opposed efforts by the United States and much of the international community to pursue Syria regarding its noncompliance with its nuclear and chemical weapons nonproliferation obligations. In the wake of Israel’s 2007 destruction of a plutonium-production reactor that North Korea was clandestinely helping Syria build, they have sought to shield Damascus from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scrutiny of Syria’s nuclear program. In the face of compelling evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its opponents on many occasions, Russia, supported by China, has gone to great lengths to oppose efforts by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to attribute chemical weapons use to the Syrian government.

Russia has been the leading critic of the “state-level concept,” an IAEA approach to making its safeguards system more effective by taking into account not only information obtained through its own traditional verification activities but also information obtained from other sources, including intelligence supplied by IAEA member states. Moscow has claimed that reliance on third-party information has enabled Western countries, especially the United States, to manipulate the IAEA to serve their political goals, although Russia seems mainly concerned about information that could incriminate its allies, particularly Iran and Syria.

Reducing the risks of terrorists acquiring potentially vulnerable weapons-usable nuclear materials has been a highly successful area of nonproliferation cooperation, especially between the United States and Russia. Such nuclear security cooperation between Moscow and Washington no longer exists, in part because Russia has come to resent the image of dependence on U.S. assistance in securing materials and facilities in Russia. A critical additional factor was the sharp downturn in U.S.-Russian relations after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, with Washington imposing sanctions in 2014 in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Moscow retaliated by pulling the plug on key nuclear security programs, and Congress prohibited U.S. funding for nuclear projects in Russia. Emblematic of the near-total breakdown of bilateral cooperation on nuclear security was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to attend the 2016 nuclear security summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The reduction in U.S.-Chinese nuclear security cooperation in recent years has been much less dramatic, largely because such cooperation has never been as extensive as U.S.-Russian cooperation. With the downward spiral of U.S.-Chinese relations from 2016 to 2020, however, bilateral cooperation has significantly declined. Some technical, working-level contacts have persisted, but senior-level mechanisms to oversee and steer cooperative engagement no longer meet.

Obstacles to future nonproliferation cooperation

The decline in U.S. nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and China will be difficult to reverse. Clearly, the greatest obstacle is the overall deterioration of U.S. relations with its two great-power competitors. Such cooperation requires a modicum of mutual trust, but today such trust no longer exists. It requires channels of dialogue and communication, but virtually all bilateral channels have been shut down. It also requires a measure of domestic support for bilateral engagement, but public and elite opinion in Russia and China has grown extremely skeptical of the benefits of engagement with the United States, and vice versa.

The continued downturn in bilateral relations could undercut one of China’s historically strong motivations for constructive engagement on nonproliferation: a desire for better relations with the United States. Beijing has tended to take positive nonproliferation steps when relations with Washington were good or improving and to be more uncooperative when relations were declining, especially when it was angered by U.S. actions, such as the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, which some Chinese believed was intentional, or major U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Another related obstacle is that Russia and China, in balancing their interest in nonproliferation against what they see as their interest in strengthening strategic relationships with friendly countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria, now apparently assign a higher priority to the latter relative to the former. Sensing an opportunity presented by the prospect of reduced U.S. engagement in the Middle East, Putin has sought to make Russia a major actor and broker in the region, including by intervening militarily to support Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war and working closely with Iran to ensure Assad’s victory and undermine U.S. interests in the region. Similarly, Chinese President Xi Jinping, fearing that U.S.-North Korean and South Korean-North Korean diplomacy could leave China on the sidelines in shaping the future of the Korean Peninsula, decided in 2018 to restore close ties with Pyongyang after a period of estrangement. The growing inclination of Moscow and Beijing to solidify what they regard as strategically useful partnerships helps explain why they now often back Iran, North Korea, and Syria in key nonproliferation disputes and shield them against further harsh sanctions.

An additional obstacle to cooperation, at least in recent years, has been Russian and Chinese opposition to specific nonproliferation policies of the Trump administration. That obstacle could be somewhat reduced under a Biden administration, at least on some issues, such as Iran. On other issues, however, including Syria, the roles and methods of the IAEA and OPCW, and the utility of sanctions as a nonproliferation tool, strong differences predated the Trump administration and would likely remain.

Cooperation remains essential

At a time when U.S. nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and China has all but disappeared, challenges to the global nonproliferation regime appear to be growing.

With the JCPOA largely hollowed out and Iran rebuilding its enrichment program, fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon or at least a latent nuclear weapons capability has returned and, with it, the prospect that Saudi Arabia and perhaps others in the Middle East will pursue a matching capability.

U.S. diplomacy with North Korea has reached a dead end. Pyongyang continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs, and U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, worried by the expanding threat from the North and increasingly uncertain about the reliability of U.S. security guarantees, may rethink the option of acquiring their own nuclear deterrents.

Assertive postures by Russia and China in their respective regions have elevated the security concerns of their non-nuclear neighbors, including Japan in the case of China.

Sophisticated illicit networks trafficking in proliferation-sensitive technologies have made detection of embryonic covert nuclear programs more difficult.

In their aggressive efforts to sell nuclear reactors, some nuclear supplier governments may relax the nonproliferation controls they require their customers to accept.

Continued polarization among parties to the NPT, fueled by dissatisfaction that progress toward nuclear disarmament has stalled and concern that U.S.-Russian arms control agreements are unraveling, has impeded efforts to strengthen nonproliferation controls and could weaken the authority of the treaty as a barrier to the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Preventing the deterioration of the global nonproliferation regime will require the restoration of cooperation among the world’s three most influential nuclear powers.

Policy recommendations

Despite the highly acrimonious state of U.S. relations with Moscow and Beijing, efforts should be made to explore prospects for nonproliferation cooperation in some key areas.

Resuming channels of engagement

A first critical step is procedural rather than substantive: establishing channels for nonproliferation consultations. Such channels existed with Russia and China during previous U.S. administrations, sometimes under the umbrella of formal, high-level bilateral mechanisms covering a wide range of issues, such as the Clinton administration’s Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission and the George W. Bush administration’s U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

Such top-level umbrella mechanisms are probably not feasible today, at least in the immediate future. Yet, less formal, lower-profile bilateral dialogues on nonproliferation can and should be established. These dialogues should be carried out at a high but subcabinet level, such as by undersecretaries or assistant secretaries. They should be dedicated to nonproliferation and not also seek to address nuclear arms control, which should be the focus of separate consultations to allow each subject to be handled in depth in the limited time available and with the required expertise at the table. Consultations should be held on a regular basis and should operate with a minimum of publicity to increase the likelihood of more candid interactions.

If establishing dedicated bilateral mechanisms proves difficult, the countries should look for opportunities to engage on the margins of existing multilateral meetings where relevant officials are present, such as the IAEA General Conference and meetings of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states.

Pursuing new negotiations with Iran

Iran’s nuclear capabilities will remain high on the international nonproliferation agenda in 2021 and beyond. Whatever the fate of the JCPOA, Washington can be expected to seek engagement with Iran to pursue long-term restrictions on its nuclear capacity and address its destabilizing regional activities. In light of strong Iranian mistrust and resentment toward the United States over the Trump administration’s JCPOA withdrawal and “maximum pressure” campaign, it is uncertain whether and on what terms Iranian leaders will be prepared to engage, especially given political dynamics in Tehran in the run-up to the June presidential election.

To persuade Iran to come back to the negotiating table and engage constructively by not insisting on compensation for economic losses from U.S. sanctions or other unrealistic positions, the United States will need the help of its former P5+1 partners. That means rebuilding bridges destroyed by the Trump administration’s self-isolating policies, especially its futile effort to snap back previous U.N. Security Council sanctions. Regaining the support of its European allies and working closely with its Middle Eastern partners will be critical first steps, but collaboration with Russia and China will also be essential.

Although Russia and China presumably continue to agree with the United States on the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, getting them to cooperate with Washington on a new agreement will be more difficult than it was to gain their support in the JCPOA negotiations. They are more inclined now to support Iran as a strategic partner, oppose sanctions as a means of incentivizing Tehran, give Iran the benefit of the doubt on its nuclear intentions, and see the United States rather than Iran as the source of the problem.

A key factor in gaining Chinese and Russian cooperation will be the U.S. negotiating position. If Washington hopes to get them and the Europeans on board, it will need to alter its current demands and adopt an approach that Beijing and Moscow believe is a reasonable starting point for negotiations. That means confining a new agreement to the nuclear issue and not linking progress in the nuclear negotiations to important but separate efforts to address Iran’s regional activities; seeking to limit but not eliminate Iran’s uranium-enrichment program; offering sufficient and credible sanctions relief; and dropping regime change as an explicit or implicit goal of U.S. policy.

Curbing the North Korean threat

Addressing the North Korean nuclear and missile threat will also be a top U.S. goal in 2021. As in the case of Iran, however, cooperation by Russia and China is less likely now than it was just a few years ago. A consistent, long-term goal of both countries, especially China, has been to reduce the U.S. military presence and weaken U.S. alliances in East Asia. With bilateral U.S.-Chinese relations cratering and Beijing’s suspicions of a U.S. Indo-Pacific containment strategy growing, that goal has assumed greater importance and the scope for cooperation has substantially narrowed. China increasingly sees U.S. and Chinese interests on the Korean Peninsula as a zero-sum game, illustrated by Beijing’s accusation that U.S. deployment of a sophisticated missile defense system in South Korea and other U.S. military responses to the North Korean nuclear threat are aimed largely at China.

Nonetheless, while strengthening their ties with Pyongyang and parting ways with the United States on enforcement of sanctions, Russia and China continue to share Washington’s interest in a peaceful, nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula, an outcome that would have the benefit, from their perspective, of reducing Washington’s need to respond to North Korean capabilities in a way they would regard as threatening, such as a major buildup of U.S. missile defenses.

Finding common ground on a negotiated solution will require the three countries, especially the United States and China, to modify their current positions. For Washington, that means accepting that denuclearization is a long-term, step-by-step process; that Pyongyang will have to be provided meaningful incentives at each step of the way; and that the first step will be a partial measure with no reliable guarantee that the goal of complete denuclearization will eventually be realized. For Beijing, it means recognizing that it will have to lean heavily on North Korea to get it to accept strict and verifiable measures and that, even if an agreement can be reached that reduces the North Korean threat, the United States and its allies will continue to reinforce their capabilities to deter the North. Russia will need to add its weight to Chinese efforts to encourage more flexible North Korean negotiating behavior. It will also need to work bilaterally with Washington, given their unique arms control experience, to demonstrate to Pyongyang that effective verification measures can be implemented without compromising national security interests.

Revitalizing nuclear security and nuclear energy cooperation

Nuclear security is the most promising area for resuming U.S. cooperation with Russia and China largely because the three countries have a genuine common interest in preventing terrorists from getting their hands on the materials needed to make nuclear weapons or dirty bombs.

Moreover, U.S.-Russian reengagement would be facilitated by the long history of cooperation in this area, by the close personal and institutional ties that developed during that long history, and by the apparent desire of technical experts on both sides to resume cooperation. The United States and China do not have the extensive record of nuclear security cooperation shared by Washington and Moscow, but neither do they have the accumulated resentments and internal opposition toward such cooperation that came to bedevil U.S.-Russian nuclear security programs.

If U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation is to be resurrected, it will have to abandon the past donor-recipient relationship and become a more equal partnership, with both sides sharing best practices rather than Russia simply adopting U.S. practices and with each side able to derive the benefits it seeks. That means not only pursuing the nuclear security agenda favored by the United States, but also cooperating in the fields of nuclear science and nuclear energy that the Russian nuclear establishment seeks. Furthermore, it would be useful to recognize if not welcome that Russia’s interest in cooperative projects will often depend on its calculation of commercial gain. A study by prominent U.S.- and Russian-based think tanks has recommended an extensive menu of possible future cooperation that includes developing the next generation of safe and reliable nuclear reactors, creating proliferation-resistant nuclear fuels, improving the safety of nuclear power plants, improving nuclear security and accounting technologies, and enhancing nuclear security in other countries embarking on nuclear energy programs.

Despite the termination of most U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation, the two countries have managed to continue as co-chairs of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), a multilateral partnership dedicated to strengthening the capacity of its members to prevent, detect, and respond to acts of nuclear terrorism. In the months and years to come, they should look for opportunities to expand cooperation, perhaps initially under the umbrella of multilateral forums such as GICNT and IAEA-sponsored conferences, but eventually by setting up dedicated bilateral mechanisms and reestablishing a legal framework for cooperation.2

Resuming and expanding U.S.-Chinese nuclear security cooperation may face fewer hurdles than U.S.-Russian cooperation. Unlike in the case of Russia, there is a legal framework still in place, the 1997 Agreement on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Technology, and an ongoing mechanism that could provide a venue for expert discussions on a range of nuclear security issues. That venue is China’s Center of Excellence, created with U.S. assistance in 2016 for nuclear security exchanges and training. Future cooperation could build on such past efforts as the establishment of a radiation detection training center, a “Megaports Initiative” to enhance detection capability at Shanghai’s container port, and technical exchanges on implementing nuclear export controls. In addition, it could build on previous collaborative work in converting Chinese-built Miniature Neutron Sources Reactors, first in China and then in Ghana and Nigeria, to operate with low-enriched uranium.

Strengthening the NPT regime

The United States and Russia, and China after it joined the NPT in 1992, have been strong supporters of the treaty, and they continue to have a common interest in ensuring that it will remain an effective barrier to nuclear proliferation. Their support has been most evident at NPT review conferences, held every five years, at which the United States, China, and Russia, joined by France and the United Kingdom (the other two NPT nuclear-weapon states) have traditionally banded together to promote successful conference outcomes and to defend their records against criticism from non-nuclear-weapon states-parties that they are not doing enough to fulfill their treaty obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament.

The worsening of bilateral relations among the five, however, has led to a cracking of that solidarity. In preparations for the 2020 review conference, loud recriminations among the five, especially between the United States and Russia, have contributed to a pessimistic outlook for the conference.

• Reducing nuclear dangers. To promote a successful 2020 review conference, which was postponed until 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington, Moscow, and Beijing should set aside their differences and seek common ground, including on issues related to nuclear disarmament. Agreement by the United States and Russia to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would do much to improve conference prospects. So would the beginning of U.S.-Chinese strategy stability talks, which could help avoid a destabilizing arms competition and reduce the likelihood of inadvertent armed conflict between the two world powers, even if Beijing continues its unwillingness to negotiate formal limits on its nuclear forces.

• Cooperating in the P5 process. The P5 process, a consultative mechanism initiated in 2009 to facilitate cooperation among the NPT’s five nuclear-weapon states, has so far produced useful but modest results, such as a glossary of key nuclear terms. To demonstrate to non-nuclear-armed states that they are serious about fulfilling their NPT obligation to reduce nuclear dangers, the five have begun turning to more strategically important efforts, including an in-depth dialogue on nuclear doctrines and policies and an examination of nuclear risk reduction measures. Given the current absence of bilateral channels for strategic engagement, the United States should make the most of the process. Despite the multilateral nature of the process, it can provide a venue for informal bilateral contacts.

• Fixing the NPT withdrawal problem. The United States, Russia, and China should take the lead in reinforcing the effectiveness of the NPT. A major contribution would be to correct one of the treaty’s main shortcomings: if a party exercises its right to withdraw, IAEA safeguards on its nuclear facilities and materials automatically lapse, leaving it legally entitled to use the facilities and materials it acquired under the treaty in a nuclear weapons program. Several past proposals for addressing this problem have had broad support, including among the nuclear-weapon countries, but were never adopted. With some NPT parties now hinting at withdrawal and possibly considering a run for nuclear weapons, the three countries should work together to fix it.

• Strengthening IAEA safeguards. Russia and the United States could also give a significant boost to the IAEA safeguards system by resolving their differences on the agency’s state-level concept. As recommended by a distinguished group of U.S. and Russian experts, the IAEA should make clear that although intelligence and other information supplied by member states can play an important role in helping to direct and focus the agency’s resources and activities, IAEA conclusions on safeguards and compliance questions will be based on objective criteria and will rely on IAEA safeguards methods and investigations, independent of any third-party information. Moreover, to ensure confidence in the impartiality of IAEA safeguards findings and judgments, the agency should be as transparent as possible in communicating to member states how it has reached its conclusions.

• Coordinating nuclear export policies. The United States should seek to engage Russia, China, and other key suppliers of nuclear reactors, materials, and technology on their nuclear export policies. As a matter of law or policy, the United States goes well beyond the agreed NSG standards. It requires, as conditions of supply, that its non-nuclear-weapon state customers adhere to the additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements and accept constraints on enrichment and reprocessing, including in a few cases the renunciation of future enrichment or reprocessing. Motivated in large part by a commercial desire to boost nuclear exports, most other nuclear supplier governments, including Russia and China, are much less demanding of their customers. The proliferation risk is that countries seeking nuclear weapons or at least the nuclear infrastructure that could give them a future nuclear weapons option will choose to deal with suppliers with less stringent controls. Compounding this problem is the generous, government-supported financing arrangements that several supplier countries are prepared to offer to secure nuclear sales. Given the strong determination of U.S. nuclear competitors to export, it would be unrealistic to expect Washington to persuade other supplier governments to adopt rigorous U.S. nuclear export policies on a worldwide basis. There may be cases, however, in which informal coordination of nuclear supply conditions could be pursued. Saudi Arabia could be one such opportunity. Vendors from China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are vying to sell reactors to the country even as its leader says the nation will acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. Washington would have a difficult time getting the others to match its demand that Saudi Arabia forswear enrichment or reprocessing for an extended period of time, but perhaps they could all agree to require Saudi adherence to an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement as a condition of supply, something Riyadh has so far resisted.

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Since the NPT negotiations of the 1960s and until fairly recently, the United States has been the leading and most often the dominant player in international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, but U.S. dominance is declining. It is now only one of several increasingly capable and aggressive competitors for worldwide nuclear sales, and it no longer has the clout in the international civil nuclear market to exert major influence over the terms of global nuclear trade. It remains by far the world’s strongest military power, but it is being challenged for local military superiority in the western Pacific and eastern Europe, and questions are being raised about the sustainability of its overseas military presence and the reliability of its security guarantees, which have historically reduced incentives for U.S. allies to acquire nuclear weapons. U.S. sanctions are still a formidable coercive tool to fight proliferation, but the targets of coercion have become well practiced in sanctions evasion, and resentment toward what is widely regarded as U.S. overuse of sanctions has given rise to consideration of how to work around or reduce the international economic role of the dollar.3

These developments do not mean the United States will be unable to continue playing its traditional leading role in preventing proliferation. Indeed, U.S. leadership will remain indispensable. No other country or group of countries has the resources, experience, or will to take its place, but it does mean the United States will need partners more than ever. Although Washington will naturally look to its allies and friends around the world to cooperate in the fight against proliferation, it will also need to gain the cooperation of Moscow and Beijing.

Russia and China, however, have pushed nonproliferation interests lower on their hierarchy of national priorities as they pursue their geopolitical interest in supporting partners that pose proliferation risks and their commercial interest in selling nuclear reactors or securing reliable energy supplies. With U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese relations reaching new lows and unlikely to improve for the foreseeable future, prospects for nonproliferation cooperation are uncertain at best.

Still, as difficult as it may be to find common ground and carve out areas of cooperation in otherwise highly adversarial relationships, the Biden administration must make every effort to do so. Cooperation with the two U.S. great-power competitors will not guarantee success in overcoming the growing nonproliferation challenges the international community will face in the years ahead, but the absence of such cooperation will surely increase the risks of failure.

Babylon the Great Stands Up to the China Nuclear Horn EU

U.S. reaffirms Taiwan support after China sends warplanes

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue.”

Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself in the U.N. General Assembly Hall where the island is banned. She carried a handbag with a stuffed Taiwan bear sticking out of the top, a gift from Taiwan’s representative in New York, Ambassador James Lee.

Taiwan and China separated amid civil war in 1949 and China says it is determined to bring the island under its control by force if necessary. The U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but is legally required to ensure Taiwan can defend itself and the self-governing democratic island enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington.

Tsai has sought to bolster the island’s defenses with the purchase of billions of dollars in U.S. weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, armed drones, rocket systems and Harpoon missiles capable of hitting both ships and land targets. She has also boosted support for Taiwan’s indigenous arms industry, including launching a program to build new submarines to counter China’s ever-growing naval capabilities.

China’s increased threats come as economic and political enticements bear little fruit, leading it to stage war games and dispatch fighter jets and reconnaissance planes on an almost daily basis toward the island of 24 million people.