“NO-FIRST-USE” OF NUKES MEANS TROUBLE FOR AMERICA
On November 16, the White House announced that Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreed to explore talks on nuclear arms control during a virtual summit held the day before.
“The two leaders agreed that we would look to begin to carry forward discussions on strategic stability,” said White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan in an address at the Brookings Institute the following day. “It is now incumbent on us to think about the most productive way to carry it forward from here.”
The Wall Street Journal had this to say in its November 17 edition: “A dialogue, if it happens, would be one of the few concrete outcomes” from the summit. But I view it as utterly unthinkable that nuclear arms control talks would start between the US and China.
Former Presidents Barak Obama and Donald Trump proposed such talks to China, but China consistently brushed aside the offers. It is unrealistic to think that Biden will be able to talk Xi into agreeing to seriously discuss nuclear disarmament or arms control.
In light of how information concerning the proposed talks was made public, one begins to realize the harsh reality of Biden’s wishful thinking. When Biden broached the subject during the duo’s talks, Xi reportedly indicated that high-ranking officials could be made available. But no further developments have yet to be reported. In fact, Xi himself has failed to refer to the subject in post-summit interviews.
Observed Masahisa Sato, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Department of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) and former parliamentary vice-minister for defense:
“I believe China has no intention whatever of agreeing to nuclear disarmament talks. During the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union carried forward with the talks because there was nuclear parity between them, each having about the same number of nukes. But China has yet to reach that stage. Contrary to reducing its nuclear arms, Beijing is staking its fate on increasing its number of nuclear warheads from the current 350 to 1,000 by 2030.”
Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera had this to add:
“The US and Russia are the only nations that maintain an avenue of discussion about the need for nuclear arms control. China hasn’t taken part in these talks and probably never will. It would be truly great if China should decide to participate. But I seriously question if they would ever seek to discuss an agreement to control or limit nuclear weapons. Even if they should agree to negotiations, we must exercise maximum caution because without question the Chinese will typically resort to crafty delaying tactics.”
China’s ICBMs Capable of Attacking Washington
Sugio Takahashi, head of the Defense Police Study Division, the National Institute for Defense Studies, was of the view that the intentions of the US and Chinese leaders are too wide apart as regards nuclear arms control, making it impossible for them to speak the same language. He added:
“Based on what the Chinese posture indicated following the summit, I cannot but conclude that China is least interested in coming to grips with America’s purposes. I suppose Xi just decided to hear Biden’s expectations by way of suggestion. Biden, like Obama, is known to be aiming for a world without nuclear weapons. But the situation the US is now faced with is at such a crisis point that it absolutely does not allow for such optimism.”
In July, images from American reconnaissance satellites revealed approximately 300 ICBM silos under construction in Northwestern China, identifying two expansive areas as silo fields each 800 square kilometers, or 500 square miles. The number of missile silos China is constructing reportedly has already surpassed that of those in Russia. Considering that even the US has only 500 silos now under construction, the number for China is a big surprise. Takahashi explained:
“Using these silos, the Chinese are planning to store their new DF41 ICBMs, each capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads with enough range to strike Washington.”
The DF41 missiles pose a major threat to the US. What military consequences might China’s massive nuclear weapons buildup trigger? Let us first consider the silos’ locations. In order to deploy DF41 intercontinental missiles with the afore-mentioned functions, China must resort to fixed silos in entrenched locations across a wide expanse of the country. ICBMs launched from trains or vehicles, as in North Korea, are difficult to strike preemptively. On the other hand, fixed silos are an easier prey to such attacks. The minute China started preparing for a missile launch, the US would readily detect the move and attack the silo. It would be possible for an American ICBM to blast all the ten nuclear warheads mounted atop its Chinese counterpart. This being the case, the Chinese themselves would likely consider launching such an attack first. Takahashi noted:
“Because such a setup could invite an extremely dangerous situation, the US and Russia have struck an accord to not store more than one missile in a silo. But China has yet to join the accord. Although it makes a point of honoring a no-first-use nuclear policy, China views its application as conditional, which makes possible a Chinese preemptive nuclear strike depending on conditions. Needless to say, only China can judge those conditions.”
China’s Nuclear Buildup: Ferocious Speed and Scale
Another point worthy of attention is a strategy known as “launch-on-warning (LOW),” under which a retaliatory strike aimed at a pre-launch missile is performed upon warning of an enemy nuclear attack. China has established the ability to detect a missile launch through such devices as outer space sensors. The People’s Liberation Army is known to have repeatedly conducted LOW training over the years.
In other words, it would be sensible to view China as having departed from the idea of the no-first-use nuclear policy. That would mean China has substantially built its own system capable of a preemptive nuclear strike.
The big question is how to cope with the ferocious speed and scale with which China is enhancing its nuclear capabilities. It is meaningless to attempt to negotiate with a China that has yet to ever enter into serious negotiations. It only makes sense that the US must further bolster its nuclear capabilities against an opponent that believes single-mindedly in the power of nuclear weapons and is proceeding with its own plans.
How will Japan under America’s nuclear umbrella be able to protect its citizens and homeland under these harsh circumstances? First, it is mandatory to fulfill the fundamental need to strengthen its national defense capabilities. The US will never help its vital Pacific ally unless Japan first strives earnestly to defend itself.
Next, Japan must persuade President Biden to not make a “no first use” pledge. His administration is allegedly exploring a declaration of that policy as it readies itself for announcing a Nuclear Posture Review in early 2022. Such a declaration definitely will have the negative effect of making only China, Russia, and North Korea happy. Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense has raised the possibility of China proceeding with chemical and biological weapons development in violation of international conventions.
Lastly, nations including the US and Japan that are committed to democracy, liberty, and the rule of law must come to grips with the fact that they are confronted with an extremely difficult situation, namely that the US must now face the threat of China and Russia simultaneously. That is all the more reason for Japan to make every effort to not rely exclusively on the US for its defense, instead maintaining a relationship where both countries come to the aid of each other. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has a heavy responsibility to carry out this mission.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 977 in the December 2, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)