“Nuclear weapons should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time to make the world free of nuclear weapons,” Xi said, according to an official translation.
There’s just a few problems:
(1) In a world without MAD, China will eventually become an unrivalled military hegemon, by dint of its unrivalled industrial capacity.
(2) Of more immediate pertinence, does this include the couple thousand plus nuclear warheads that China might have tucked away in its 2,500km network of underground tunnels?
This was the theory proposed by Phillip Karber and his students in a 2011 study [big pdf], which analyzed Chinese fissile materials production and concluded that its nuclear arsenal was an order of magnitude bigger than claimed – perhaps 3,000 warheads.
There’s been a lot of criticism of Karber’s methodology, but its worth pointing out that around the same time, the former head of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, Viktor Yesin, came out with very similar figures. In a 2012 article for a Moscow military think-tank (pp. 25), Yesin posited China could have some 1,600-1,800 warheads.
This would be a pretty clever strategy on the part of the Chinese – quietly build up nuclear parity with the US and Russia, then strike up a progressive pose to build up stress cred with American leftists and “civilized” Yuropeans who will push for disarmament with gusto now that the Oval Office will be occupied by someone whom they view as a crazed General Ripper character.
This seems to be a concrete strategy the Chinese have adopted. They are now also talking a lot more about their love for renewable energy, their respect for small nation sovereignty, and about how Trump is a big fat ignorant idiot in general, all topics bound to resound well with the besuited latte-sipping IYI class of D.C., New York, and Brussels.
Most conveniently, the Americans might even take Russia along for the ride. Not only has nuclear disarmament traditionally focused around the Russia-US relationship, but Trump has also gone back on his old promise to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal, and is now linking the removal of Russia sanctions to nuclear downsizing.
A US with fewer or no nukes sees only a modest hit to its relative global power, at least in the medium-term, before the arrival of Chinese primacy.
But a Russia with far fewer or no nukes becomes a sidenote to world politics, and the Chinese threat to its Far East – currently entirely fictive – becomes quite germane.
I am by no means a Sinophobe, and as a country that practices realism, it is perfectly understandable for China to be doing what it is.
But it also has to be acknowledged that a world in which the US and Russia disarm while China potentially retains a huge, hidden nuclear complex will be a more dangerous and undesirable one. Now that China is beginning to stake out an “activist” position on this issue, it would be well warranted – before the beginning of any further serious talk about nuclear disarmament – to devote much more serious publicity and research to clarify whether Karber’s and Esin’s theories on the true size of China’s nuclear arsenal are, in fact, correct.
If it emerges that they do in fact have merit, then all future nuclear discussions must become a trilateral affair.