Recognition is Not Endorsement

By Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (USA, ret.)

Dealing with other nations to reduce tensions and advance mutual interests is facilitated by establishing embassies and consulates in those countries to enhance communication and increase understanding. This is a long-established diplomatic practice that has been recognized through the ages as highly beneficial in inter-state relations.

Diplomatic recognition of another country and its government is nothing more than an acknowledgement of its de-facto existence as a nation state, not tantamount to approval of its political system or its policies. In fact, it is especially important to establish diplomatic relations with governments with which we have strong disagreements to prevent unintended escalation caused by misunderstandings.  

Yet the United States has failed to recognize some key nation states whose governments it finds objectionable. It took us 15 years to recognize the existence of the Soviet Union and establish diplomatic relations with it in 1933.  We clung to the myth that the Chinese Nationalist regime that fled to Taiwan represented mainland China for more than 23 years, from 1949 until 1972, when President Nixon visited the Peoples Republic; and we finally established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979.

We have found it beneficial to maintain diplomatic relations with both China and Russia despite some major conflicts of interest and even the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia in the wake of its aggression in Ukraine. The vital New START nuclear treaty with Russia continues to function effectively, as does our logistical passage through Russia to Afghanistan; and Russia continues to supply us with rocket engines we use to enhance our national security and to ferry our astronauts to the international space station. Our diplomatic relations with China have resulted in improvements in our economic relations with the world’s second largest economy, and agreement on military contacts and exchanges hedges against increased tensions that could result from disagreements between China and some of our allies in the region.  

With the recent military successes in Iraq of ISIS, the Islamic State, the United States finds itself with a vital interest in common with Iran, but without diplomatic relations that could facilitate cooperation and provide insights into the problems faced by the current Iranian administration with which we are trying to reach agreement on its nuclear program.

Why haven’t we learned the obvious lesson of the advantages to us of recognition of foreign governments and the establishment of diplomatic relations with them? We actually appear to be retrogressing in this regard. It took us 15 years to recognize the Soviet Union and 23 years to acknowledge that the Peoples Republic controlled mainland China. In Iran, the revolutionary movement solidified its control in 1979, 36 years ago; and we still have not accorded it the de-facto recognition that could lead to mutually beneficial diplomatic relations.      

GOP Members Push Expanded, Expensive Missile Defense Against Russia, China

Some hawkish members of the House Armed Services Committee and conservative missile defense advocates are promoting a vastly expanded missile defense system that could entail huge new expenditures and be of dubious effectiveness.

That is the message of a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing on missile defense.

The current system to defend the U.S. homeland against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is called the Ground-Based Mid-Course missile defense system (GMD). GMD is designed to counter an attack by a rogue state with a single or very few missiles (for example a future North Korean or Iranian ICBM threat), or an accidental or unauthorized missile strike from Russia or China.

While serious questions remain about whether the existing GMD system can perform its intended mission, the proposed expanded roles for missile defense are the height of folly.

The House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing was entitled, “Adapting U.S. Missile Defense for Future Threats: Russia, China and Modernizing the NMD Act.”

The main question posed to the witnesses was, “Does a policy of limited missile defenses against limited threats continue to make sense in today’s threat environment?”

Here is the deal.

In 1999, Congress overwhelmingly adopted legislation endorsing a National Missile Defense system to defend “against limited ballistic missile attack.” The language also called for deployment only if the system  is “effective” and “as soon as is technologically possible.”

Some of the committee Republicans, led by Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL), now think that it is time to go beyond “limited” missile defense. So too does the conservative Heritage Foundation and others.

In other words, these members of Congress and others would like to see our missile defense system efforts go beyond the ability to defeat one or two missiles from a rogue state and instead design the system to defeat all out attacks by Russian or Chinese ICBMs.

During the hearing, Ambassador Robert G. Joseph explicitly endorsed expanded missile defense that could include directed energy and space weapons previously rejected as impractical and too expensive. He also called for shifting emphasis from theater defenses and shorter-range threats to national missile defense.

Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) also embraced space based defenses and directed energy weapons, options previously rejected by governments of both parties.

The two problems: even the limited GMD missile defense currently deployed is not “effective” as required by the legislation, and an expanded defense against the Russian and Chinese nuclear forces would be a prohibitively expensive scarecrow.

The witnesses were Philip Coyle, Senior Science Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, former CIA Director James Woolsey, Jr. and Former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Ambassador Robert G. Joseph.

Coyle is a recognized expert on U.S. and worldwide military research, development and testing. He has served under four U.S. Presidents, mostly recently as the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs in President Obama’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Coyle’s remarks hit the nail on the head. In his opening statement, he outlined three important reasons why it would be unwise for the United States to pursue an expanded missile defense against Russia and China.  

First, the technology simply does not exist to deal with a deliberate Russian or Chinese ICBM attack. U.S. missile defenses against ICBMs can at best deal with very limited attacks—say from Iran or North Korea—and even that goal continues to be a technological challenge.

Second, the costs of trying to deploy a system to deal effectively with a Russian or Chinese attack would be staggering. In 2002, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of several different proposed missile defense programs that would be integrated into one layered system in 2025. The CBO estimated that a system of ground-based interceptors would cost between $27 and $74 billion, a system of ship-launched interceptors would cost $50 to $64 billion, and a Space-Based Laser system would cost $82 to $100 billion. All of these systems are meant for only a “limited” attack. CBO has not yet estimated the costs of a system designed to defeat Russia and China’s ICBMS, but it would necessarily be considerably more expensive.  

Third, if the U.S. had missile defense that could effectively defeat Russian and Chinese ICBMs without being overwhelmed, it would be strategically destabilizing and provoke military responses from Russia and China. If Russia and China perceived their ICBM arsenals had been rendered useless, Russia and China would need to respond with new forces—perhaps more attacking missiles, cruise missiles (against which our missile defense systems are useless), or perhaps even the deployment of troops areas of the world that are currently peaceful.

Furthermore, Russia would certainly not agree to further reductions in its nuclear arsenal and may then use new U.S. missile defense programs as justification to withdraw from New START and other important arms control agreements that have significantly reduced the threat from nuclear weapons.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., in a May 28 talk at the Atlantic Council, punctured the expansive views of those who argue for massive new missile defenses as he explained why limited defenses are in the best U.S. interest.

“As you know,” he said, “we’ve told Russia and the world that we will not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence of Russia because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try.”  Later the Admiral reiterated this point, saying, “And let me be clear once again: it’s not the policy of the United States to build a ballistic missile defense system to counter Russian ballistic missiles.”  

Read Phil Coyle’s entire testimony here

Park-Xi Summit and Outcomes

On July 4, Chinese president Xi Jinping concluded a two day summit in Seoul, South Korea. During the summit, Xi met with South Korean president Park Geun-hye to discuss, among other matters, the pressing issue of North Korea’s nuclear program.

China’s Nuclear Weapons – Tempering Fears with a Dose of Reality

Several reports about China’s nuclear weapons program have come out in the past few weeks, and they are causing imaginations to run wild and some fears to grow beyond the realm of reality. The fact is that China has indeed been modernizing its arsenal, but it is important to put this modernization in perspective and to not overstate the Chinese nuclear threat.

The primary source of the panic is a map supposedly detailing Chinese nuclear attack plans in the event of conflict that would leave 5 to 12 million Americans dead. This “plan” and the map have made their rounds on many major news sites. Fortunately, a little detective work by the Federation of American Scientist’s Hans Kristensen has revealed that the map wasn’t even produced by the Chinese government. Instead, it seems to have been part of a slideshow posted on a military technology website unaffiliated with the Chinese government.

The map was released around the same time that the Chinese government unveiled details about their development of a small fleet of ballistic missile submarines. These details caused even more dramatic stories about how these submarines could attack U.S. cities with JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles. Aside from the fact that no Jin-class submarines have ever sailed on deterrent patrols, there are several major technical problems that prevent this from being reality.

First, according to Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris, the current fleet of three Jin-class subs is not currently armed with nuclear weapons because China’s Central Military Commission forbids the mounting of warheads on missiles unless they are about to be used (this doctrine has, so far, extended to submarine launched ballistic missiles as well). This means the submarines leave port with no ability to fulfill their purpose as a deterrent. Second, China’s submarine fleet is incredibly loud and easy to track. The Jin-class is reported to be louder than Soviet submarines that were built 30 years ago. Third, the JL-2 missile only has a range of about 7,200 km. If the missiles were actually armed with warheads; they would be able to threaten U.S. bases in the region but would be unable to reach any major U.S. cities. To even target Washington, D.C., the submarine would have to sail almost to Hawaii without detection. Navy Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, has summed up these shortcomings quite effectively: “For a submarine-launched ballistic missile to be effective it has to be accurate, and you have to be stealthy and survivable and I’ll leave it at that.”

China is also expanding its arsenal of land based ballistic missiles; however, some of this expansion is temporary as certain systems are being developed to replace older missiles like the DF-3A and DF-4 which were deployed in the 1970s and 80s, respectively. Even with the 2007 unveiling of the DF-31A, which has a range of 11,000 km and the under-development DF-41, which has a range of 13,000 km, China will only have around 50 (out of about 240-300 total) land based missiles capable of reaching the continental United States. The usefulness of these missiles, however, is limited because firing them at the U.S. would mean firing the missile over Russian territory, which could provoke a nuclear response from Russia.

The modernization of nuclear weapons by a foreign power is rightfully bound to cause some concern; however, much of the media reporting has painted the picture of a possible doomsday scenario that could happen today or tomorrow, and this is simply not the case. As Gregory Kulacki has noted, “under the counting rules of the New Start agreement between the United States and Russia, the size of China’s nuclear arsenal would officially be counted as zero. This is because the several hundred warheads China is believed to possess are not mated to the missiles that can deliver them, but are kept in storage, like the several thousand warheads the United States and Russia each hold in reserve in addition to the 1,550 each of the two nuclear superpowers are allowed to deploy under the treaty.”

It is also important to remember that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is more than enough to deter any actual attacks from China against the U.S. homeland, forward deployed U.S. troops, and U.S. allies. The United States has almost 2,000 warheads mounted on missiles that can reach China compared to the 45-50 warheads that can reach the United States, and this fact is well known by the Chinese government.

In other words, it is by no means time to bring back the nuclear attack drills taught in American schools during the Cold War, nor is it necessary to consider expanding our own nuclear program because of China.

Understanding China’s Nuclear Arsenal – Comments by Maj. General Yao

On April 8, 2013, the Carnegie Endowment hosted their biannual Nuclear Policy Conference.  The first day was marked by a panel featuring U.S. Acting Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, People’s Liberation Army Major General Yao Yunzhu (China,) and former Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, Alexei Arbatov.

The panel was entitled Prague 2.0? Deterrence, Disarmament and Nonproliferation in Obama’s Second Term but the conversation provided an opportunity for General Yao, director of the Center on China-American Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science, to offer some insights into China’s strategic thoughts and vision for its largely opaque nuclear program.

The major take-away from General Yao’s comments was her articulation of the three underpinnings of Chinese nuclear strategy.  According to General Yao, China’s nuclear arsenal requires three components: survivability, a penetration capacity and a deterrent threat.

General Yao repeatedly highlighted the Chinese no first-use doctrine and that more than ninety percent of the global nuclear arsenal is still controlled by the US and Russia, either as stored or deployed nuclear weapons.  In order to move toward a multilateral framework for arms control, General Yao said that the “U.S. and Russia have to do one or two rounds of negotiations to further reduce” their arsenals.

The panel also discussed further US-Russian bilateral reductions. During this conversation MP Abratov stated that “China is the only state that could quickly build up to level of U.S.-Russian” nuclear arsenal size.  

General Yao responded that, “China will not seek nuclear superiority” and that the smaller Nuclear Weapons States should promise not to enter an arms race with the U.S. or Russia.

MP Abratov called on the Chinese to be more transparent about the size of their nuclear arsenal.  “China is the only serious specter,” according to MP Abratov.  It seems strange for a Russian to criticize the Chinese on a lack of transparency with their arsenal which has been a hallmark of Soviet and Russian policy.

General Yao responded that due to the small size of the Chinese arsenal and its no first-use a “certain amount of opaqueness is necessary” to achieve its three required characteristics..  General Yao also noted the presence of Chinese underground tunnels as part of their survivability strategy. These tunnels have prompted a small number of observers to argue that China could be storing a much larger number of nuclear warheads than US intelligence estimates suggest, though there is little evidence to support this view.  

Undersecretary Gottemoeller did praise the Chinese for their efforts to lead a terminology working group for nuclear weapons that would help to create mutual understanding among the permanent five members of the UN Security Council.  She cited the need to “create fabric, environment for future multilateral negotiations.”  However, Undersecretary Gottemoeller seemed to be the only panelist looking forward to multilateral arms controls talks in the near-term.

U.S.-China Summit & North Korea

As expected, the joint statement produced by Presidents Obama and Hu was not ground-breaking on the North Korean issue. It is hard to say that there were any substantially new achievements. However, it was still a positive outcome with some meaningful points because it reflected both sides’ positions on contentious issues (regardless of an agreement), and it generally kept in line with the position of Washington’s allies.

Washington and Beijing agreed on some key points in general and in principle, but many of those key points are reaffirmation of each other’s original positions. The language is also heavily nuanced, which is normal in public diplomatic rhetoric. It appears Beijing has not steered far away from its original stance, and we can still see that Washington and Beijing hold differing views on those same key points.

Here’s a run-down of some initial thoughts on points that stand out: (Click “read more”)

(1.) “The United States and China emphasized the importance of an improvement in North-South relations and agreed that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step.”

It’s clear South Korea’s position was reflected in the joint statement because Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are pushing for inter-Korean dialogue to precede the Six Party Talks in the wake of consecutive North Korean attacks.

(2.) “(In this context), the United States and China expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program”

This is perhaps the most eye-catching because the joint statement specifically mentions “uranium enrichment program,” which is a term President Hu avoided in the joint press conference. This sentence is significant because it’s clear that Washington’s (and its allies’) position has been reflected in the joint statement, and it’s significant because it the term “uranium enrichment program” is specifically mentioned. It also shows Beijing is concerned about Pyongyang’s nuclear developments.

At the same time, however, the language has been left a bit vague to reflect Beijing’s main position with the phrase “claimed” uranium enrichment program. Just days before the summit, China’s foreign ministry made a public comment that failed to acknowledge the existence of a uranium enrichment facility shown to an American scientist last November. So it’s clear there are fundamental differences here.

Still, “the United States and China reiterated the need for concrete and effective steps to achieve the goal of denuclearization and for full implementation of the other commitments made in the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.” Hopefully this will translate into real action to jumpstart dialogue.

(3.) The joint statement did NOT specifically condemn North Korea’s attacks on South Korea: “Both sides expressed concern over heightened tensions on the Peninsula triggered by recent developments.”

However, President Obama said in their joint press conference that the two sides “agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations.”

What’s most important is how North Korea will respond, and how Washington and Beijing will follow up on their joint statement.

The joint statement says, “The two sides called for the necessary steps that would allow for early resumption of the Six-Party Talks process to address this and other relevant issues.” However, Washington and Beijing still disagree on the mechanics of moving forward. The U.S., South Korea and Japan want inter-Korean dialogue first, then the Six Party Talks. China, on the other hand, wants the Six Party Talks first and THEN deal with all outstanding issues. The concern surrounding Beijing’s proposal is that Pyongyang’s attacks will remain unresolved and overshadowed by six party nuclear negotiations, which many argue is exactly what North Korea wants.

The allies want the road to dialogue to generally look something like this:

Some gesture of taking responsibility for attacks ==> Inter-Korean dialogue ==> Genuine action reflecting a sincere will to denuclearize ==> U.S.-North Korea dialogue ==> Six Party Talks.

Washington will be debriefing Seoul on the summit by sending a senior official to South Korea. But aside from the summit’s results, we’ll likely see a flurry of diplomacy among the six parties in the weeks and months to come.  While it’s always tough to make predictions about diplomacy, we may see some real action as early as February, which is after President Obama’s State of the Union address next week.

Center Statement on U.S.-China Summit

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation released a statement yesterday prior to today’s U.S.-China summit prodding the two sides to jumpstart dialogue on the North Korean nuclear issue. Click here or here. (Some of you may know we’ve had s…