"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016

Loose Nukes in New Neighborhoods: The Next Generation of Proliferation Prevention

By Kenneth N. Luongo

In the initial weeks of the Obama administration, former Vice President Dick Cheney stated that there was a "high probability" of a terrorist attempt to use a nuclear weapon or biological agent and that "whether they can pull it off depends on what kind of policies we put in place." President Barack Obama, in his April 5 Prague speech, said that terrorists "are determined to buy, build, or steal" a nuclear weapon and that the international community must work "without delay" to ensure that they never acquire one. Obama also outlined a number of policies for locking down vulnerable nuclear material and strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

If both Cheney and Obama are right, that the threat is real and we are in a race against time, then the new administration needs to act quickly to adapt its nuclear and biological proliferation prevention strategies and threat reduction programs to combat this 21st-century challenge. This effort will require significantly increasing programmatic budgets, creating a robust globalized agenda, harmonizing U.S. government and international programs, removing bureaucratic and legal impediments to action, and utilizing new tools to defeat the new threats. The Obama administration needs to create a next-generation Global Proliferation Prevention Initiative.

Need for a New Concept

The international nuclear and biological threat reduction agenda now encompasses numerous U.S. government agencies and has a budget of more than $1.7 billion in the current fiscal year.[1] With U.S. activities as the core, these programs are supplemented by the Group of Eight (G-8) Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and several other multilateral initiatives, including the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

Although the threat is global, the overall effort is still culturally, politically, and financially very much rooted in one region: the former Soviet Union. This remains true even as many large-scale projects are nearing completion in Russia and the other former Soviet states. The budgets of key programs in the three major U.S. agencies participating in international threat reduction activities, the Departments of Defense, Energy, and State, currently still devote more than one-half of their combined funding to activities in Russia and the other former Soviet states.[2]

Congress has incrementally provided authority for U.S. agencies to expand their mission to other global hotspots; the agencies have exercised that authority primarily in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.[3] For example, the Defense Department has used the authority to remove chemical weapons from Albania and Libya. The Defense and State Departments and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, combined their resources to remove the nuclear infrastructure in Libya after that country abandoned its nuclear ambitions. The State Department's Biosecurity Engagement Program is working to improve biological security in Egypt, Jordan, and other African and Asian nations. Nevertheless, the entire Global Partnership program is still spending its money primarily in Russia, although the G-8 expanded the mandate at its July 2008 summit, stating, "[T]he Partnership will address...global challenges particularly in areas where the risks of terrorism and proliferation are greatest."[4] The follow-up to this statement has been minimal, although more details may surface at the G-8 summit in Italy in July. Still, despite the loosening of the geographic strictures, the effort is suffering from incremental thinking and adaptation.

Threat reduction programs have always suffered a certain political and bureaucratic pigeonholing and second-tier status. Even Obama's Prague speech, which called nuclear terrorism "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security," pushed this agenda to the back of the speech and led with the more politically popular arms control objectives.

In today's environment, there need to be strong and effective policy adjuncts to the traditional military, diplomatic, and intelligence tools for fighting proliferation. The existing threat reduction agenda needs to be reconceptualized as an integrated global proliferation prevention tool focused on the security, removal, and elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the targeting of the financing for illicit programs and activities.

Shifting to New Neighborhoods

The targets for an expanded preventive proliferation effort are evolving both geographically and substantively. Obama has made a very bold pledge to lead "an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years,"[5] and he also vowed to strengthen U.S. involvement in a broad range of bioproliferation prevention and response activities. (See Table 1.) What is lacking is a detailed strategy for attacking the problem frontally and rapidly with a modernized and comprehensive initiative to achieve these objectives. Conspicuously absent from the Prague speech was any mention of the need for improvements in global biosecurity policy and international coordination on this multifaceted and growing challenge.

To ensure that a new and refocused proliferation prevention effort achieves the same success in new states that the threat reduction programs have had in Russia and the other former Soviet states, several actions must be taken.

As a first step, the Global Proliferation Prevention Initiative needs to merge the best of the old and new cooperative threat reduction (CTR) policies and programs. As a recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report suggested, the effort needs to be updated from "CTR 1.0" to "CTR 2.0."[6] A new proliferation prevention initiative must be more agile, flexible, and globally responsive than the current efforts, while retaining the cooperative and results-focused core of current CTR programs.

Importantly, the effort needs to be operationally multilateral, rather than U.S. dominated. This requires better coordination among allies and may require utilizing non-U.S. funding and letting other countries lead efforts in order to overcome any allergy that may exist to U.S.-led initiatives. In particular, Russia and the United States should find a way to share global nuclear nonproliferation responsibilities based on their past history of post-Soviet cooperation.

Also, the proliferation prevention activities need to be given the same legitimacy as the more traditional treaty-based approach to managing proliferation challenges. Both political and financial capital need to be put behind the effort, and the new concept must be driven home within the executive branch, with congressional policymakers, and with the G-8 Global Partnership and other partners.

In addition, the metrics for this initiative should be broadened to recognize the value of cooperation and engagement. These softer, more intangible benefits of the threat reduction approach are very important, but they are politically difficult to comprehend and sell, in part because they were not part of the original threat reduction legislation. These metrics now need to be legitimized because their value has been proven over time. They should be formally incorporated into a new national security directive and legislation. Then, there could be no dispute in the future about the value of the intangibles as legitimate measures of success.

Finally, at home, the United States must ensure that its own agencies and policies are well coordinated. For example, the Department of the Treasury's new "smart" sanctions program recognizes the reality of integrated global financial markets and utilizes them to combat proliferators. The program targets the proliferators' financing networks and denies them access to essential global financial institutions and mechanisms. By freezing and then releasing the personal assets of a number of North Korean officials, the program is probably most responsible for pushing that country's government to fulfill, at least partially, its commitment to abandon its nuclear program. The targeted sanctions are an essential part of the proliferation prevention initiative even if they never were an integral part of the threat reduction agenda. Obama's Prague speech usefully underscored the importance of these "financial tools."

New Target Countries and Regions

As the cooperative proliferation prevention agenda globalizes, it is necessary to look at which countries and regions it might encompass. As it relates to radiological material security and elimination, virtually every country is a target, especially the medical facilities utilizing medical radiological sources. Major U.S. friends, foes, and strategic competitors all are ripe for consideration.

  • The denuclearization of North Korea is a major international objective that, if it occurs, would require significant multinational involvement. The cost for the dismantling of the existing nuclear infrastructure in North Korea is estimated to be about $700 million. The United States would likely pay this entire amount, and the Obama administration has already requested some funding for this project in its first supplemental appropriations request.[7] In addition, if North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex is eliminated, the West may also have to address the issue of excess weapons scientists and the redirection of their activities. Beyond the nuclear program, North Korea has a significant biological infrastructure that also poses a lurking danger.[8]
  • The new U.S.-Indian civil nuclear cooperation agreement did not dwell on the issue of the security of India's nuclear facilities beyond the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on its declared civilian nuclear facilities. New Delhi has rebuffed efforts by Washington to engage more deeply on this issue. As a state that is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and that has been given an exception from standard nuclear cooperation rules, India should be more willing to engage in a dialogue about how it can assure the highest levels of safety and security for nuclear materials and weapons. The muddled response to the bolt-from-the-blue terrorist attack on Mumbai and ongoing terrorist activity in India inevitably raise questions about adequate nuclear security, even though India's nuclear facilities are presumably much better protected than soft civilian sites.
  • The United States and Pakistan have had an ongoing dialogue and cooperation on nuclear security since 2001. Reportedly the United States has provided $100 million for equipment and training. This work, initiated during the administrations of George W. Bush and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, will likely continue under the new governments in Washington and Islamabad. In recent years, Pakistan has worked with the United States on biological security, but the nuclear security cooperation is ripe for expansion as the intensity of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has increased. Also, there are continuing questions about insider threats at nuclear facilities. In addition, Pakistani officials have indicated an interest in working with Washington on the issue of retired weapons scientist redirection, but they have not received much of a response from their U.S. counterparts.[9]
  • There has been a nuclear security dialogue between China and the U.S. Energy Department dating back to the 1990s, but it is low-key and cautious. Because China has a close relationship with Pakistan, the former could be a conduit for engaging the latter in more intensive and sensitive cooperation on nuclear security. Also, the May 2008 earthquakes in western China came perilously close to elements of the country's nuclear infrastructure, including a research reactor, two nuclear fuel production facilities, and two weapons sites, all within 40 to 90 miles of the epicenter.[10] Discussions with the United States on how to enhance the resistance of nuclear facilities to earthquakes could be productive. Another very sensitive but vital issue for U.S.-Chinese discussions is preventing nuclear leakage from North Korea and preparing to ensure adequate nuclear security in the event of political transition in that country if it is not denuclearized first.
  • Interest in nuclear power development in the Middle East is rising, and 16 nations have expressed interest in it.[11] Just before leaving office, the Bush administration signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates. The expansion of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure is one reason, among others, for this increase in regional interest in nuclear power. Growth on the scale currently estimated, however, could be dangerous and far exceed the ability of the IAEA to monitor effectively.[12] The Obama administration has pledged to double the U.S. contribution to the IAEA budget over the next four years, to a total of about $225 million annually.[13] One useful focus of this expanded funding could be to support enhanced IAEA monitoring in the region. In addition, the IAEA's activities could be supplemented under a proliferation prevention initiative by the creation of a U.S. or multilaterally funded nuclear monitoring and training effort in the region.
  • Asia is one of the world's fastest-growing biotechnology regions. In fact, the growth of publicly traded biotechnology companies in the Asia-Pacific region outpaced growth in the United States and Europe in 2007.[14] The international community has not agreed on uniform biosecurity standards, and there is a lack of knowledge and adherence to best biosecurity practices in a number of countries. That situation raises the risk of accidental or intentional misapplication of biotechnology as the industry expands. The State Department is already engaged on this issue, but its resources are inadequate to meet the challenge. Additional funding should be provided to expand the scope of efforts to improve biological security in Asia.

The new global targets of opportunity are important, but functional issues can and should drive an expanded proliferation prevention agenda.

New Tools to Drive the Agenda

The original CTR agenda grew out of a congressional initiative, but the drivers for a robust, globalized proliferation prevention effort could come from a number of other sources.

Expanding the Budget

To advance the proliferation prevention agenda, Congress and the administration need to act in the short term to ramp up the budget significantly in the nuclear and biological areas. Over the past several years, the international nuclear and biological threat reduction budget has remained essentially static, with occasional significant decreases and increases to certain programs.[15] The new administration reportedly has indicated that it will increase its fiscal year 2010 budget request to meet the president's initiative to accelerate control of loose nuclear materials. It has already taken a first step with the submission of its supplemental appropriations request, which contained $186.5 million for nonproliferation activities.[16]

Another step the administration reportedly is ready to take is to increase the budget for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs in fiscal year 2010 and then to substantially increase the budget for each of the next four years to a total increase of roughly $2.4 billion.[17] This would bring the NNSA nonproliferation budget up to about $3.5 billion by fiscal year 2015. This is an admirable financial goal and certainly should be enough money to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological stockpiles. Yet, if the budget ramps up too slowly and gradually, it may not allow Obama to meet his four-year promise. Roughly $1 billion could be used by the NNSA alone to accelerate existing activities and capitalize on new opportunities in fiscal year 2010. Therefore, the budget ramp-up should be concentrated in the early years rather than the later years.

Clarifying Authorities

The Obama administration has acted on the long-standing proposal to create a nonproliferation czar whose job is to bring cohesion to the nonproliferation policy elements that are spread across multiple U.S. agencies.

One important action that the new czar could take is to clarify and improve the authorities that govern the use of existing CTR-related funds and future proliferation prevention budgets. For example, transfer authorities between agencies should be streamlined so that the agency best suited to carry out a specific nonproliferation task can do so as rapidly as possible without being hampered by bureaucracy or statutory limitations. Under current law, the State Department's Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF) is the only program allowed to finance work in a country that the United States has sanctioned, such as North Korea or Iran, without receiving a waiver to the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act.

The "notwithstanding any other provision of law" authority enjoyed by the NDF should be expanded on a limited and trial basis to all other relevant agencies and programs. Agencies conducting nonproliferation programs need some unrestricted funding, perhaps 10 percent of the total as suggested by the NAS report, and the latitude to reprioritize funding based on changing conditions. Illustrating this need, even if the Defense and Energy Departments were cleared to work in North Korea, their programs may not have unobligated funds-i.e., funding that has not yet been allocated for a specific purpose-available for a new project. Although budgetary priority should be given to established program line items, small contingency funds are needed to address unexpected threats, and the current funding authorities are not well suited for this purpose.

In addition, U.S. programs should expand their ability to take contributions from foreign governments for relevant work and to send money to foreign countries if another country is leading an important nonproliferation effort. The NNSA Global Threat Reduction Initiative has already accepted funds from third parties, and Congress provided the same authorization this year to the NNSA's International Nuclear Material Protection and Cooperation program and Russian Plutonium Disposition program. These authorities should be used as a model for other agencies.

Finally, there are questions as to whether the United States has in place all the authorities necessary to recover, remove, and dispose of nuclear, radiological, and biological materials, especially those that may need to be returned to this country. A review of these authorities should be conducted, and any limitations should be remedied by appropriate legislative or executive action.

Creating New Initiatives

One of Obama's key nonproliferation goals is to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials and warheads within four years. Undoubtedly there will be considerable debate inside the administration about how to define and meet this goal, but there is a range of other initiatives that the administration should also pursue as part of a next-generation tool kit to combat WMD threats.

Nonproliferation Enterprise Fund. A "nonproliferation enterprise fund" would allow government programs to form more effective partnerships with the nongovernmental and university communities to assist in nuclear and other nonproliferation analysis. A part of this fund could be dedicated to the development of "the next generation of nonproliferation experts," who would be required to perform some government service in return for educational and training support. This proposal is similar to the collaboration between the federal government and U.S. research universities on energy issues and could be funded at a modest $25 million per year to start.

Multilateral WMD Rapid Reaction Force. Given the unpredictable nature of WMD crises, there is a need for domestic and international forces that would allow for quick and coordinated action in the face of a nuclear, radiological, or biological emergency or disarmament opportunity. This type of force would allow, in advance of a crisis, for the clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities among agencies and partner countries based on threat or opportunity scenarios. It would require dedicated funding for operations, transport, integrated training, and related issues. In addition, it would ensure that all the necessary legal authorities are put in place to allow for the rapid extraction and return of foreign nuclear, radiological, or biological materials and other assets to the United States or other countries if necessary.

Private-Public Partnership for Nonproliferation Funding. In the globalized environment, it is essential to look beyond purely governmental structures and address opportunities for partnership among government, civil society, and the private sector to create innovative nonproliferation solutions. Such collaboration could result in a new, multidisciplinary "Iron Triangle," with government institutions providing the authority and funding, nongovernmental organizations providing their unique analyses and creative approaches to emerging challenges, and the private sector, especially in the nuclear and biological areas, assuming a new partnership role and driving innovative solutions.

One proposal to operationalize this new cooperation is for the nuclear industry to contribute to a nonproliferation fund that could increase funding for IAEA activities or be used for other international nonproliferation purposes. One option is that, for every dollar in direct subsidies for new nuclear power plants that the U.S. government provides, the nuclear industry would be required to contribute a portion, perhaps 0.1 percent, to the nonproliferation fund. Alternatively, if the United States provides only loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, the industry would pay into the nonproliferation fund a small percentage of the underwriting costs of the government-funded guarantees. Another, more global alternative is to require utilities to contribute 0.01 cents of the price of each nuclear-generated kilowatt-hour to the nonproliferation fund.[18]

These ideas are similar to the responsibilities that governments have imposed on the nuclear industry to deal with waste management, and the cost could be 10 percent of that levy. In this case, it would link the nuclear power industry into the security dialogue, recognize explicitly the security implications of the expansion of nuclear power, offer a reputational benefit for the nuclear power industry, and increase the pool of funds available for addressing nuclear security challenges. Similar proposals that link the biotechnology industry into the biosecurity debate also should be explored.

New Treaties and Agreements. The U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction treaties and the Chemical Weapons Convention have provided important drivers for the Defense Department CTR program and its nonproliferation spending priorities. In the near term, there may be a follow-on to START, which expires at the end of 2009. Because Obama has called for global reductions in nuclear weapons, the START process could be expanded to other nuclear-weapon states. In addition, the new administration has identified a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) as a U.S. policy goal. As these agreements are pursued, however, a number of other initiatives could be undertaken as part of a next-generation proliferation prevention regime.

  • UN Security Council Resolution 1540 Implementation: UN Security Council Resolution 1540 requires all nations to report on their nuclear, chemical, and biological security status and nonproliferation activities. Compliance with this mandate has been inconsistent. It would be very useful for the Global Partnership members to provide financial, technical, and manpower support to those countries that need to do a better job of reporting but do not have the resources.[19]
  • FMCT: An FMCT faces significant challenges. For example, India and Pakistan are opposed to the treaty and continue to produce fissile materials for their weapons programs. One possibility is for the five NPT nuclear-weapon states to take the lead in advance of the 2010 NPT Review Conference and announce that they will agree to end fissile material production. There could be significant challenges in this more limited concept as well, but these five states have stopped making fissile material for weapons, and this could be a common starting point.[20]
  • Global Partnership Reconceptualization: The G-8 Global Partnership is in need of reconfiguration and expansion. A new proposal is to create from the partnership a multilateral ready reserve that would train for and be prepared to respond to proliferation and WMD challenges.[21] The concept is not unusual, as some countries participate in this type of coalition under the PSI. The proposal for the Global Partnership, however, would expand the concept beyond cargo in transit and would allow for an interchangeable lineup of countries to address the challenges that arise. This approach would use PSI-type exercises, but with more structure and with a focus on the protection, removal, and elimination of WMD materials and infrastructure. The multilateral force would require identification of resources, material, and manpower and plans for short-notice mobilization and assignment of responsibilities.
  • Global Nuclear Security Standard: Despite the detailed technical information provided by the IAEA for the safeguarding of nuclear facilities and the other domestic and international conventions and regulations that govern nuclear material protection, there is no universally accepted standard for securing nuclear materials and weapons. The new administration, as part of its proposed Global Summit on Nuclear Security, should call for the establishment of a minimum nuclear security standard to jump-start this process.[22]
  • A Global Biosecurity Pact: The lack of broadly recognized and adhered-to international standards for biosecurity is a looming global danger. As the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism has pointed out, although biotechnology "has benefited humanity by enabling advances in medicine and in agriculture, it has also increased the availability of pathogens and technologies that can be used for sinister purposes."[23] There needs to be an effort to move all countries with life-science research to a common set of security standards. Such an agreement could provide for improved biotechnology trigger lists, beyond those maintained and observed by the Australia Group. These objectives will be extremely difficult to accomplish because the biotech industry is largely owned by private entities, is spreading rapidly around the globe, and generally resists demands for broad intrusiveness. As a first step, developing countries could be offered financial support to assist them in rising to the highest biosecurity and safety standards as defined by the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Funds also could be provided for the improvement of the "network of networks" that serves as the informal, voluntary, transparent monitoring and reporting structure on biological issues and developments. Additionally, the NNSA Second Line of Defense program and the Homeland Security Department's Container Security Initiative should explore the benefits of installing biodetection technologies along with their nuclear screening equipment overseas as an adjunct to the use of medical surveillance to detect pathogens and terrorist smuggling of biological agents.

Maintaining the Old Neighborhood

While the global expansion of the proliferation prevention agenda is pursued and loose nukes in new neighborhoods are locked down, it is important not to lose sight of the enormous security investment that the United States and other Global Partnership members have made in Russia and the other former Soviet states. All the countries involved in that effort must ensure that the quality of the equipment and training remains high as the Western countries hand over control to the former Soviet states. Congress has legislated that the bulk of U.S. funding for Russian nuclear security be completed by 2012. As a result, U.S. officials are in a dialogue with Russia on the issue of the long-term sustainability of the substantial U.S. investment in Russian security improvements, but the progress has been slow. The United States needs to continue its engagement with Russia and the other former Soviet states, and it needs to check the equipment periodically after the 2012 deadline.

In addition, several other initiatives beyond the current scope of the discussion could be undertaken. One is the installation of a satellite uplink on all portal monitors and perimeter security equipment. The satellites would provide real-time reporting on the equipment's operational status and would log security alerts and breaches. Because of the sensitive location of much of the security equipment in Russia, the information could be downloaded to a regional monitoring center that could be manned jointly by U.S. and Russian specialists. This effort could be supplemented by a U.S.-Russian nuclear security hotline that would allow for immediate communication on suspicious incidents. Such a connection already exists between the United States and Russia to reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange stemming from accident, miscalculation, or surprise attack,[24] and the IAEA manages an Incident and Emergency Center to monitor nuclear reactor safety around the globe.[25] This idea would extend these concepts to nuclear materials security. The proposal is likely to meet stiff resistance from the nuclear bureaucracy in Russia, and in the United States if the proposal is reciprocal, but that should not be a deterrent to action in support of greater nuclear security.

This concept could be expanded globally for civilian facilities monitored by the IAEA. In this case, the monitoring center could be manned by rotating international experts. But the goal would be the same: constant real-time monitoring of all nuclear facilities under safeguards, IAEA or domestic, and rapid global alerting and response to security breaches.

This concept could be supplemented by the establishment of regional training centers that could promote nuclear materials security in key regions around the globe. These centers would serve to cultivate a local security culture, improve efficiency by consolidating training courses rather than repeating training to multiple audiences, and provide ready access to best practices for new partners. These training centers could be initiated with U.S. funding but supplemented or ultimately fully supported by Global Partnership nations and the IAEA.


Obama made his first major nuclear security speech just 75 days after he took office, a signal of the importance he places on preventing nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The policies that he committed the United States to pursue are important for U.S. and global security, and they create a firm foundation for progress. Many of the policy proposals are well known, however, and most of the nuclear policy details were left unspoken. Perhaps more importantly, the acute dangers posed by biological terrorism and proliferation were not addressed.

As the new administration works to develop its full suite of policies, it must think beyond the mere expansion and adaptation of the existing arms control and threat reduction models and programs, and beyond the atom, and focus on how to construct a transformative next-generation proliferation prevention strategy. Creating a Global Proliferation Prevention Initiative would build on the current structures and include new policy ideas and tools, players and coalitions, and funding. It would squarely face the reality that domestic and international institutions and bureaucracies are having difficulty maintaining pace with evolving 21st-century threats and challenges. By tackling these issues early, creatively, and comprehensively, the United States can lead the world toward the enhanced global security and international stability that are so desperately needed.

Table 1: Obama’s Commitments to Securing Loose Nukes and Preventing Bioterrorism

In his April 5 Prague speech, President Barack Obama highlighted the need to ensure global nuclear security. Although his Prague remarks largely restated the nuclear nonproliferation goals that he had articulated during his campaign, they represented needed leadership on these globally vital issues. The table below summarizes Obama’s commitments to securing loose nuclear materials and preventing nuclear and biological terrorism. As the accompanying article explains, the administration should go further than Obama did in the Prague speech. In particular, it should develop a stronger focus on biosecurity and bioterrorism as well as embrace the new ideas, tools, players, coalitions, and funding that can result in the creation of a next-generation nonproliferation strategy that is adaptable and robust enough to meet 21st-century threats.

Securing Vulnerable Nuclear MaterialsSecuring Vulnerable Nuclear Materials
Campaign Commitments Prague Speech
Lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years Undertake a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years
Work with Russia and other nations to implement a comprehensive set of standards to protect nuclear materials from theft Set new standards, expand U.S. cooperation with Russia, and pursue new partnerships to lock down sensitive materials
Build state capacity to prevent the theft, diversion, or spread of nuclear materials
Strengthen policing and interdiction efforts, such as by the institutionalization of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) Turn efforts such as the PSI and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism into international institutions
Increase pace of deployment of nuclear security detectors at key border crossings Build on efforts to break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt dangerous trade
Convene a summit on preventing nuclear terrorism in 2009 and regularly thereafter in order to agree on globally implemented measures to prevent nuclear terrorism Convene a Global Summit on Nuclear Security hosted by the United States within a year
Strengthen nuclear risk reduction work at the Departments of Defense, Energy, and State
Preventing Bioterrorism
Campaign Commitments
Provide assistance to states in meeting their commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the Biological Weapons Convention
Strengthen U.S. intelligence collection overseas to identify and interdict would-be bioterrorists before they strike
Build capacity to mitigate the consequences of bioterrorism attacks, for example, by linking health care providers, hospitals, and public health agencies and investing in electronic health information systems
Accelerate development of new medicines, vaccines, and production capabilities
Expand development of bioforensics program
Create a Shared Security Partnership that forges an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks

Sources: Arms Control Association, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Obama for America, Organizing for America, U.S. embassy in Prague

Data compiled by Michelle Marchesano, Partnership for Global Security



Kenneth N. Luongo is president of the Partnership for Global Security and a former senior adviser on nonproliferation policy to the secretary of energy.


1. Total fiscal year 2009 funding for international nuclear and biological proliferation prevention includes funds from the Departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, and State. Excluding the Homeland Security Department, the amount is $1.7 billion. Michelle Marchesano, "Funding Analysis of FY09 International WMD Security Programs," PGS Policy Update, April 2, 2009, www.partnershipforglobalsecurity.org/documents/fy09_wmd_security_programs_final_funding.pdf.

2. In fiscal year 2009, the cumulative Russia/FSU component accounted for more than 60 percent of the total combined funding of the four major U.S. government threat reduction programs. The individual percentages for the four programs are as follows: Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction program, 98 percent ($424 million); Energy Department's International Nuclear Material Protection and Cooperation program (INMPC), 56 percent ($224 million); Energy Department's Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), 34 percent ($134 million); and State Department's Global Threat Reduction program, roughly 50 percent ($30 million). Marchesano, "Funding Analysis of FY09 International WMD Security Programs," and personal communication with program officials.

3. Beginning in 2002, the annual authorization bills began to include language that expanded the authorities of programs in the Defense, Energy, and State Departments to conduct threat reduction work globally. For a full list, see Committee on Strengthening and Expanding the Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and Committee on International Security and Arms Control Policy and Global Affairs, "Global Security Engagement," National Academy of Sciences, 2009 (hereinafter NAS Global Security Engagement report). Most recently, in fiscal year 2009, $10 million was provided for the Defense Department's CTR activities outside the former Soviet Union. Marchesano, "Funding Analysis of FY09 International WMD Security Programs."

4. "G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit Leaders Declaration," July 8, 2008, para. 64, www.mofa.go.jp/policy/economy/summit/2008/doc/doc080714__en.html.

5. Barack Obama, "Remarks of President Barack Obama," Prague, April 5, 2009, http://prague.usembassy.gov/obama.html.

6. NAS Global Security Engagement report.

7. For the text of the supplemental appropriations request, dated April 9, 2009, see www.whitehouse.gov/omb/asset.aspx?AssetId=1086 (hereinafter president's supplemental appropriations request).

8. Richard Stone, "A Wary Pas de Deux," Science, September 17, 2004, pp. 1696-1703.

9. Personal communication with Pakistani officials.

10. Gethin Chamberlain, "Chinese Earthquake: Nuclear Sites Alerted," Telegraph.co.uk, May 17, 2008, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/1974263/Chinese-earthquake-nuclear-sites-alerted.html.

11. Sharon Squassoni, Nuclear Energy: Rebirth or Resuscitation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C., March 2009, p. 55, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/nuclear_energy_rebirth_resuscitation.pdf.

12. For growth projections, see ibid., pp. 48-61.

13. See www.barackobama.com/pdf/issues/HomelandSecurityFactSheet.pdf.

14. Ernst and Young, "Beyond Borders: Global Biotechnology Report 2008," 2008, p. 93, http://www.ey.com/US/en/Industries/Biotechnology/Biotechnology_Beyond_Borders_2008.

15. Marchesano, "Funding Analysis of FY09 International WMD Security Programs"; Partnership for Global Security, "International WMD Security Programs Funding," April 2, 2009, www.partnershipforglobalsecurity.org/documents/fy06_09_cumulative_wmd_security_program_funding.pdf.

16. The president's request includes $89.5 million for the NNSA and $97 million for the State Department. Within the NNSA's $89.5 million amount, $55 million is for the INMPC "to counter emerging threats at nuclear facilities in Russia and other countries of concern though detecting and deterring insider threats through security upgrades"; $25 million is for GTRI "to complete disablement tasks and to initiate spent fuel disposition and other denuclearization efforts" in North Korea; and $9.5 million is for the Nonproliferation and International Security program "for the disablement and dismantlement support for the denuclearization efforts" in North Korea. Within the State Department's $97 million amount that is directed to the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund, "$47 million is to support dismantlement of nuclear facilities in North Korea and $50 million is to provide border security equipment, training, and program management for Egypt to prevent smuggling of illicit goods into Gaza." President's supplemental appropriation request, pp. 68, 88.

17. "Sustained Nonproliferation Increase Called For," Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, Vol. 13, No. 6 (February 16, 2009), p. 3.

18. The latter alternative was developed by Frank von Hippel and could generate approximately $80 million per year in the United States and $250 million per year on a global basis. For more information, see International Panel on Fissile Materials, "Global Fissile Material Report 2008," 2008, p. 115, n. 93, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08.pdf.

19. For more analysis of what is required to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1540, see Elizabeth Turpen, "Non-State Actors and Nonproliferation: The NGO Role in Implementing UNSCR 1540," August 6, 2007, www.stimson.org/pub.cfm?ID=538; Lawrence Scheinman, ed., "Implementing Resolution 1540: The Role of Regional Organizations," UNIDIR/2008/8, September 2008, www.unidir.org/bdd/fiche-article.php?ref_article=2747.

20. "Only India, Pakistan and possibly Israel, continue to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons. The United States, United Kingdom, Russia, [and] France...have officially announced an end to their production for weapons, while China has indicated this unofficially." International Panel on Fissile Materials, "Global Fissile Material Report 2008," p. 7. This FMCT proposal has also been promoted by former State Department official Ambassador Norman A. Wulf.

21. Partnership for Global Security, "G-8 Global Partnership: Adapting to New Realities," Washington, D.C., July 9, 2008, www.partnershipforglobalsecurity.org/Documents/press_release_g8gp_final.pdf (press release).

22. See Matthew Bunn, "Securing the Bomb 2007," September 2007, pp. 40, 107-108, www.nti.org/e_research/securingthebomb07.pdf.

23. World at Risk: the Report of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, New York: Vintage, 2008.

24. A 1963 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union established a direct communication link between the two states. "Hot Line Agreement (1963)," atomicarchive.com, n.d., www.atomicarchive.com/Treaties/Treaty2.shtml.

25. Kirstie Hansen, "A Life-Saving Hotline: The IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre Answers the Call," November 9, 2006, www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Features/IEC/hotline.html.


In the initial weeks of the Obama administration, former Vice President Dick Cheney stated that there was a "high probability" of a terrorist attempt to use a nuclear weapon or biological agent and that "whether they can pull it off depends on what kind of policies we put in place." President Barack Obama, in his April 5 Prague speech, said that terrorists "are determined to buy, build, or steal" a nuclear weapon and that the international community must work "without delay" to ensure that they never acquire one. Obama also outlined a number of policies for locking down vulnerable nuclear material and strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime. (Continue)

Chinese Report Discusses Nuclear Planning

Peter Crail

On Jan. 20, China issued its biennial defense white paper, which explained for the first time how its nuclear force would respond to different situations in line with its policy of "no first use of nuclear weapons." The paper, entitled "China's National Defense in 2008," is the sixth Beijing has issued since 1998.

China's primary strategic nuclear force is maintained by its Second Artillery Corps, which Beijing states "takes as its fundamental mission the protection of China from any nuclear attack." Although the paper's description of the role of the Second Artillery Corps focused on its nuclear forces, the corps also has a conventional precision-strike missile capability.

China outlined in broad terms three phases of readiness for the nuclear forces of its Second Artillery Corps. In peacetime, the paper asserts that China's nuclear missiles "are not aimed at any country." Other nuclear-armed states, including the United States, have made similar assurances regarding not targeting their nuclear arms.

If threatened by a nuclear attack, Beijing states that its nuclear missiles "go into a state of alert and get ready for a nuclear counterattack" to deter the use of nuclear weapons. Lastly, in the event of a nuclear attack against China, the paper indicates that the Second Artillery Corps will launch a nuclear counterattack "either independently or together with the nuclear forces of other services."

China's navy has maintained a small sea-based nuclear missile capability since 1983. It has been developing a new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and is believed to be working on a more advanced submarine-launched nuclear missile. China has an estimated stockpile of 100-200 nuclear weapons.

Although China has consistently claimed that it would only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack, the United States has questioned the credibility of that assurance. A 2008 annual Pentagon report on China's military power stated that "doctrinal materials suggest additional missions for China's nuclear forces include deterring conventional attacks against [Chinese] nuclear assets or conventional attacks with [weapons of mass destruction]-like effects." The report notes, however, that Chinese officials have offered public and private assurances that its no-first-use pledge would not change and that the policy has support in China's military.

In addition to describing China's nuclear force planning, the paper appears to provide a limited explanation of the country's strategic nuclear modernization efforts. It states that the Second Artillery Corps "strives to raise the informationization (sic) level of its weaponry and equipment, ensure their safety and reliability," and enhance a variety of missile capabilities. In particular, it states that the development of the Second Artillery Corps' nuclear and missile forces has allowed it to deploy solid-fueled and liquid-fueled missiles of varying ranges and with "different types of warheads."

China does not indicate the nature of the types of warheads it has developed. It is unclear if such an explanation helps to assuage concerns expressed by the United States and its allies regarding China's lack of transparency in its military modernization efforts, including its nuclear forces and delivery systems. The 2008 Pentagon report asserted that Chinese leaders have not yet explained the rationale and objectives behind its strategic modernization, increasing the risk of "misunderstanding and miscalculation."

On Jan. 20, China issued its biennial defense white paper, which explained for the first time how its nuclear force would respond to different situations in line with its policy of "no first use of nuclear weapons." The paper, entitled "China's National Defense in 2008," is the sixth Beijing has issued since 1998.

China's primary strategic nuclear force is maintained by its Second Artillery Corps, which Beijing states "takes as its fundamental mission the protection of China from any nuclear attack." Although the paper's description of the role of the Second Artillery Corps focused on its nuclear forces, the corps also has a conventional precision-strike missile capability. (Continue)

Chinese-U.S. Strategic Affairs: Dangerous Dynamism

Christopher P. Twomey

Many aspects of the Chinese-U.S. relationship are mutually beneficial: some $400 billion in trade, bilateral military exchanges, and Beijing's increasingly constructive diplomatic role. There are other grounds for concern. Each side's militaries view the other as a potential adversary and increasingly make plans and structure their forces with that in mind.

On the conventional side, there are many important areas to consider, but the potential for nuclear rivalry raises monumental risks. This article assesses the dangers in the bilateral nuclear relationship, the potential for traditional arms control to address these challenges, the broadening of the "strategic" military sphere, and the issue of proliferation beyond the bilateral relationship.

Strategic relations are not at the center of Chinese-U.S. relations today. They do not deserve to be tomorrow. They are, however, rising appropriately in importance and must be managed proactively.

The Core Bilateral Strategic Relationship

China and the United States are not in a strategic weapons arms race. Nonetheless, their modernization and sizing decisions increasingly are framed with the other in mind. Nuclear weapons are at the core of this interlocking pattern of development. In particular, China is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council expanding its arsenal; it is also enhancing its arsenal. The basic facts of Chinese strategic modernization are well known, if the details remain frustratingly opaque. China is deploying road-mobile, solid-fueled missiles, giving it a heighted degree of security in its second-strike capability. It is beginning to deploy ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). It is researching a wide range of warhead and delivery systems technologies that will lead to increased accuracy and, more pointedly, increased penetration against ballistic missile defenses. The size of China's deliverable arsenal against the United States will undoubtedly increase beyond the few dozen that it possessed recently.[1] The pace of growth thus far has been moderate, although China has only recently developed reliable, survivable delivery systems. The final endpoint remains mired in opacity and uncertainty, although several score of deliverable warheads seems likely for the near term. These developments on the strategic side are coupled with elements of conventional modernization that impinge on the strategic balance.[2]

The relevant issue, however, is not simply an evaluation of the Chinese modernization program, but rather an evaluation of the interaction of that modernization with U.S. capabilities and interests. U.S. capabilities are also changing. Under the provisions of START and SORT, the United States has continued to engage in quantitative reductions of its operational nuclear arsenal. At the same, there is ongoing updating of warhead guidance and fusing systems. Ballistic missile defense systems of a variety of footprints are being deployed. The U.S. SSBN force now leans more toward the Pacific than the Atlantic, reversing the Cold War deployment. Guam's capacity to support heavy bombers and attack submarines has been enhanced. Furthermore, advances in U.S. conventional weaponry have been so substantial that they too promise strategic effects: prompt global strike holds out the promise of a U.S. weapon on target anywhere in the world in less than an hour and B-2s with highly accurate weapons can sustain strategic effects over a campaign.

What are the concerns posed by these two programs of dynamic strategic arsenals? Most centrally, the development of the strategic forces detailed above has increasingly assumed an interlocked form. The U.S. revolution in precision guided munitions was followed by an emphasis on mobility in the Chinese missile force. U.S. missile defense systems have clearly spurred an emphasis on countermeasures in China's ICBM force and quantitative buildups in its regional missile arsenals.[3] Beijing's new submarine-based forces further enhance the security of China's second-strike capability in the face of a potential U.S. strike but are likely to lead to increased attention to anti-submarine warfare in the United States. China's recent anti-satellite test provoked a U.S. demonstration of similar capabilities. Such reciprocal responses have the potential to move toward a tightly coupled arms race and certainly have already worsened threat perceptions on each side. The potential for conflict is not simply that of inadvertent escalation; there are conflicts of interests between the two. Heightening threat perceptions in that context greatly complicates diplomacy.

Further, the dangers of inadvertent escalation have been exacerbated by some of these moves. Chinese SSBN deployment will stress an untested command-and-control system. Similar dangers in the Cold War were mitigated, although not entirely overcome, over a period of decades of development of personnel and technical solutions. China appears to have few such controls in place today. U.S. deployment of highly accurate nuclear warheads is consistent with a first-strike doctrine and seems sized for threats larger than "rogue" nations. These too would undermine stability in an intense crisis.

Prospects for Improvement?

There is no simple solution for this set of problems. The differences in national interests held by Beijing and Washington are not likely to be materially affected by Barack Obama's inauguration as president. That said, the unilateralist and anti-institutional approach to arms control that characterized the Bush administration is likely to wane. The Chinese are not currently interested in discussing traditional bilateral arms control agreements for two reasons: doing so suggests an equating of the contemporary Chinese-U.S. relationship with the Cold War standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States and the U.S. arsenal remains much larger than China's. Yet, it is wrong to expect such views to hold in perpetuity. Beijing's emphasis on ambiguity about its arsenal, which is incompatible with serious negotiations over arms control, is not a cultural predisposition toward "strategic deception" any more than was the Soviet Union's early Cold War emphasis on secrecy. Instead, these are rational strategies when nuclear arsenals are small. Intrusive verification eventually became conceivable even to hard-line Soviet leaders. Certainly, economic exhaustion contributed to that change, but so too did fundamental changes in Soviet threat perceptions.[4] Although the former seems unlikely in China in the near term, the latter is something that might be fomented.

The further development of those U.S.-Russian arms control discussions will have critical implications for China. If follow-on agreements to START and SORT include further quantitative reductions, as is likely, they will again move the U.S. arsenal toward an important rhetorical threshold that China has used to justify its own stance on bilateral arms control. This poses risks and opportunities. The opportunity to bring the other nuclear powers to the table, even informally, as the Russian-U.S. discussions progress would be a useful vehicle to elicit China's interest in serious moves in this area. The risk of enticing China to engage in an arsenal buildup to U.S. levels is not one that should be overstated. At the geostrategic level as well as in operational doctrine as it is understood, China's approach to nuclear strategy has emphasized elements that would be inconsistent with a large buildup: counter-value rather than counter-force or war-fighting doctrines, a historical tolerance of much lower arsenal sizes given a perception of the limited utility of nuclear forces, and, explicitly, avoidance of a strategic arms race. The United States can actively reduce these risks further.

Deepening engagement on nuclear and nuclear-related strategic issues would be constructive in this regard. Bilateral confidence measures between China and the United States could be discussed, particularly in the area of declaratory policy. The Chinese have often asked why the United States is unwilling to offer a no-first-use pledge. A blanket no-first-use pledge might undermine U.S. credibility in other regions. Yet, a pledge narrowly confined to the Chinese-U.S. arena would seem to have fewer costs. What benefits would the United States garner from such a pledge from Beijing? Similarly, would Beijing view positively a definitive statement that the United States accepts the existence of a Chinese secure second-strike capability? For what might the United States hope in return? These questions remain unanswered.

Other steps could move beyond diplomacy alone. Detailed discussions with China of U.S. warhead modernization plans that take Chinese concerns seriously could be constructive. Similarly, a reinvigorated U.S. effort to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would hint at a broader return to the commitment toward multilateral arms control that characterized U.S. foreign policy under both parties throughout the Cold War. Such reinvigoration of the broader regime is critical to making progress on narrowly bilateral issues as that regime provides a global context in which Beijing views the bilateral relationship. Finally, are there aspects of the U.S. modernization program, for instance, highly accurate guidance systems on Trident II warheads, that Washington and Omaha might be willing to forgo in exchange for tacit restraint in other areas from Beijing? Precisely these sorts of trades were at the heart of important arms control agreements between the Soviets and the United States in the Cold War. Although such steps are premature today, understanding the possible parameters of such exchanges is useful for laying the groundwork for future discussions.

Certainly, some of the onus for stagnation of dialogue on such issue rests with China. Direct U.S. interaction with Chinese nuclear strategists is extremely rare, and the Bush administration is to be commended for prioritizing an official dialogue on this topic with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Second Artillery (its nuclear force) in particular.[5] Still, even scheduling meetings has been fraught with difficulties. Most recently, Beijing used a Taiwan arms sales package as a pretext to derail official discussion of these topics. The Obama administration should advocate rapid resumption of these important confidence-building measures. At the same time, it is important for the United States to discuss Chinese concerns about U.S. plans openly and honestly. The increasing coupling of strategic modernization and development suggests this issue needs added attention from both sides.[6]

Broadened Meaning of "Strategic"

Space and missile defense are increasingly intertwined with traditional nuclear issues. U.S. missile defense certainly complicates the calculus of potential adversaries, but it also greatly complicates traditional approaches to reducing dangers of strategic weapons. International relations theory has trouble putting nuclear weapons and missile defense systems into an "offensive-defensive" dichotomy because most theorizing about nuclear weapons took place in the era of mutually assured destruction when the utility of nuclear weapons for anything other than retaliation made little sense. The space realm is clear in that area. Anti-satellite weapons are clearly offense dominant today: first-strike attacks against satellites confer great advantages, and defenses are costly and not currently deployed. This emphasizes the dangers of spirals and security dilemmas. Other issues are less straightforward. The dual-use potential for launch capabilities complicates verification of any potential arms control agreement. More broadly, communications and data collection satellites are directly connected to economic markets in ways most military technologies are not.

Beyond applying these general concerns to its own situation, Beijing sees a fairly integrated package that seems designed to undermine the security of its second-strike capability. Improved accuracy and capacity for hitting silos call into question China's older missiles. Advanced intelligence assets would be useful for tracking China's nascent mobile missile force. Accurate conventional weapons, global strike or otherwise, could reduce the scale of damage imposed on Chinese society writ large in some cases. Even a moderate-scale missile defense system-the Pentagon is planning on 50 interceptors by 2012-provides important capabilities against any surviving Chinese missiles.

The incoming Obama administration can do much to improve on existing policy. The Russians have received extensive briefings on U.S. missile defense systems and were offered the right to observe control rooms in eastern European missile defense facilities. What steps along that range might be appropriate for China? In the area of space policy, numerous small steps can be taken in terms of codes of conduct, launch notifications, noninterference pledges, and other issues.[7] Again, even discussing these issues has been quite simply off the table under the Bush administration. Chinese proposals on "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space" require much further development before they can be adequately evaluated. Several issues are critical from the U.S. perspective: the status of various missile defense technologies under that proposal, dual-use technologies, and the nature of verification in general. Still, more active U.S. diplomacy on this issue, whether at the Conference on Disarmament or in other fora, would be beneficial. An administration less wedded to complete freedom of action on missile defense technologies and scale should be willing at least to begin these discussions.

Nonproliferation: Global Regimes and Specific Cases

A global approach to nonproliferation will fail without China's active support. Bush administration policies have eroded the current system, already under stress due to globalization and the end of the Cold War. The U.S.-Indian deal on nuclear energy was highly salient for China because of its rivalry with India and friendship with Pakistan. In the North Korean case, inspections may well move forward on a bilateral basis rather than through existing global fora.

The United States can take steps to begin to repair this damage, regaining the initiative on the global nonproliferation regime. Quick ratification of the CTBT will send a positive signal. Reinvigorated diplomacy on a treaty cutting off the production of fissile material for weapons might do so as well. On that issue, however, China's objections need to be taken seriously. China's stockpile of fissile material is a miniscule fraction of that of the United States. Freezing that ratio in place in perpetuity is something China would only concede in response to other inducements. These should be discussed frankly.

Beyond these small-scale steps and more fundamentally, a new nonproliferation architecture is needed. China must be integrally involved in its design. In the wake of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and with failures to stop proliferation in North Korea, it is unclear if the current hodgepodge of overlapping institutions (nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG], etc.) will continue to form the basis of the global approach to containing proliferation. As new global approaches are developed, it should be recognized that China's participation in the World Trade Organization and in the recent G-20 meetings on the financial crisis has generally been responsible, if not entirely to U.S. liking. In the current global context, the United States cannot dictate the design of that architecture; Beijing, as well as others, must play a constitutive role.

It should be noted that Beijing's behavior in several specific cases has improved in this regard. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has hailed Chinese leadership of the six-party talks. Chinese policy on Iran hardened notably in 2006, supporting UN Security Council Resolution 1696. In both cases, U.S. preferences would have been for still-firmer action, but the progress in Chinese policy is clearly discernable. On the other hand, China's recent apparent regression in deciding to sell additional nuclear reactors to Pakistan seemed to flout common sense and its previous commitments to the NSG. Again, however, the U.S. role in undermining the framework within which the NSG exists by pursuing the India deal is notable.

Creating the same degree of engagement and, indeed, internalization of goals that China has on North Korea in the other two cases-Iran and Pakistan-will be elusive. Iran serves important energy security needs for Beijing,[8] and Pakistan's role in traditional Chinese security concerns on its flank is substantial. Still, a U.S. nonproliferation policy that discriminates based on regime type rather than nonproliferation behavior is unlikely to resonate in authoritarian China. A creation of international institutions that can judge proliferation behavior impartially would be more successful. Chinese analysts voice increasing concern that proliferation is a problem for China rather than merely a Western concern.


It is critical that policymakers recognize the rapidly changing nature of the way foreign policy is practiced in China today. Although deep-seated strategic cultural norms are of limited utility in understanding China's policy today, the interplay between civilian and military leaders and the proliferation of inputs available to policymakers is. On arms control issues, the tensions between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the PLA strain the policy formulation process. Understanding Chinese space policy requires an immersion in the economic actors that shape PLA policy. Proliferation issues bring a different set of economic actors into the process. Even asking whether there is civilian control in any of these policy areas grossly oversimplifies. China is in the midst of substantial political change, a pluralization of actors, and a new set of political responses to a range of domestic challenges. This process complicates any interaction with China on security issues as well.

These domestic changes complicate the dynamism in the strategic arena itself. The interaction of the U.S. shift in approach toward strategic weapons coupled with modernization of China's arsenal has much potential to destabilize the relationship. Further tightening of the interlocking moves by each side has the potential to lead to an arms race, at least in qualitative terms. This would move the strategic issue to the foreground of the relationship. Given that there are pre-existing contentious issues to be dampened and more positive aspects to the relationship to be managed, this outcome would be inflammatory. Strategic nuclear competition between the two nations would be extraordinarily costly. Taking prudent steps to keep this issue out of the center of the relationship today is valuable. The policies suggested above would be important first steps in dampening dangerous dynamics in Chinese-U.S. strategic relations.



Christopher P. Twomey co-directs the Center for Contemporary Conflict and is an assistant professor in the Department of National Security Affairs, both at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He manages an annual “track II” meeting between China and the United States on strategic issues. His views are not those of any government office.


1. For a comprehensive discussion of what is known about the Chinese nuclear arsenal in open-source literature, see Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, "U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2008," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 64, No. 1 (March/April 2008), pp. 50-53.

2. For instance, a rapidly increasing conventional ballistic missile threat against Taiwan and targets further afield in Japan and Guam, a range of anti-satellite technologies, cyber warfare, and certain elements of China's "anti-access" strategies aimed at holding off U.S. carrier battle groups.

3. Chinese interlocutors speak about the role of penetration aides in this context. See Christopher P. Twomey and Kali Shelor, "U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue, 3rd Annual Meeting, Conference Report," 2008.

4. Thomas Risse-Kappen, "Ideas Do Not Float Freely: Transnational Coalitions, Domestic Structures, and the End of the Cold War," International Organization, Vol. 48, No. 2 (1994); Matthew Evangelista, "Turning Points in Arms Control," in Ending the Cold War: Interpretations, Causation, and the Study of International Relations, ed. Richard K. Herrmann and Richard Ned Lebow (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

5. The author would like to thank Brad Roberts for highlighting the importance of this point.

6. For a useful discussion of some possibilities in this regard, see Brad Roberts, "Arms Control and Sino-U.S. Strategic Stability," in Perspectives on Sino-American Strategic Nuclear Issues, ed. Christopher P. Twomey (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

7. For detailed discussions of these and others, see James Clay Moltz, The Politics of Space Security: Strategic Restraint and the Pursuit of National Interests (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

8. For a masterful treatment of the history of the Chinese-Iranian relationship, see John W. Garver, China and Iran : Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006).


Many aspects of the Chinese-U.S. relationship are mutually beneficial: some $400 billion in trade, bilateral military exchanges, and Beijing's increasingly constructive diplomatic role. There are other grounds for concern. Each side's militaries view the other as a potential adversary and increasingly make plans and structure their forces with that in mind.

On the conventional side, there are many important areas to consider, but the potential for nuclear rivalry raises monumental risks. This article assesses the dangers in the bilateral nuclear relationship, the potential for traditional arms control to address these challenges, the broadening of the "strategic" military sphere, and the issue of proliferation beyond the bilateral relationship. (Continue)

Report Predicts Future Global Arms Trends

Kirsten McNeil

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) released its fourth Global Trends report on Nov. 20, timed to correspond every four years to the period of transition between presidential administrations. Chaired by Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis Thomas Fingar, the NIC is within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which sits atop the sprawling U.S. intelligence community. The "Global Trends 2025" report aims to identify key strategic drivers in the global system that could shape the issues facing the new administration and to guide policymakers toward a broad view of the world.

The report addressed weapons proliferation as well as other global issues, such as climate change and economic trends. Broadly speaking, the report predicts that China and India will see an increase in their relative power, shifting the international system to a multipolar scheme rather than the current unipolar one. The United States will continue to remain the most powerful country but will see a relative decrease as these other states rise in stature. Up-and-coming states such as Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey will also be major drivers in the system.

At a Nov. 20 press conference, Fingar warned that "[i]f Iran were to go nuclear, there could be a regional arms race. If one of the states that has the capability elects to proliferate...we could have a problem. And it's not too hard to imagine regimes having access to a weapon without the kind of fail-safe controls that we have [and] the Russians have."

More broadly, the report goes on to state, "[f]uture asymmetries in conventional military capabilities among potential rivals might tempt weak states to view nuclear weapons as a necessary and justifiable defense in response to the threat of overwhelming conventional attacks."

During the period, conventional weapons are predicted to be of increasing importance for terrorists, who are expected to seek advanced tactical weapons, such as anti-tank missiles and man-portable weapon systems. The current spread of improvised explosive devices and inexpensive robotics and sensors is expected to continue. The study characterizes warfare in the year 2025 as increasingly asymmetric, nonmilitary, and reliant on information.

Overall, the report tells a cautionary tale based on the spread of different kinds of weapons systems in conjunction with expanding and evolving reasons for conflict to occur among states. As the report notes, "[T]raditional security concerns are declining in importance but may be replaced by new issues, such as competition over resources."




The National Intelligence Council (NIC) released its fourth Global Trends report on Nov. 20, timed to correspond every four years to the period of transition between presidential administrations. Chaired by Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis Thomas Fingar, the NIC is within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which sits atop the sprawling U.S. intelligence community. The "Global Trends 2025" report aims to identify key strategic drivers in the global system that could shape the issues facing the new administration and to guide policymakers toward a broad view of the world. (Continue)

Long-Delayed Arms Sales to Taiwan Announced

Kirsten McNeil

The Bush administration notified Congress Oct. 3 that it plans to sell more than $6.4 billion in military equipment to Taiwan, triggering sharp criticism from China, which believes that the move would violate bilateral assurances made by Washington to decrease arms transfers to Taiwan.

According to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the bulk of the planned U.S. sale would include 330 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles and 30 Apache Longbow attack helicopters, as well as 182 Javelin guided anti-tank missiles, 32 submarine-launched Harpoon missiles, spare parts for F-16s and other fighter aircraft, and upgrades for four E-2T Hawkeye 2000 early-warning aircraft. The proposed package does not include new F-16 fighter jets or submarines, about which Beijing has been particularly concerned.

Congress has 30 days to review and possibly object to the transfers. The sales will only be finalized after formal agreements are signed between Taiwan and the United States.

China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province, protested the planned sales by canceling or postponing senior-level military visits and humanitarian exchanges with the United States and blocking U.S. military ships from entering Chinese ports. Beijing filed a formal complaint and has called for the deals to be canceled.

As with past U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, China accused the United States of violating a provision in the Sino-U.S. Joint Communiqué of 1982, which states that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will decrease in quantity, frequency, and scope based on the levels of that time. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao issued a statement Oct. 6 calling for the United States to “stop disturbing the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, so as to prevent further damage to the Sino-U.S. relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Department of State deputy spokesperson Robert Wood on Oct. 8 called the Chinese reaction to the latest announcement “unfortunate,” and the Pentagon defended the arms sales as defensive in nature. Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the United States has stated that it is U.S. policy to provide arms for the defense of Taiwan, even though the United States has not formally signed a defense treaty with Taiwan.

By holding off on the sale of F-16s and submarines, however, the United States has avoided transferring the most lethal technologies to Taiwan and the equipment that most worried China.

The Bush administration has been trying to carry out some of the arms sales since 2001, but political wrangling in Taiwan and U.S. fears of upsetting China at a time it is playing a crucial role in nuclear talks with North Korea have helped delay most of the sales. An April 2001 package advanced by President George W. Bush included offers to sell Taiwan eight diesel submarines, 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, torpedoes, missiles, helicopters, amphibious vehicles, howitzers and four destroyers. However, in 2001, Bush deferred decisions on requests from Taiwan for Aegis-equipped destroyers, Abrams tanks, and Apache helicopters.

In the seven years since the 2001 announcements, some arms sales from the United States were rejected during the political process in Taiwan because of objections from Taiwan’s parliament or judicial system. Within the Taiwan legislature, heated debates occurred over the island’s defense budget, defensive strategy, funding priorities, and differing perceptions of relations with China.

In the period between the 2001 announcement and Oct. 3 announcement, some more limited arms sales did go forward. Twenty arms sales notifications were published by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, including those related to several missile systems, early-warning radars, aircraft, and destroyers. Nonetheless, according to a Dec. 20, 2007, Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, actual deliveries of U.S. arms to Taiwan have been decreasing but are still significant. During 1999-2002, deliveries to Taiwan totaled $5.8 billion; during 2003-2006, $4.1 billion; and in 2006, $970 million.

An opportunity to move forward with some of the sales emerged after Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008, ending the eight-year reign of the Democratic Progressive Party and re-establishing the historically dominant Kuomintang (Chinese nationalist) party. In contrast to his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, Ma has taken a more conciliatory approach toward Beijing and has eased tensions with China by downplaying the issues of Taiwan’s status and formal designation.

Nevertheless, in a statement released on his Web site, Ma welcomed the deal, stating, “We feel that [the Oct. 3] announcement by the U.S. administration marks an end to the turmoil in Taiwan-U.S. relations of the past eight years and also represents the beginning of a new era in peace and security, as well as mutual trust between Taiwan and the United States.”

Although the original 2001 announcements included diesel submarines (see ACT, May 2001), the most recent arms sales announcements did not. The prospect of Taiwan acquiring diesel submarines has raised strong opposition in China and debate over whether these would be considered defensive weapons systems. As noted in a 2008 CRS report, the U.S. Navy accepted a proposal from the Taiwan legislature in 2007 to “start the design phase” for these submarines. The Department of Defense also noted in its most recent annual report on Chinese military power, released March 3, 2008, that the Taiwan legislature after years of delay passed a 2007 defense budget that included “funding for a study that would produce a diesel submarine design.”

The same Defense Department report details the current status of forces surrounding Taiwan. Chinese naval and air forces have an advantage in numbers, except in coastal missile boats and fighters. China has been building up short-range missiles on the coast across the Taiwan Strait at a rate of about 100 additional missiles per year, with current force levels around 1,000 short-range missiles. Ostensibly, the 330 PAC-3 missiles could be used to provide some defense against the mainland’s short-range missiles.

Wendy Morigi, a spokesperson for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), Oct. 8 welcomed the arms sale package, calling it “an important response to Taiwan’s defense needs. This action is fully consistent with U.S. obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. The sale helps to contribute to Taiwan’s defense and the maintenance of a healthy balance in the Taiwan Strait.”

On Oct. 7, the Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), said the proposed sales do not go far enough because they do not include submarines or new F-16 aircraft. “I urge the administration to reconsider this decision, in light of its previous commitment to provide submarines and America’s previous sales of F-16s,” McCain said.

The Bush administration notified Congress Oct. 3 that it plans to sell more than $6.4 billion in military equipment to Taiwan, triggering sharp criticism from China, which believes that the move would violate bilateral assurances made by Washington to decrease arms transfers to Taiwan.

According to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the bulk of the planned U.S. sale would include 330 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles and 30 Apache Longbow attack helicopters, as well as 182 Javelin guided anti-tank missiles, 32 submarine-launched Harpoon missiles, spare parts for F-16s and other fighter aircraft, and upgrades for four E-2T Hawkeye 2000 early-warning aircraft. The proposed package does not include new F-16 fighter jets or submarines, about which Beijing has been particularly concerned. (Continue)

Type, Targets of Sanctions Shift in Bush Administration

Wade Boese

In September, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed proliferation sanctions on 25 Iranian entities. Enacted under Executive Order 13382, the sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of the accused and prohibit them from engaging in U.S. financial or commercial activities.

The sanctions are the latest installment in a series the Treasury Department has imposed during President George W. Bush’s second term on entities allegedly assisting or engaged in the acquisition or sale of unconventional weapons, related materials, or missiles. At the same time, the Department of State, which spearheaded the drive to reinvigorate sanctions during Bush’s first term, has increasingly taken a back seat. The changes parallel a shift in the target of sanctions: over the course of the administration, sanctions have decreased against Chinese entities and increased against Iranian entities.

Current and former U.S. government officials familiar with Bush administration sanctions offer various explanations for the shifting trends, including personnel changes, bureaucratic battles, modified Chinese behavior, and the introduction of Executive Order 13382. Some of the officials contend the trends do not reflect conscious policy choices, but some former officials say that as time passed, the administration has moderated its sanctions approach on Chinese entities in a bid to win China’s cooperation in dealing with Iran and North Korea.

The Bush Administration Sanctions Record

Since taking office, the Bush administration has imposed sanctions related to unconventional weapons and missile proliferation 278 times against 197 foreign entities and one U.S. entity, a subsidiary of a Chinese company. Many foreign entities have been sanctioned multiple times, such as North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corp., which has been penalized on nine separate occasions.

The number of sanctions invoked annually by the Bush administration has oscillated but averages about 35 times per year. In comparison, the Clinton administration averaged eight sanctions annually, according to June 4, 2003, testimony to the House International Relations Committee by John Bolton, then undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

The dramatic rise in sanctions under the Bush administration compared to its predecessor was no coincidence but stemmed from a concerted push by Bolton, who held his undersecretary post for Bush’s first term, and other administration officials, several of whom had been Republican congressional staffers who were strong proponents of sanctions. They saw sanctions as a useful tool to punish and stigmatize proliferators and criticized the Clinton administration for not utilizing them more. Top Clinton administration officials often saw sanctions as too confrontational, potentially damaging to bilateral relations, and not always constructive in getting undesirable behavior changed. Instead, the Clinton administration tended to rely more on demarches, which are formal diplomatic notes, to inform foreign governments of activities that it wanted ceased. (See ACT, September 2003.)

Bolton indicated soon after he became undersecretary in May 2001 that he wanted to “go after sellers and sanction harshly,” a former U.S. government official told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 19 interview. Another former official in an interview the same day said, “Bolton was big on sanctions.”

Bolton encouraged the bureaus reporting to him to scour intelligence information for activities that mandated sanctions. Christopher Ford, who left government in September after serving as the U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, e-mailed Arms Control Today Sept. 19 that Bolton’s hard-driving approach on sanctions stemmed from his interest in both curbing proliferation and fulfilling statutory requirements that he and others alleged the Clinton administration had shirked or had been too lax in implementing.

A Tale of Two Terms

Bolton’s eagerness to employ sanctions during the Bush administration’s first term produced a large jump in penalties, particularly on Chinese entities. Sixty-two of the 108 sanctions (57 percent) levied in that span by the State Department involved Chinese entities.

Although the sanctions did not identify who was receiving the goods, general speculation centered on Iranian importers, given that many of the sanctions stemmed from the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 and the Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act of 1992. Those laws focused more on punishing exporters than importers. Only two Iranian entities were sanctioned during the administration’s first four years.

Bush in March 2005 nominated Bolton to serve as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. After a grueling five-month process during which lawmakers refused to confirm him to the post, the president gave Bolton a recess appointment, which ended in 2006. (See ACT, January/February 2007; September 2005.)

During its second term, the Bush administration has sanctioned 170 entities, 62 more than during its first term. But 106 of the sanctions emanated from the Treasury Department, which was empowered in June 2005 to take a more active role in proliferation sanctions when the president issued Executive Order 13382. (See ACT, September 2005.) That order authorized the department, working with other government agencies, to block the U.S. assets of entities judged to be engaged in or assisting proliferation, as well as the U.S. assets of foreign banks that do not follow the U.S. lead.

The State Department levied the other 64 second-term sanctions, 44 less than during Bolton’s tenure as undersecretary. A U.S. official, however, told Arms Control Today Sept. 18 that the State Department was on the verge of imposing several more sanctions.

The administration’s sanctions also differed between the first and second terms in their targets. Iranian entities accounted for 96 of the 170 second-term sanctions, or 56 percent. On the other hand, Chinese entities in the same period were slapped with 16 sanctions, a quarter of the number in the administration’s first term.

Explaining the Shifts

All the current and past officials interviewed by Arms Control Today agreed that Bolton’s departure from the State Department in 2005 influenced to some degree the drop-off in sanctions it issued. Most also noted that his successors, Robert Joseph and John Rood, view sanctions as important but of lower priority than other goals.

Ford observed that Bolton seemed to have a “taste and flair for effective bureaucratic infighting,” helping ensure not only that the bureaus reporting to him followed his intent to rigorously apply sanctions laws, but also in outmaneuvering other State Department bureaus that worried such penalties might jeopardize relations with the government whose entities might be sanctioned. For instance, Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to first-term Secretary of State Colin Powell and no fan of Bolton, told Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff on May 6, 2005, that the East Asia and Pacific Bureau “didn’t like” the many sanctions against China when the United States was “trying to negotiate with North Korea and have China be a very meaningful player in that negotiation.” Ford and Carolyn Leddy, who worked at the State Department before becoming director for counterproliferation strategy on the National Security Council (NSC) from July 2006 to November 2007, suggested that, with Bolton’s absence, the State Department bureaus skeptical of sanctions prevailed more frequently in intradepartmental struggles.

As the State Department’s focus on sanctions waned after Bolton, the Treasury Department’s proliferation sanction activities expanded through Executive Order 13382. The allure of “financial sanctions” received a boost in the eyes of many administration officials when the Treasury Department in September 2005 succeeded in getting a Macau-based bank, Banco Delta Asia, to freeze some North Korean accounts after designating the bank a “money laundering concern.” (See ACT, April 2006.)

Although North Korea eventually succeeded in getting the funds released, some foreign banking institutions in the interim had curtailed their activities with North Korea and Banco Delta Asia. That ripple effect pleasantly surprised Bush administration officials because the sanctions imposed through the State Department typically had not been replicated abroad. Sanctions triggered by the laws administered by the State Department generally prohibit the accused from U.S. trade or aid. Sanctions critics note that such penalties are often symbolic because most entities sanctioned generally do not trade with or receive aid from the United States in the first place.

Leddy stated in a Sept. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “when I was at the NSC, Treasury certainly was the go-to department to get anything done.” She added that Stuart Levey, the undersecretary of treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, and his staff have “a real dedication and belief in the power of these financial tools.”

Some of the current and past officials also speculated that the Treasury Department’s growing role in sanctions could reflect that Executive Order 13382 sanctions are procedurally and bureaucratically easier to invoke than the laws that the State Department implements. Sanctions under the executive order require a determination by the Treasury Department or other agencies that an entity is engaged in or assisting proliferation, while the State Department must be satisfied that its determinations meet the criteria and intent of laws passed by Congress. The current official interviewed Sept. 18 also said that executive order determinations appear less reliant on secret intelligence, making it more feasible to levy sanctions without alerting proliferators to possible U.S. intelligence sources or methods.

The executive order also enables the U.S. government to go after the buyers or recipients of alleged proliferation transactions more than previous laws, which were focused on punishing the sellers. Many of the individuals interviewed by Arms Control Today saw this as a factor in the rise of sanctions on Iranian entities, in addition to the greater international scrutiny on Iran after the exposure of its clandestine nuclear activities in 2002.
One former State Department official e-mailed Arms Control Today Sept. 22 that the rise in Iranian sanctions was “in essence a decision to begin sanctioning as a political signaling mechanism, both to tell Iran that we knew what was up…[and] to signal to third parties that [the sanctioned entities] were bad news and that [the third parties] were vulnerable if they traded with the Iranian front companies.”

Less agreement existed among the current and former officials on why sanctions on Chinese entities have decreased. Almost all said that China’s proliferation record improved, but some suggested that the Bush administration also has become more lenient in sanctioning Chinese entities.

In May 20 testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Patricia McNerney, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, gave a mixed assessment of Chinese proliferation. She charged that “a number of Chinese entities continue to supply items and technologies useful in weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery, and advanced conventional weapons to regimes of concern.” At the same time, she said some oft-sanctioned Chinese entities, namely NORINCO and the China Great Wall Industry Co., have taken steps to prevent “inadvertent transactions” that could contribute to proliferation. A month later, the Treasury Department lifted Executive Order 13382 sanctions against the latter company, stating that it had “implemented a rigorous and thorough compliance program to prevent future dealings with Iran.”

Still, two of the former U.S. officials contend that Chinese behavior had not improved so much to justify a falloff in sanctions. Instead, one of them argued Sept. 19 that the administration in its latter years has sought to “make nice with the Chinese” and “avoid antagonizing the Chinese because of the desire for support on North Korea and Iran.” The other former official concurred, telling Arms Control Today Sept. 20 that there had been “some effort to soften [sanctions] to win Chinese support” in negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear programs. The first official condemned the perceived change in approach as “not only false, but foolish.”

Matthew Levitt, who served from 2005 to 2007 as the deputy assistant secretary of treasury for intelligence and analysis, cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the numbers of sanctions imposed on the entities of one country or another. He e-mailed Arms Control Today Sept. 17 that “there are real world issues that drive these decisions and in many cases decisions are taken not to take [sanctions] but another kind of action.”

Do Sanctions Matter?

Almost all the officials interviewed by Arms Control Today positively assessed the consequences of the Bush administration’s increased use of sanctions compared with that of its predecessor. Ford recalled that although he saw a considerable amount of incoming information on “problematic transfers by Chinese entities” when he arrived in 2003 at the State Department, the flow of reporting on such matters diminished over time, suggesting the sanctions were working. He conceded that some of the change might have been due to Chinese entities getting better at “concealing” their activities, but he maintained that U.S. sanctions certainly played a role in the decrease.

Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, said in June 26, 2007, remarks at a Washington conference that U.S. sanctions combined with various UN Security Council resolutions on Iran and North Korea “have prompted many businesses and institutions around the world to scale down or terminate completely their dealing with proliferators.” Similarly, in a Sept. 10 briefing on the imposition of additional sanctions under Executive Order 13382, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told reporters that the sanctions “are having an impact” but added that “much of what we know is based on intelligence that we can’t really discuss in an open briefing.” The Treasury Department has not released any totals for the amount of assets frozen under Executive Order 13382.

In a December 2007 report on sanctions against Iran, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts studies for Congress, concluded it was difficult to judge sanction results. The GAO noted that several big European banks had followed the U.S. sanctions lead in curbing business with certain Iranian entities, but the agency also stated “the extent of [sanctions] impacts is difficult to determine.” The agency added that the Treasury Department’s assessment that Iran continues to pursue nuclear and missile capabilities “reinforces our finding that the overall impact of sanctions is unclear.”

Corrected online November 4, 2008. See explanation.

In September, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed proliferation sanctions on 25 Iranian entities. Enacted under Executive Order 13382, the sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of the accused and prohibit them from engaging in U.S. financial or commercial activities.

The sanctions are the latest installment in a series the Treasury Department has imposed during President George W. Bush’s second term on entities allegedly assisting or engaged in the acquisition or sale of unconventional weapons, related materials, or missiles. At the same time, the Department of State, which spearheaded the drive to reinvigorate sanctions during Bush’s first term, has increasingly taken a back seat. The changes parallel a shift in the target of sanctions: over the course of the administration, sanctions have decreased against Chinese entities and increased against Iranian entities. (Continue)

Chinese Arms Shipment Sparks Outrage

Jeff Abramson and Jessica Lasky-Fink

In April, South African dockworkers refused to unload a Chinese cargo ship carrying more than 70 tons of small arms destined for Zimbabwe. The refusal set off international reactions that led to the recall of the shipment and calls for stronger international arms trade measures, such as a global arms trade treaty.

The shipment, including three million rounds of ammunition for AK47s and 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades, was meant to be unloaded at Durban, South Africa, and transported overland to land-locked Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has experienced increasing political strife since March parliamentary and presidential elections in which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change claimed victory over the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. In light of escalating tensions in Zimbabwe, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) declared that its port members would not unload the ship's cargo for fear that the weapons would contribute to internal repression. SATAWU instead called for the ship to return to China with the arms onboard and for a peaceful solution to be sought to the political instability in Zimbabwe.

SATAWU is affiliated with the International Transport Workers Federation, which expressed full support for the union's actions and continued to track the ship's movements. After being rebuffed from South Africa, the ship sailed to and docked in Angola where it only unloaded construction materials, according to transport union officials.

Initially, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson defended the shipment, saying it was part of normal trade between two sovereign countries. The ZANU-PF also defended their right to buy weapons from any legal source. China announced April 24 that because it could not deliver the arms shipment, the Chinese company responsible for the ship was recalling its vessel.

International Reaction

The incident generated international outcry and raised further questions about the export of arms to countries with dubious democracy records or that are engaged in civil war.

Zambia, which currently chairs the Southern African Development Community (SADC), urged regional states to prohibit the ship from entering their waters. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa voiced his belief April 21 that the "Chinese can play a very useful role in Zimbabwe without the use of arms."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown went a step further April 23 and called for a worldwide arms embargo on Zimbabwe. The next day, U.S. ambassadors and other Department of State officials called the idea a "good one" that "[t]he United States will consider seriously." On April 29, EU foreign ministers followed with their own appeal to China, African nations, and others to ban the supply or sale of arms and related equipment that could exacerbate political tensions in Zimbabwe.

The UN Security Council met at the end of April to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe but failed to agree on an appropriate course of action. Any resolution regarding Zimbabwe must be agreed on by all five permanent members of the Security Council, including China, which is one of Zimbabwe's main trade partners and allies.

Although there is no UN-sponsored arms embargo on Zimbabwe, the 27-member European Union has unilaterally implemented a sanctions regime on the Mugabe government. The EU first imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002 in response to the perceived breakdown of the rule of law and human rights violations under the rule of ZANU-PF. The measures adopted in 2002 have since been renewed and include an embargo on the sale of arms to Zimbabwe and the freezing of personal assets of and travel restrictions on senior members of government and other high-ranking officials.

In an op-ed published in early May, South African Nobel Peace Prize-winner Desmond Tutu explicitly linked the incident with a call for a global arms trade treaty now under discussion. He wrote that "[a]t the moment the UN is working on an arms trade treaty that could stop weapons transfers such as this one to Zimbabwe. If a strong treaty eventually becomes law, then an arms exporter will have to block the sale if there is evidence the weapons are likely to be used to commit serious violations of human rights law."

As part of a UN-sponsored process, a group of government experts from 28 countries are conducting a study of the "feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms." (See ACT, March 2008.) That group has met twice, with a final meeting to take place July 28-Aug. 8.

It is unclear whether a treaty that might eventually result from the process would have stopped the shipment to Zimbabwe. According to a U.S. official who spoke with Arms Control Today May 22, a future arms trade treaty's reporting mechanism will probably call for notification after a transfer rather than prior to it. As such, the requirements may resemble the now voluntary UN Register of Conventional Arms, to which about 120 countries currently file a report. (See ACT, September and November 2007.)

The U.S. official also suggested that states participating in an arms trade treaty are unlikely to place absolute limits on their arms transfer decisions. Instead, eventual states-parties would more likely commit to taking certain factors into consideration when making arms trade decisions, but ultimately choose to engage in trade based on national prerogatives. (See ACT, November 2005.)

Whether or not an arms trade treaty emerges from the incident, the U.S. official praised the outcome of the standoff: "It is a positive development that neighbors got involved to take action. It goes to the old adage that talk is cheap, action is dear."

In April, South African dockworkers refused to unload a Chinese cargo ship carrying more than 70 tons of small arms destined for Zimbabwe. The refusal set off international reactions that led to the recall of the shipment and calls for stronger international arms trade measures, such as a global arms trade treaty.

The shipment, including three million rounds of ammunition for AK47s and 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades, was meant to be unloaded at Durban, South Africa, and transported overland to land-locked Zimbabwe. (Continue)

Hotline to Link U.S.-Chinese Militaries

Jeremy Patterson

The Department of Defense has negotiated a landmark new communications hotline between the U.S. military and the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, while it continues to keep a watchful eye on China’s growing military capabilities.

Defense Department officials announced Feb. 29 that they had formally agreed to implement the long-discussed Defense Telephone Link (DTL) with China. The agreement comes after years of talks between the two sides. Hotline talks were given a boost last September when President George W. Bush raised the issue directly with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The link was discussed again when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited China in November and at an annual bilateral meeting of undersecretary-level defense representatives in Washington in December.

The formal agreement was reached in Shanghai during a meeting of representatives at the deputy assistant secretary level. In a statement to Arms Control Today March 17, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder said that “the agreement will allow us to move forward on installing the actual equipment in the next few weeks. We anticipate the DTL will become operational this month.” A Chinese spokesperson refused to commit to a specific date when asked at a March 4 press conference, although he did express hopes that the new connection would “enhance political mutual trust, exchanges, and cooperation.”

At the Shanghai talks, the United States and China also agreed to move forward with their nuclear strategy and policy dialogue. In March 3 remarks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Sedney, who negotiated the final hotline agreement, said “we do have a process in place now. This process was proposed by the PLA [Chinese military], and the first part of that will be a discussion between Chinese military officers and Chinese military academics and counterparts here in the U.S. And we expect that to happen in the next month or so… maybe two months.”

The hotline and nuclear strategy talks are part of a multiyear effort to enhance openness in the troubled relationship between the two military establishments. The Defense Department is eager to learn more about the Chinese military, including better understanding Beijing’s military philosophy, and command and control structures.

Report on Chinese Military Power

The Defense Department’s 2008 Military Power of China report, released March 3, also underscores Washington’s continuing uncertainty about Chinese procedures and intentions. The annual report asserts that the “lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.”

This year’s report notes several new developments in China’s nuclear capabilities, including the deployment of fewer than 10 each of the new solid-fueled, road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A ICBMs. These missiles’ enhanced mobility and quicker launch times make them less vulnerable than the older, liquid-fueled CSS-3 and CSS-4 missiles that are being phased out. The liquid-fueled missiles must be held in position and fueled before they can be launched, a process that takes several hours during which they are vulnerable to disarming strikes. The report asserts that the enhanced mobility enabled by the new missiles will create new command and control challenges for the Chinese leadership.

The report says that China continues to deploy 20 CSS-4 ICBMs. The DF-31A and CSS-4 are the only Chinese ICBMs capable of targeting the continental United States. In contrast, the United States maintains approximately 450 ICBMs and 430 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that can strike the Chinese mainland.

The Pentagon also reports a substantial increase in CSS-5 deployments. The CSS-5 is a shorter-range, solid-fueled, road-mobile missile for regional use and is expected to fully replace the aging CSS-2 by 2010. CSS-5 deployment has increased from 40-50 missiles with 34-38 launchers last year to 60-80 missiles with 60 launchers this year. Because the report notes that China is preparing a conventionally armed version of the CSS-5, however, it is possible that some of these do not have nuclear missions.

The report also indicates that China is researching technologies for its ballistic missile forces that would counter potential ballistic missile defenses, such as those being developed by the United States. (See ACT, November 2007 .) These include maneuverable re-entry vehicles, multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles, decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and anti-satellite weapons.

China also appears to be improving its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) capabilities. The report indicated that one JIN-class (Type 094) SSBN may soon enter service, although publicly available satellite imagery suggests the existence of at least two of the new submarines.

The report estimates that up to five JIN-class submarines may be deployed by 2010, reflecting for the first time a December 2006 estimate by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence. The JIN-class submarine will carry the JL-2 SLBM, which the Pentagon expects will reach initial operational capability by 2010.

China has built only one of its previous-generation XIA-class SSBNs equipped with JL-1 SLBMs. The 2008 report now lists the operational status of that submarine as “questionable.”

The report indicates that China has also acquired an uncertain number of cruise missiles. It estimates that China now has 50 to 250 indigenously produced DH-10s. By 2010 the report says new air- and ground-launched cruise missiles “could perform nuclear missions.”

Although new Chinese budgetary figures were not available at the time of the report’s publication, the Pentagon’s report continues to criticize China’s alleged underreporting of its military spending. Historically, the Defense Department has estimated that China’s actual military spending is roughly two to three times the official number reported by the Chinese. China released its claimed 2008 military spending March 4, the day after the Pentagon released its report. China said it would spend $59 billion on its military in 2008, a 17.6 percent increase over the 2007 figure. In contrast, the U.S. military budget in fiscal year 2008, which ends Sept. 30, is $481.4 billion, not including funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense has negotiated a landmark new communications hotline between the U.S. military and the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, while it continues to keep a watchful eye on China’s growing military capabilities.

Defense Department officials announced Feb. 29 that they had formally agreed to implement the long-discussed Defense Telephone Link (DTL) with China. The agreement comes after years of talks between the two sides. Hotline talks were given a boost last September when President George W. Bush raised the issue directly with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The link was discussed again when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited China in November and at an annual bilateral meeting of undersecretary-level defense representatives in Washington in December. (Continue)

Taiwan Buys U.S. Arms; U.S. Eyes China

Wade Boese

Taiwan’s legislature recently approved buying a dozen anti-submarine planes, a modest portion of an original $18 billion U.S. arms package offered six years ago. The purchase comes amid persistent U.S. questions about China’s military modernization and a new move to prevent American technology from aiding that drive.

Soon after taking office, President George W. Bush authorized selling Taiwan an array of weapon systems, including destroyers, diesel-electric attack submarines, and aircraft. (See ACT, May 2001.) Later, the United States added short- and medium-range anti-missile systems. Taiwan agreed to acquire four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, the final two of which were delivered last September. The rest of the package, however, became entangled in politics.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has urged making the deals, but his Democratic Progressive Party does not control the legislature, the Legislative Yuan. Led by the Nationalist Party, the majority coalition in the Legislative Yuan has blocked funding for the weapons, arguing that they are too expensive and too provocative to China, which opposes foreign arms sales to the island. Beijing asserts Taiwan is a renegade province that should be under the mainland’s control and does not rule out using force to accomplish that objective.

On June 15, the Legislative Yuan approved buying 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft and upgrades to its current anti-missile systems, the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2. The parliament declined to seek newer PAC-3 batteries. Lawmakers also endorsed further study of the submarine option.

The Legislative Yuan’s shift has been attributed to Nationalist Party maneuvering to increase the appeal of its candidate in the presidential election next March. Speculation also exists that the recent move was orchestrated to ease a separate requested purchase of 66 U.S. F-16 fighter jets. Washington has resisted moving ahead on the proposal, insisting that Taiwan first complete the 2001 offer.

U.S. officials have repeatedly rebuked Taiwan for not acting on the package. In a May 3 press conference, Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, noted that “Taiwan’s friends” question whether Taipei is “serious about maintaining a credible defense.” The institute serves as the de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979.

Although Taiwan has essentially forgone major arms purchases the past several years, China has been working to improve its armed forces. The Pentagon noted May 25 in the latest edition of its annual report Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, the “balance of forces [is] continuing to shift in the mainland’s favor.”

The report highlights China’s 2006 receipt from Russia of the last of four Sovremenny-class destroyers and a final pair of eight Kilo-class diesel-electric attack submarines. Beijing also boosted its conventionally armed short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan by at least 100 to approximately 900.

On the strategic side, the Pentagon upgraded the status of China’s road-mobile, solid-fuel DF-31 missile, which has an estimated range of some 7,000 kilometers, from developmental to “initial threat availability.” A Pentagon official told reporters May 25 that the phrase meant that the missile “could be employed in actual military operations.”

A longer-range variant, the DF-31A, which could target all of the United States, was still assessed as “developmental.” The Pentagon suggested that missile might become operational as early as this year, similar to China’s new submarine-launched ballistic missile, the JL-2.

These newer missiles have been in development for some time. The 2002 edition of the Pentagon report estimated that they would become available around mid- to late decade. All told, China’s current force of ICBMs capable of reaching the continental United States remains at approximately 20—no change since the Pentagon issued its first annual report in 2000.

Chinese leaders, according to the report, see space and counter-space capabilities as signs of prestige and power similar to nuclear weapons. China’s Jan. 11 destruction of an aging satellite in orbit (see ACT, March 2007 ) revealed only one element of what the Pentagon describes as a “multi-dimensional program” to “deny others access to outer space.”

China is funding its arms purchases, missile developments, and space capabilities with a growing military budget. In March, Beijing announced a nearly 18 percent spending increase from last year, to approximately $45 billion. The Pentagon, which in February asked Congress for $623 billion for one year, says China’s actual military budget could be as high as $125 billion.

China rails at such allegations. On May 28, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu blasted the Pentagon report as spreading the “myth of the China threat by exaggerating China’s military strength and expenses out of ulterior motives.” Qin Gang, another ministry spokesperson, defended China’s military modernization June 21 as “moderate and reasonable.”

Although the annual Pentagon report focuses on China’s capabilities, Washington says what it is really interested in and unclear about is Chinese intentions. “We wish that there were greater transparency, that [the Chinese] would talk more about what their intentions are [and] what their strategies are,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said May 24.

Possible conflicts with Taiwan are the near-term military focus of China, the report concludes. Yet, it also assesses that China is creating a base for pursuing “broader regional and global objectives.”

China’s growing capabilities has caught the attention of some U.S. lawmakers. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, warned at a June 13 panel hearing that China has “stepped into the superpower shoes that had been vacated by the Soviet Union with respect to military power.” But Undersecretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Richard Lawless told the panel that Beijing “is not necessarily interested in the ability to stand toe-to-toe and go into a major conflict with the United States.”

Greater openness on China’s part could diminish the possibility of future conflict, U.S. officials say. Lawless noted that, without Chinese transparency, the United States is “put in the position of having to assume the most dangerous intent a capability offers.”

U.S. officials contend China is opening up slightly but not enough, particularly in the nuclear realm. Beijing has begged off recent U.S. invitations to engage in a nuclear policy dialogue, but Gates and other U.S. officials are strongly promoting the offer. “That kind of dialogue, whether or not it involves specific proposals for arms control or anything else, I think, is immensely valuable,” Gates said June 2.

The two governments are expected to begin exploring establishment of a military hotline this September. Still, Lawless cautioned that “there’s a lot left to finalize.”

Although seeking to improve relations with China, the United States is wary of China’s military rise. In its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon observed that China “has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages.”

Aiming to prevent U.S. companies from abetting such developments, the Department of Commerce June 15 announced new rules on exporting dual-use goods to China. Dual-use items have civilian and military applications.

The recent measures expand the list of items that require U.S. companies to obtain a license when shipping to known military end uses in China. These 20 product categories include some high-performance computers, lasers, aircraft, aero-gas turbine engines, and machine tools.

At the same time, the Commerce Department is seeking to reward Chinese entities with records of not re-exporting or diverting imports to unauthorized purposes. Such importers will be eligible to become “validated end users” that will be exempted from getting licenses for some dual-use goods. In addition, the threshold for obtaining licenses for some dual-use items that are not destined for military uses will be increased from $5,000 to $50,000.

In a June 15 press statement, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez described the new rules as a “common-sense approach” that will facilitate U.S. exports to “pre-screened civilian customers” while denying goods that “would contribute to China’s military.”


Taiwan’s legislature recently approved buying a dozen anti-submarine planes, a modest portion of an original $18 billion U.S. arms package offered six years ago. The purchase comes amid persistent U.S. questions about China’s military modernization and a new move to prevent American technology from aiding that drive.

Soon after taking office, President George W. Bush authorized selling Taiwan an array of weapon systems, including destroyers, diesel-electric attack submarines, and aircraft. (See ACT, May 2001.) Later, the United States added short- and medium-range anti-missile systems. Taiwan agreed to acquire four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, the final two of which were delivered last September. The rest of the package, however, became entangled in politics. (Continue)

Nuclear Minimalism

The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age. By Jeffrey G. Lewis, MIT Press, March 2007, 200pp

Brad Roberts

China has always been something of a footnote for the U.S. expert community interested in nuclear weapons issues, and nuclear issues have always been something of a footnote for the U.S. expert community interested in China. The result is a gap in our understanding of the past, present, and future of China’s nuclear forces. Since the publication two decades ago of the path-breaking historical review China Builds the Bomb by John Lewis and Xue Litae, there has been only a trickle of new historical and analytical material. This relative paucity of analysis contrasts sharply with the importance of the issues at stake. The choices China makes about its nuclear future will have wide-ranging implications in Asia and beyond, as will the choices others make about their nuclear relationship with China.

Jeffrey Lewis’s new book, The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China’s Search for Security in the Nuclear Age, is thus an important addition on a significant topic. It is based on detailed analysis and fieldwork conducted for a doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland. Lewis observes that China’s search for security in the nuclear age has been poorly understood by outsiders, an observation validated every time an American speaks about China as “that country with 20 nuclear weapons” (20 is the number of warheads understood to be deliverable on the United States by long-range missiles, whereas the actual number of nuclear warheads in China’s possession is larger by a factor of 10 or more—a topic about which there is great uncertainty and no Chinese transparency).

Accordingly, Lewis begins with a survey of the evolution of China’s nuclear forces over the last four decades and the key strategic concepts that have informed its force planning. He then offers two case studies exploring the thinking of China’s leadership on the requirements of strategic stability: China’s participation in the Conference on Disarmament and its efforts there to expand prohibitions on the military uses of outer space. He also conjectures about the impact of developments in U.S. nuclear policy and posture on future Chinese force planning. The result is part history and part polemic. Its ultimate value rests on the validity of three core propositions Lewis puts forward.

The first is that China developed nuclear forces with a commitment to “the minimum means of reprisal.” Lewis begins his study with a quotation from Marshal Nie Rongzhen, a founding father of China’s nuclear program: “My attitude was clear throughout. For more than a century, imperialists had bullied, humiliated, and oppressed China. To put an end to this situation, we had to develop sophisticated weapons such as the guided missile and the atomic bomb, so that we would have the minimum means of reprisal if attacked by the imperialists with nuclear weapons.” Lewis goes on to demonstrate the ways in which this commitment to minimalism informed the development of China’s military doctrine, force structure, and national nuclear policy.

Of course, this first proposition is not controversial. Lewis’s unique contribution is to plumb the case studies to lend credence to the argument that such minimalism is deeply ingrained. He brings home the important point that China’s experts do not equate strategic stability with quantitative parity. In their view, the strategic situation is stable when China can resist attempted coercion by outside powers with nuclear weapons, an ability that rests directly on a capacity for limited but certain retaliation for any actual nuclear attack on China. Numbers do not matter, they argue, so long as the number of weapons that might penetrate to an attacker in retaliation is higher than zero.

Lewis’s second core proposition is that China’s force planners continue to be guided by this principle. This argument is more contentious, and his case in support of it is less persuasive. Lewis collects and recounts all of the information in common usage among the expert community about the numbers and types of deployed nuclear forces. China, he reports, has approximately 80 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads, with perhaps 30 on ICBMs (18 on DF-5s and 12 on DF-4s) and another 44 associated with medium-range ballistic missiles (the DF-3 and DF-21). He reports that China has no tactical weapons. He notes also China’s deployment of a large number of shorter-range missiles that are not understood to be intended for nuclear delivery. He makes brief mention of the fact that China tried to develop both air and sea legs of its nuclear triad but has allowed the former to fall into disrepair while struggling to keep even a single nuclear missile submarine functioning.

Lewis sees no reason to think that Chinese force planners intend to do anything other than preserve these existing capabilities, albeit with more-modern technologies over time. Indeed, although a few caveats are sprinkled through this analysis, his bottom lines are fairly stark. He states, “China has not yet revised the deployment pattern of its strategic forces, nor does it need to…. China will continue to maintain a modest retaliatory capability.” China “has not taken even the rudimentary steps to give its leaders the option of expanding their arsenal beyond current modernization plans.” He characterizes China’s modernization of these forces as “proposed” and asserts that China prefers the development of new systems to the deployment of them. He is dismissive of predictions by the U.S. intelligence community of anticipated growth in these nuclear forces, a case that is strengthened by the record of misprediction that he rightly notes.

These days it is difficult to read assessments such as these without recalling the findings of the Silberman-Robb Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Although focused originally on the problem of pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the commission came to a broad conclusion about WMD intelligence more generally: “we still know disturbingly little.” This obliges us to ask here, How good is the evidence? How probing is the analysis?

In this reader’s view, the evidence is more mixed than Lewis depicts it. His work says very little about the dramatically increased flow over the last decade of money and political commitment to the Second Artillery. This is the part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) responsible for China’s strategic missile forces, nuclear and otherwise, and it has gained higher prominence in Chinese defense planning and decision-making over the last decade. Its doctrine has been thoroughly updated, reflecting enhanced reliance on missile warfare by the PLA more generally. There is only one reference to the buildup of short-range missiles across the strait from Taiwan, which over the last decade has put roughly 100 new missiles into the field each year.

Although these short-range missiles are not believed to be nuclear tipped, the dramatic buildup is illustrative of a significant change in the way the PLA thinks about the wartime role of the Second Artillery. There has also been a considerable flow of military literature reflecting sustained recent effort to think nuclear policy and strategy issues through. Lewis only briefly describes a long-running Chinese debate about the continued credibility of a no-first-use policy. This is the pledge, in place since the founding of China’s nuclear capability, not to be the party in a conflict that initiates the use of nuclear weapons.

China’s December 2006 Defense White Paper helps to bring home just how much is changing in the PLA. It offers a vision of dramatic military transformation for all of the major elements of the PLA. It describes an overall strategy aimed at creating a “solid foundation” of military capabilities by 2010, “major progress” by 2020, and a fully modern military by 2050. What might this imply for the future of China’s nuclear force? The White Paper gives only a few hints in this regard. It reports that the Second Artillery “is quickening its steps…to increase its capabilities of land-based nuclear counter-strikes” and promises strengthened naval nuclear counterstrike capabilities.

The strongest case for the argument that something else may be afoot is made by Lewis himself: developments in the U.S. strategic posture seem to be creating major pressure on China to adapt its force structure in significant ways. As the United States moves toward stronger missile defenses, more-effective non-nuclear strategic strike capabilities, and enhanced intelligence and surveillance systems, China will have to adjust its posture in order to ensure that it remains effective and sufficient in the face of possible U.S. pre-emptive attack. This will mean a larger force and also a force that is more capable and ready. At the very least, China seems headed toward the deployment of a new sea-based leg of its nuclear deterrent plus a new land-based leg consisting of at least two new road-mobile missiles.

Chinese military experts also talk increasingly frequently about a deployment of five to seven warheads atop the existing silo-based missiles as a counter to U.S. missile defense. Steps such as these could result in an increase from 20 to 100 or more nuclear weapons deployed by China capable of reaching the United States.

Perhaps these quantitative and qualitative improvements are in the realm of what Lewis sees as consistent with “current modernization plans.” Many others would interpret a dramatic increase in the number of deployed weapons capable of striking the United States as a “fundamental revision of deployment patterns.” The truth may be a bit of both. The buildup is seen by many in China as an effort to restore the status quo ante, meaning the viability of a deterrent put at risk by improving U.S. defensive and offensive capabilities. Lewis argues that the Bush administration’s envisioned “new triad” does not yet exist in any tangible form and thus that China is not yet compelled to respond to it. China’s experts are more impressed by what they see as progress by the United States in deploying initial missile defense capabilities, new non-nuclear strike capabilities, and improved surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

Lewis does note that, “within China, of course, voices for much larger deployments do exist.” Without elaboration or substantiation, however, he goes on to argue that “these voices seem unlikely to exert much influence over the next decade given the nature of the Chinese political system.” At another point, he offers the surprising proposition that “changes in the U.S. force posture will probably not be the decisive factor affecting the future direction of China’s nuclear forces,” also without elaboration.

In short, the evidence about the state of China’s current nuclear force modernization plans is mixed. From this author’s perspective, it is not strong enough to lead to confident predictions of any kind. Lewis’s analysis would have been stronger had he at least sketched out and tested some of the alternative interpretations that the available data suggest.

Lewis’s third core proposition is that future Chinese restraint in the posturing of its nuclear force requires a promise of restraint by the United States in the form of an explicit acceptance of mutual vulnerability as the basis of strategic stability. In other words, so long as the United States chooses not to deploy capabilities that undermine China’s deterrent, China will not have to undertake any of that “proposed” modernization.

The notion that Chinese restraint is contingent on U.S. restraint strikes me as sound. The notion that stability requires some mutual understanding of the mutual, reciprocal nature of restraint also strikes me as sound, although it does strike some as appeasement, as a willingness to acquiesce to the competitive instincts of a rising power.

There are two more fundamental problems with this proposition. One is that Washington cannot promise Beijing not to develop the U.S. strategic posture in ways that damages China’s perceptions of the credibility of its deterrent. The question is how much damage and how much of it is intentional. The United States is motivated to develop a strategic posture that insulates it from the attempts by “rogue states” to create relationships of mutual vulnerability, and this posture will also affect U.S.-China strategic relations. A limited missile defense that is effective against a small North Korean nuclear missile force will have some effectiveness against the small nuclear missile force of its neighbor. Analogous arguments can be made about the impact of improved strategic strike capabilities encompassing better and more-prompt non-nuclear options.

Thus, even in the absence of a U.S. intention to challenge the Chinese deterrent, China must take steps to preserve the viability of its deterrent. The issue is not how to avoid this. Instead, the issue is how to manage this. How can the two countries modernize their capabilities and transform them for new challenges without an intensification of competition and a harmful intrusion of nuclear issues into the political relationship?

The other problem is with Lewis’s expectation that the United States can make a promise to China that it accepts a relationship of mutual vulnerability. As it turns out, this is much easier said than done. Lewis’s view seems to be that the Bush administration has it all wrong about China, and he calls for a repudiation of the ideas in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) as the shortest route to the goal he seeks. He attacks the NPR with gusto and along the way makes claims that simply are not supported by his evidence. “China is prominently featured in the 2001 NPR,” he asserts, although it apparently rated only a single mention in what was the Bush administration’s first effort to move from military planning against specific threats to military planning aimed at bringing into being a suite of capabilities suited to a broad range of plausible contingencies.

He argues further that “China’s strategic forces are increasingly supplanting Russia’s arsenal as the primary benchmark for determining the size and capabilities of U.S. forces,” a bit of argument that seems to miss the relevance of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which capped the size of U.S. and Russian operationally deployed strategic warheads at 1,700-2,200 each in 2012. He adds that “assumptions about the configuration and purpose of China’s nuclear arsenal determine not just the overall U.S. force posture but also the mix of capabilities identified in the 2001 NPR,” a case that is even more difficult to support.

Lewis is setting up an argument that all of this wrong thinking should be swept aside, thus enabling a return to a view of the strategic landscape that would make possible the promise he deems central to stability. Alas, it is not that simple. The Clinton administration was no more willing than this Bush administration to offer China such a promise. This decision was apparently taken after some serious internal discussion.

This points to an important theme left undeveloped in Lewis’s book: the underlying continuity, from China’s perspective, in the development of U.S. strategic thinking since the end of the Cold War. In the common Chinese view, the end of bipolarity increased U.S. freedom to maneuver, which it has exercised liberally by military and other means for nearly 20 years. Already in the late 1980s, the United States began to develop improved non-nuclear strategic strike capabilities. Already in the early 1990s, members of the George H.W. Bush administration and then the Clinton administration were discussing pre-emptive options at high levels and doing so publicly. Already in the mid-1990s, the United States was moving aggressively to create first theater and then national missile defenses.

Lewis might have done more to bring out the ambivalence evident over the last decade or so in the United States about offering China a promise of mutual vulnerability in the name of stability. It may well be the right call, but the ambivalence deserves some attention. It has something to do with profound uncertainty about what the rise of a powerful China weakly governed by an unaccountable one-party system might mean for the future security order. It also has something to do with a sense that stability is important, but after the Cold War, nuclear stability need not have a sacrosanct place in the hierarchy of security values.

Lewis rightly argues that a laissez-faire attitude toward this particular strategic relationship will not suffice. Avoidance of an intensification of strategic competition as China and the United States modernize and transform their strategic postures requires management. Lewis recommends a strategic stability dialogue, arguing that China has eagerly sought such a dialogue for at least a couple of decades. He would focus that dialogue on a pre-Bush arms control agenda encompassing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a fissile material cutoff treaty with verification measures, among other items, including a bilateral no-first-use pledge.

The recommendation for strategic dialogue has an obvious appeal, but alas, it is not particularly well developed. Lewis fails to mention two prior efforts at nuclear dialogue by the Clinton and Bush administrations that both faltered on an absence of Chinese transparency. He offers no commentary on the Bush administration’s separate effort to build a nuclear dialogue with China around the “responsible stakeholder” theme first articulated by then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. Moreover, his book apparently was finalized before the April 2006 summit commitment by Presidents George W. Bush and Hu Jintao to initiate a military-to-military dialogue on nuclear issues. A year later, at the time of this writing, the Chinese have yet to accept an invitation to schedule what was to be the first step in the dialogue process, a visit by the head of the Second Artillery to Strategic Command. This raises a basic question about the eagerness for strategic dialogue that Lewis imputes to China’s leaders.

Lewis has done us a service by helping to raise a debate about the future of China’s nuclear forces, the interaction of China and U.S. modernization/transformation efforts, and the desirability of a dialogue that effectively manages the relationship. His assessment of the problem strikes me as a bit lopsided, with its singular emphasis on the United States as the driver of instability and his convenient assumption that changes are not already afoot in the Chinese posture. His prescription strikes me as lacking an adequate understanding of China’s search for nuclear security and of America’s search. Yet, after a decade or two of U.S. debate about how to achieve the necessary and desirable strategic relationships with the “rogues” and Russia, it is time to have the debate Lewis invites about how to achieve the right U.S. nuclear relationship with China.

Brad Roberts is a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He is co-author with Robert Manning and Ronald Montaperto of China, Nuclear Weapons, and Arms Control (2000).

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A Review of The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China’s Search for Security in the Nuclear Age by Jeffrey Lewis. (Continue)


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