It is confusing for those of us who want to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Where does each nation really stand on the issue? They are not consistent and often do things that don’t match their rhetoric. We are awash in detail listening to a cacophony of voices telling us all of the different things we should do.
Just think for a moment about how many people around the world derive livelihood and importance from the nuclear armaments; the diplomatic analysts, all branches of the military, strategists, manufacturers, professors, writers, politicians, etc., etc. With all these different points of view and each special interest jockeying to be heard or get a piece of the action, it is any wonder it is confusing. So hold this thought for we will come back to it.
Consider that the United States has consistently said it seeks to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. While other countries have, the U.S. has never said it will not be first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. While they continue to negotiate reductions with Russia and are said to be in hard financial times, the U.S. government is seeking to increase its spending on its nuclear weapons development program to $7.9 billion. This represents about 30% more than when President Obama first took office.
An article in the May 9, 2013 issue of Nature magazine observes that U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in a budget meeting pointed out the 2014 funding request for $7.9 billion was in real terms the same as the U.S. was spending at the height of the cold war in 1985 when it had 25,000 nuclear weapons, was designing new families of weapons and was conducting underground tests. One of the major recipients of these funds is the National Nuclear Security Administration (a semi-autonomous part of the Energy Department). Their stated position is it would not necessarily be cheaper just to maintain existing weapons. This is their justification for their development of new warheads and weapons systems.
So which is it? Will the U.S. be first to use nuclear weapons or not? Does it want to lessen the threat of nuclear weapons by reducing and eliminating them or does it want to modernize and replace them? Maybe this new funding is a ploy to encourage others to keep negotiating the weapons away and the money will not be spent to develop new weapons systems. Maybe the U.S. will wind up with new secret weapons. Maybe the strategy is all of the above.
Also perplexing is China. China largely sidestepped the arms build-up of the cold war instead letting the USSR and U.S. face off alone. Estimates by the Arms Control Association place the size of China’s nuclear arsenal at about 240 warheads compared to the estimated size of the U.S. arsenal of 5,113 nuclear warheads including tactical, strategic and non-deployed warheads.
In 1964, immediately after the Chinese test of their first nuclear weapon, China declared they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. This explicit “no-first-use pledge” has been repeated in six successive government statements or white papers released over the last 50 or so years.
This year the Chinese white paper on defense, released in mid April, completely omits any reference to “no-first-use”. The new Chinese president, Xi Jinping, elected this year, in his first speech to the Second Artillery Force, responsible for the China’s nuclear arsenal, again made no reference to the no-first-use policy. Governments around the world assume this is not just a casual omission but signals a new aggressiveness from China.
Many would argue this is but another way for China to signal its significant concerns about the Obama 2011 decision to “pivot” and “rebalance” naval and marine resources towards the Pacific and Asia areas. The stated U.S. objective is to change the 50:50 deployment of its resources between the Asian and European areas to a 60:40 split. Or China’s reaction may represent an attempt to get more leverage in ongoing territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Or it has decided to just mimic the U.S. position.
There are many reasons the U.S. can give for its redeployment of resources. Many would cite China’s annual 10% increase in its military spending (which includes new aircraft carriers), the existing U.S. relationships with South Korea and Japan, and threats emanating from North Korea as major factors.
The U.S. government would point out that two of its strongest allies in the Pacific region, Japan and South Korea, are both technologically advanced and could develop nuclear weapons of their own in very short order if the U.S. did not restrain them. It is incumbent on the U.S. to reassure these two allies that it will protect them from attacks by their bellicose neighbor, North Korea.
In the meantime, the bellicose neighbor has conducted their third confirmed nuclear test. Their first test in 2006 had a yield of about 1 kiloton. In 2009, their second test was in the six kiloton range. This most recent test was thought to be as large as 10 kilotons and of much smaller design. This miniaturization signals an objective to carry their weapons on long-range missiles.
Repeated threats from North Korea followed this test, asserting they were close to a nuclear war with the U.S. or South Korea or other unspecified countries in the South China Sea. While it is clear North Korea is now a nuclear power, the world discounts its ability to send a missile with a nuclear warhead very far or with any accuracy. The world also believes that North Korea really does not want a nuclear showdown and that its statements are just more belligerent puffery similar to what it has said numerous times since the Korean War. The West generally believes that North Korea is trying to blackmail them into giving it various concessions and forms of aid.
The U.S. has responded to North Korean threats by redeploying a warship and a sea-based radar platform closer to the Korean coast. In addition, it beefed up the anti-ballistic missile defenses deployed in Japan. These steps were meant to reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. remained their strategic partner.
In this post, we have only looked superficially at five countries; the U.S., China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan. We have also examined only a small sampling of their many actions or interests. Imagine how convoluted everything gets when everyone with any interest is included, when all of the nuclear powers are considered and when all the nuclear ‘wannabes’ are added.
The lesson to be drawn by people who want to eliminate nuclear weapons is that we cannot afford to be drawn into thinking about the issues by thrashing around in the detail and minutiae. Without the minutiae how will everyone directly involved convince us they are necessary and productive? It is they who create the minutiae. Without it they largely lose their importance and reason for being.
The lesson to be re-learned is an old one; we can’t afford to miss the forest by looking at the trees. Those of us who want to eliminate nuclear weapons must keep our eye on the forest continuing to demand our politicians and governments redefine their role and value by finding a way to eliminate these weapons. When enough of our voices are raised in this demand, simple as it is, they will pay attention and find a way.
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