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China’s nuclear ambitions could lead to a tripolar landscape and further proliferation as it seeks to place itself on a par with the US and Russia.
“It is one thing to have some sort of bilateral nuclear superpowers who know the world as it is now, but by heading towards a trilateral and trilateral situation the potential for accidents and miscalculations naturally grows,” James Anderson, as Undersecretary of Defense for the politics under President Trump, he told Fox News Digital. “And that’s a shame.”
The international landscape has remained in a bipolar dynamic between the United States and Russia as the two dominant powers due to a mutually assured destruction (MAD) policy thanks to their virtually unrivaled nuclear arsenals. That balance of power has been in place for over 70 years.
However, China has recently invested much more heavily in its nuclear arsenal and capabilities, developing a wide range of nuclear weapons in its land, sea and air delivery platforms that aim to bring it to the same level as the US and Russia. John Kirby said in November 2021 that the Pentagon’s “number one pace challenge is the People’s Republic of China”.
In 2020, the Pentagon estimated that China has an arsenal in the “low of 200”, but that number is set to “at least double” in the next decade. A Pentagon report last year stated that China “probably intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, surpassing the pace and size of the [Defense Dept.] expected in 2020 “.
If China reached that level of power, it would upset the bipolar dynamic as MAD would no longer remain effective: if any two powers hit each other, the third would gain significantly from the conflict. Mutual destruction is no longer assured and this necessarily forces all nations to change their behavior and policies.
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The only positive is the difference between the American, Russian and Chinese arsenals: even with its aggressive expansion, China still has a lot of ground to recover from its rivals.
“I think if we use pure numbers, they still have a long way to go, particularly in what we consider Russia’s reserve capabilities,” Matt McInnis of the Institute for the Study of War told Fox News Digital.
“China still has something in the range, you know, maybe around 300 or so, three or 400,” he explained. “They are likely to reach, according to current US government estimates, up to 700 weapons by 2027, probably a thousand by 2030, and from there they could head north … to really probably achieve parity until when , until the middle of the century. “
China’s aggressive expansion would lead to a potential tripolar international dynamic, in which it stands on par with the US and Russia, offsetting the delicate balance and potentially leading to greater nuclear proliferation in other countries.
“I think it’s another potential risk that we absolutely need to consider,” Anderson explained. “This is certainly a relevant case here, given the Indo-Chinese rivalry. They have fought border wars and clashed recently, and I think you would be very worried now and will become more and more when the PRC embarks on this nuclear expansion.” .
McInnis also pointed to the Middle East as a candidate for accelerated proliferation if China were to achieve its goals, but speculated that the countries closest to China, namely South Korea and Japan, would certainly consider changing theories. their non-nuclear policies.
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“What Japan and India are doing is the most interesting question,” McInnis said. “And I think it’s something to be aware of: the risk they take if they continue to pursue another power that drastically changes the nuclear balance in the region.”
The treaties remain a critical element of the bipolar landscape, but the developing tripolar landscape has not represented a clear opportunity to attempt to develop similar agreements: any arms control agreement would require the participation of Russia, which seems remote from relations between Moscow. and Washington at a slow pace after the invasion of Ukraine.
“Personally I’m not optimistic that now is a realistic time for [negotiations]because the Russians obviously are not interested in any kind of cooperative negotiation with us while the war is raging in Ukraine, “Heino Klinck, senior consultant with the National Bureau of Asian Research, told Fox News Digital.” I don’t think we would even want to deal with it. anything he knows of any kind of cooperation with the Russians. ”
Failure to develop meaningful arms control leaves the United States at a disadvantage as it works to find a way to cooperate with China and reign in the pace of proliferation.
“If you look at Secretary Blinken’s recent speech, of course, the administration is looking for opportunities for cooperation where possible [with China]”Klinck said.” I think even if an opportunity for some kind of cooperative arms control deal is not realistic … it should be part of the normal American discussion when confronting the Chinese. ”
Klinck said the US is unlikely to receive “any kind of positive response” from China.
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“I think they’re just going to push back,” he said.
All three experts also advised that China’s arsenal is not the only item that requires rigorous scrutiny: any nuclear arsenal is just one location unless China changes doctrine as well.
A key component of MAD policy focuses on the “first strike”, which argues that a country is able to destroy an opponent’s arsenal by surviving weak retaliation; thus, rendering their opponent unable to continue the war.
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The opposite, a “no first use” doctrine, postulates instead that a country will not use nuclear weapons unless first attacked by them. China has so far maintained an NFU policy and would likely change it if it intended to be equal to the US and Russia.
“We need to think seriously about … re-evaluating our policy in this regard if we are faced with a world power like China willing to adopt a first strike,” McInnis said. “I think we have to think: we must communicate our willingness to change policy if we see China moving in that direction.”