Failing to match Communist China’s growing nuclear arsenal, or even engage Beijing directly to curb its arms buildup, President Biden is opting for banter at the United Nations.
The five permanent members of the Security Council issued a joint statement Monday, calling to prevent a nuclear arms race and avert nuclear war, which “cannot be won and must never be fought.”
The non-binding statement, published by the White House and the other signatories, called for creating “a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” and using diplomacy to “prevent an arms race that would benefit none and endanger all.”
Britain, France, Communist China, Russia, and America are the five permanent, veto-wielding council members. Known as the P5, the group was chosen because its members were the sole owners of nuclear arms as the United Nations formed its institutional structures.
Critics seized on Monday’s statement as proof of Washington’s weakness in world affairs. The declaration is merely “an excuse to limit America’s nuclear arsenal,” a senior congressional aide told me, adding that it was issued even as “China is rapidly building its own nuclear arsenal, and doesn’t really care what the U.N. thinks or does.”
The Biden administration “is not serious about preserving the NPT,” the aide said, referring to the 191-member Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. If the administration were serious, he said, it would avoid weakening the treaty and allowing Iran to negotiate the watering down of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Monday’s statement came as America’s security establishment ponders how to respond to the growth of China’s nuclear weapons caches. In December, the Pentagon estimated that Communist China is rapidly increasing its nuclear arsenal and by the end of the decade could quadruple it to at least 1,000 warheads.
Last summer the United States Strategic Command website linked to a New York Times article on Beijing’s construction of 250 underground silos housing nuclear-capable missiles. Separately, as reported by the Associated Press, researchers at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies identified a similar field under construction, in China’s Gansu province.
In May, America’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, Robert Wood, told a U.N. meeting in Geneva that despite “dramatic build-up of its nuclear arsenal,” Beijing refuses to enter bilateral talks with America on “nuclear risk reduction.”
The State Department has cited China for failure to comply with several treaties it has signed, including the Missile Technology Control Regime, which bans sales to countries such as Iran and North Korea. China also reportedly tested nuclear weapons, and otherwise violated obligations under several nuclear-related pacts.
Separately, Russia recently threatened to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe unless America re-signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In 2019, President Trump pulled out of that Cold War-era ban on missiles with the range of 310 and 3,400 miles, arguing that Moscow had already violated it.
Russia’s large nuclear arsenal remains the toughest challenge for America’s security. Mr. Biden has sought renewal of that pact and other bilateral treaties with Moscow. But while two-sided agreements may have anchored America’s diplomacy in the bipolar Cold War era, they could easily prove useless now — at least as long as China refuses to even negotiate joining them while it seeks to match and surpass America’s and Russia’s arsenals.
As Beijing widens its presence in various Turtle Bay institutions, gaining leadership in key U.N. agencies, it nevertheless remains cagey about any international intrusion into its own affairs. From refusing the World Health Organization’s access to Wuhan laboratories to hiding its nuclear program from prying international eyes, it cagily guards its sovereignty.
This summer the United Nations reconvened a conference on the old idea of creating a nuclear-free zone in the Mideast. Few have failed to notice that the idea, initiated by Arab countries and Iran, aims at stripping Israel of its undeclared nuclear deterrence — which is why the conference’s goal remains elusive.
Similarly, Monday’s P5 statement, if it had any teeth (or serious content), would have been strictly adhered to by America, France, and Great Britain — much to the delight of China, Russia, and other nuclear powers that would ignore it.