Wednesday, February 13, 2002

After the September 11 attacks, we were told “everything has changed,” that America will face unprecedented new threats, and that we will have to adjust our thinking accordingly. This diagnosis is only partially true.

We do indeed face new threats to American security that require new strategic thinking. But not everything has changed: Just because new threats emerge, other threats do not conveniently disappear.

Barely noticed amidst the post-September 11 coverage came intelligence that the Communist Chinese have recently tested a new submarine-launched missile called the Julang, or “Great Wave.” The missile, with a range of 5,000 miles, will soon be deployed on China’s newest ballistic missile submarines, and may well be outfitted with multiple warheads (MIRVs), thanks in part to the theft of secret U.S. technology.

One need hardly consult a map to realize the Julang’s 5,000-mile range will allow the Chinese to hit any population center or military facility in the United States by firing missiles from the relative safety of international waters.

The sad fact is that the end of the Cold War did not end arms competition or great power rivalries. America and Russia are indeed reducing their nuclear arsenals and seeking greater cooperation. China, however, is racing harder than ever to establish its place as a dominant nuclear power, intimidating democratic Taiwan with massive military deployments, spending billions to expand and modernize its conventional and nuclear arsenals, transferring nuclear technology to “rogue” regimes and, in the case of the Julang, seeking ways to project its nuclear power on a global level.

During his meeting with Vladimir Putin late last year in Crawford, Texas, President Bush announced plans unilaterally to cut the number of U.S. nuclear warheads by two-thirds, from the current 6,000 to a range between 1,700 and 2,200, and Mr. Putin signaled his willingness to reduce Russian arms to similar levels. But now, at Mr. Putin’s urging, the administration is ready to sign an arms control agreement to codify these reductions.

Unfortunately, the decision to reach such an agreement is seriously mistaken.

If the Crawford announcement and Mr. Putin’s response demonstrate anything, it is how superfluous arms control treaties are between nations that decreasingly view each other as a threat. America does not negotiate strategic arms levels with the British or French. Thus, our force levels should be set according to one, primary calculation: what we need to ensure American security. The Russians should also cut according to their security needs. As relations between our governments improve, strategic reductions will naturally follow and arms agreements will be completely unnecessary.

But Russia is only part of the strategic calculus. There is an almost “Alice in Wonderland” quality in the call for “bilateral” arms control between Russia and the U.S. in what is becoming, at minimum, a trilateral environment. The danger is that by locking the U.S. into bilateral agreements, we will not have the flexibility to respond to the mounting Chinese nuclear threat (not to mention possible adverse developments in Russia).

Since China is arguably the greatest long-term external threat that Russia faces, it should be possible for us to realize some level of Russian cooperation on this score, but without formal agreements.

Unfortunately, when concerns about Chinese strategic intentions are raised, we increasingly hear that American strength is somehow threatening to China. It is reminiscent of the hoary Cold War warning about Soviet “insecurity.” But American strength is not what threatens China. If any proof were needed, America’s 10-year reign as the lone superpower has made it clear that overwhelming American military superiority is a force for stability and peace in the world.

The true source of tension between the U.S. and China is that America stands as a constant rebuke to dictatorships that deny their own people the same freedoms we enjoy. Whether we want it to or not, the American example of democracy always threatens to animate dissent among the Chinese people and thus underscores the Beijing regime’s central political problem its illegitimacy and therefore its precarious internal security.

How scared are the Chinese rulers of democratic liberty? Look at Beijing’s hysterical reaction to the first democratic elections in Taiwan in 1996. China lobbed missiles over Taiwan’s shipping routes, began the deployments of offensive weapons aimed at the island that continue to this day, and, lest we forget it, threatened Los Angeles with nuclear annihilation if the United States got involved.

As in the Cold War, American military superiority is not destabilizing. Dictatorships are especially those that entertain ambitions of becoming aggressive regional, if not global powers, as Communist China clearly does.

Although it still is in a position of strategic inferiority, China’s massive espionage and military industrial efforts have yielded it major strategic gains. But if we allow China to become a nuclear superpower while failing to retain an overwhelming superiority over it, we will have walked ourselves right back into the Cold War nightmare of mutually assured destruction that we only recently escaped with Russia.

A peaceful, stable world demands that America build a missile defense and retain an effective Triad of nuclear forces, including budgetary authority and plans for modernization and the development of new offensive weapons. The Bush administration’s recently completed Nuclear Posture Review more detailed than the reductions announced at Crawford prudently provides for retaining our Triad of land-based and submarine-based ballistic missiles and bombers at levels sufficient to keep each of these legs viable.

But to maintain unmistakable strategic deterrence, we need to do more. We need to modernize these decades-old forces and avoid the temptation to eliminate any one of them. If we start modernizing now, the costs will be marginal and easily sustained over the years. If America has the will to maintain its current strategic advantage, the Chinese will not be able to compete. Perhaps sometime in the future, like the Russians today, they will no longer feel the need to do so.

Pursuing an arms control agreement with Russia not only ignores China but unnecessarily opens a Pandora’s box of other problems such as the compliance issue. For example, Russia continues to violate existing agreements such as that on Conventional Forces in Europe, and does so for its own security reasons. Honesty and sound diplomatic practice dictate that we take such violations seriously and, for once, adopt a compliance policy that deters violations and circumventions.

But do we truly wish to create a framework of relations where tensions with Russia may arise over such issues? By avoiding an agreement, such concerns could fade away as each party pursued its own defense needs unilaterally.

If the administration insists on reaching such an agreement, then it must include a compliance policy and easy exit provisions. It should involve the least legally binding commitment and instead stress requirements for both sides to keep each other fully informed. If ever there was use for a lower-level diplomatic vehicle such as a communique or an aide memoire, it is now. Above all, an agreement should in no way circumscribe our ability to deter the growing threat of Chinese nuclear missiles.

John Lenczowski is founder, director and professor at the Institute of World Politics in D.C. and served as director of European and Soviet affairs in the National Security Council from 1983 to 1987.

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