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Jointly Cope with International Nuclear Security Challenges

Apr 02 , 2016

The Fourth Nuclear Security Summit is held in Washington D.C from March 31 to April 1. Personally advocated by United States President Barack Obama, the nuclear summit has been convened once every two years since 2010. Obama also intends to make it one of his major political legacies. Though Obama made the proposal to build a “nuclear-free world” in 2009 and won a Nobel Prize because of it, the truth is international nuclear security has been deteriorating. No matter who is elected the next US president, the US will face the most complicated and thorny nuclear security conditions since the end of the Cold War.

It was the US itself that has made the prospect of a “nuclear-free world” drifting increasingly farther from reality. The Obama administration on one hand advocates a “nuclear-free world”, on the other hand is engaging in large-scale upgrade of US nuclear arsenal, trying hard to consolidate and expand its security advantages in the nuclear field. According to the scheme proposed by the Obama administration, in the next 30 years, the US will spend about $1 trillion on improving nuclear arsenal, including renewing 12 nuclear submarines and hundreds of nuclear bombs. The US has not passed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to date.

In addition, US allies seem not that enthusiastic about a “nuclear-free world”. The Cameron government in Great Britain is making all-out efforts to purchase new nuclear-powered submarines, so that the country could achieve brand-new maritime nuclear deterrence around 2030. Japan is peddling its nuclear capabilities to countries like India. If Japan offers India special treatments in such aspects as nuclear power technologies, it will undoubtedly create fresh difficulties for the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Of course, worsening US-Russia relations have tremendously aggravated international nuclear security challenges, and Russian leaders will not attend the nuclear security summit in Washington. Since Russia has inherited nuclear capabilities from the Soviet Union, it has been playing a substantial role in international nuclear non-proliferation. However, such factors as the Ukraine crisis and conflicts in Syria have made US-Russia wrangling increasingly fierce. So much so that Russia even suspects a “New Cold War” has begun. The Putin government has strongly criticized US hegomonistic mindset regarding nuclear security. US-Russia nuclear disarmament negotiations have thus stopped completely.

Like China, Russia believes the US has broken global strategic stability by deploying anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia. The US has even deployed tactical nuclear weapons on Russia’s doorsteps. In fact, under current technological conditions, it is very easy to transform missile defense into missile attack. Therefore, absolute security for the US means insecurity for other countries.

What worries US strategists even more is the fact that Russia is making major revisions to its nuclear military theory to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons in conflicts, and to strengthen strategic deterrence against the NATO. Given this, the annual report published at the Munich Security Conference in February 2016 pointed out that the risk of using nuclear weapons in the Europe-Atlantic area is rising, and such risk is greater than any time after the Cold War.

Under such conditions, the US needs to try to turn China into a partner in the field of nuclear security. Meanwhile, China is becoming a firm supporter of international cooperation in nuclear security. Xi Jinping has attended several nuclear security summits, which is an important gesture of support for the US. In 2014, Xi for the first time put forward China’s outlook on nuclear security at the summit in The Hague. China is reportedly to deliver a national nuclear security report at the Washington summit, and Xi is expected to make substantive proposals on enhancing global nuclear security.

Why is China becoming increasing proactive on the issue of nuclear security? First, a number of countries with nuclear capabilities are on China’s periphery, and possibilities of large-scale conflicts between such countries, Pakistan and India for instance, do exist. The independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that India has 90 to 110 low-equivalent nuclear warheads, while Pakistan has as many as 120. As tension escalates regarding the North Korea nuclear issue, there have been louder calls for developing nuclear weapons in South Korea. About two-thirds of South Koreans agree that their country should develop nuclear weapons, or ask the US to re-deploy nuclear weapons there. Second, China is in all-out efforts to develop nuclear energy so as to improve structure of energy consumption. But there is a greater need for preventing and managing corresponding security risks. By 2020, installed power-generating capacity on China’s mainland will reach 58 million kilowatts, and China will take Japan’s place as the world’s largest nuclear energy user.

Third, China needs to upgrade precautions against “nuclear terrorism”. In recent years, there have been multiple cases where such nuclear materials as highly enriched uranium were stolen or smuggled in other countries. Once such materials fall in the hands of terrorist organizations, they may make some crude nuclear weapons. They may even intend to sabotage Chinese nuclear facilities, or release radioactive nuclear pollutants in major Chinese cities using “dirty bombs”.

Though China and the US disagree in many aspects, both are willing to deepen cooperation on nuclear security. China cooperated closely with the US and other countries and maneuvered the agreement on the Iran nuclear issue. The two countries held their first dialogue on nuclear security in February 2016. The nuclear security demonstration center the China Atomic Energy Agency and US Energy Department jointly built in Beijing has come into operation recently. It is the largest facility with the most advanced equipments the world over.

Themed on enhancing international nuclear security regime, the Washington summit will feature 52 national leaders and heads of governments. Obama will hold the only one-on-one meeting with Xi. In the process of building a new-type major-country relationship between China and the US, cooperation surrounding nuclear security may become a new highlight in bilateral relations.

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