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Nuclear Disarmament’s Asian Pivot

WASHINGTON, DC – In 2009, US President Barack Obama pledged to seek a world without nuclear weapons. But, while he delivered on his promise to negotiate a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia a year later, progress has since stalled. To break the deadlock, the current bilateral framework for negotiation, which has remained largely unchanged since the Cold War, must be transformed into a trilateral framework that includes China.

To be sure, such a move would significantly complicate negotiations. After all, while decades of bilateral dialogue have given the United States and Russia a good sense of each other’s strategic perspectives – including the issues on which they disagree – China’s perception of strategic stability is unfamiliar. But trilateral dialogues, catalyzed by skillful US diplomacy, could also serve as an opportunity to manage the countries’ strategic relations, which currently are characterized by contradictions and mistrust.

Russia seeks China’s support in opposing American missile-defense systems, and calls for the involvement of all nuclear states in future strategic arms-control talks, but then cites concerns about China’s military modernization to justify its refusal to negotiate with NATO on tactical nuclear-weapon reduction. China, which has never adopted legally binding limits on its nuclear weapons or strategic nuclear-delivery vehicles, rejects Russia’s call to join negotiations – a stance that the US supports until the Russian and US nuclear arsenals move closer in size to those of China.

At the same time, US officials deny that their country’s missile-defense programs are directed against Russia or China, but refuse to offer a legally binding guarantee. And the US Department of Defense is developing a robust program of long-range conventional strike weapons, which China and Russia cite to justify their efforts to strengthen their offensive nuclear forces.