Nuclear Message to the World

| Walter Pincus
Walter Pincus
Columnist, The Cipher Brief

OPINION — President Trump’s repeated message that Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons requires him to have better relations with Vladimir Putin, should encourage China to sharply increase the size of its strategic nuclear forces.

That’s the message in an article entitled, “China can learn from Trump’s Russia stance,” carried in the July 20, English-language, Global Times. The Chinese publication is considered a hawkish, pro-regime mouthpiece for conservative elements within the Chinese Communist Party, and thus has influence with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Trump has repeatedly stressed that Russia and the U.S. are the two biggest nuclear powers in the world, with their combined nuclear arsenal accounting for 90 percent of the world’s total, and thus the U.S. must live in peace with Russia,” the Global Times op-ed stated. It pointed out, “Russia’s economy is weak. Its GDP did not make the world’s top 10, yet its military, especially its nuclear power, has sustained its status as one of the most influential nations in the world.”

As a result, the op-ed continued, despite the serious geopolitical differences between Moscow and Washington, “Trump suddenly reversed the hard line U.S. stance and showed a low-key response to Putin. That’s probably because, as Trump said, Russia is a nuclear power.”

Whatever the real reasons behind Trump’s kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has regularly used Russia’s nuclear forces as the reason for his actions. Trump did it again last Tuesday during his July 17, White House meeting with Members of Congress. “Getting along with Russia would be a good thing… in fact, a very good thing. We’re nuclear powers, great nuclear powers. Russia and us have 90 percent of the nuclear weapons.” And, Trump added, that in his mind, nuclear weapons are “the greatest threat of our world today.”

Trump even used that nuclear argument during his infamous Helsinki press conference with Putin. There, it became a vehicle to directly attack the Mueller investigation, saying first, “It [meaning the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election] has had a negative impact on the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world.” Trump later said, “We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the [Mueller] probe.”

The Global Times op-ed said, “The U.S. has defined China as its strategic competitor and is exerting more pressure. The trade war may be just the beginning. Tensions between the two nations may spread to other areas. We believe that during this process, the White House will continue to evaluate, including a look at China’s nuclear arsenal.”

Latest estimates are that the U.S. and Russia each have roughly 6,500 or more nuclear weapons, although under arms control agreements, only 1,550 warheads can be actually deployed. China, on the other hand, has only an estimated 280 nuclear weapons.

In fact, China has for years been satisfied with a small, but increasingly mobile, second-strike ICBM capability, augmented by a handful of nuclear-powered, ballistic missile submarines. Beijing, up to now, has adopted a policy described as “minimal reprisal,” which suggests that one or two surviving ICBMs to hit an attacking country would be enough for deterring an enemy’s first strike, nuclear attack.

The result, according to the Global Times article, is that “China’s relatively weak military, especially its nuclear power, which lags behind the U.S., is a major strategic sore point.”

The op-ed writer argues that China “must reconsider what constitutes ‘sufficient’ in terms of nuclear weapons.” Instead, with its robust economy, “China’s nuclear weapons have to not only secure a second strike, but also play the role of cornerstone in forming a strong deterrence so that outside powers dare not intimidate China militarily,” according to the op-ed.

It calls for stepping up production “as soon as possible” of the new, Dongfeng-41 ICBM, which is silo-based, but  also road and rail mobile. It can carry six to ten warheads, and has a range of over 7,000 miles. “Not only should we possess a strong nuclear arsenal, but we must also let the outside world know that China is determined to defend its core national interests with nuclear power,” the author wrote.

It’s doubtful that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is the real reason for Trump’s deference to Putin, but his repeated reference to nuclear weapons, including those of the U.S., show he believes they show strength – even perhaps his own.

The Chinese writer got the idea that to deal with Trump, his country needs not only to continue adding to its nuclear stockpile, but also sharply increase the planned numbers.

What idea has North Korea’s Kim Jong-un gotten from Trump’s repeated message about the importance of Putin having a nuclear arsenal?

And how about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the target of Trump’s most recent, threatening tweet?  He must realize today that had he not gotten rid of his 20 percent enriched uranium three years ago, by now he may have had several nuclear weapons, something for which Trump apparently has some respect.

 

The Author is Walter Pincus

Walter Pincus is a Columnist and the Senior National Security Reporter at The Cipher Brief. He spent forty years at The Washington Post, writing on topics from nuclear weapons to politics.  In 2002, he and a team of Post reporters won the Pulitzer Price for national reporting. He also won an Emmy in 1981 and the 2010 Arthur Ross Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy.  He can be reached at wpincus@thecipherbrief.com.

Learn more about The Cipher Brief's Network here.

CLICK TO ADD YOUR POINT OF VIEW

Share your point of view

Your comment will be posted pending moderator approval. No ad hominem attacks will be posted. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *