The United States does not have a nuclear emergency hotline with Beijing. There has never been an in-depth, meaningful discussion between the two nations concerning American missile defences in the Pacific, or about China’s experimentation with blinding U.S. satellites in the event of a conflict.
Chinese authorities have also continuously opposed the concept of participating in arms limitation negotiations, citing the fact that the United States and Russia each have deployed five times the number of nuclear weapons that Beijing has as a reason for their opposition.
For the first time, the United States is attempting to encourage China’s leadership into engaging in a discussion about the country’s nuclear capacity and capabilities. Officials from the United States have described the American strategy as follows: Mr. Biden and his top aides plan to move slowly, focusing first on avoiding accidental conflict, then on each nation’s nuclear strategy and the related instability that could result from attacks in cyberspace and outer space, according to the officials.
Mr. Biden brought up “strategic stability talks” during his virtual summit meeting with China’s president, Xi Jinping, who has clearly sought to position himself alongside Mao Zedong as an epoch-defining leader. The White House has euphemistically referred to these talks as “strategic stability talks.”
Mr. Biden’s advisers have said in interviews that the endeavour is a hesitant first step toward a much wider agenda, similar to the earliest discussions on nuclear weapons that Russia and the United States had in the 1950s, according to the Associated Press. They maintain that the first objective should be to simply prevent misinterpretation and unintended conflict — even if the situation never escalates to the point of posing a nuclear threat.
He observed that the nuclear relationship with Russia is “much more mature” and “has a far deeper history” than the one with the United States. He went on to say that after the summit meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi, it is now appropriate to commence such discussions with China. “It is now incumbent upon us to consider the most effective approach to go ahead,” he stated of the situation.
As far as Washington is concerned, this is the resurgence of a long-standing fear: in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson was so concerned about the rise of another nuclear rival that he considered, but ultimately rejected, plans to conduct a pre-emptive strike or covert sabotage on China’s main nuclear testing site at Lop Nor.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the United States was “very close” to experiencing a “Sputnik moment” when the Chinese launched a hypersonic missile in July that circled the globe once before deploying a manoeuvrable glide vehicle that could zigzag on an unpredictable path and deliver a weapon anywhere on the planet. However, in the weeks that have followed, American officials have been hesitant to explain precisely what it was about that experiment that had them so alarmed — apart from the fact that it demonstrated a level of technical competence that they were unaware the Chinese had acquired.
Uncertainty exists over whether China intends to deploy hypersonic weapons in the future, and even if they do, it is not known whether or not they will be loaded with nuclear warheads. In contrast, General Milley’s deputy, Gen. John Hyten, who is retiring as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in October that the Chinese military has undertaken “hundreds” of hypersonic tests, compared to just nine done by the United States military.
On this issue, there is no consensus among the White House and the Pentagon, as you would expect. As a former vice president, Mr. Biden has long been sceptical of assessments that could be intended to increase the Pentagon’s budget — and certainly, American defence contractors, with their executive offices jammed with former senior military officers, have an interest in describing a new threat that could result in billions of dollars in new investments.
General John Raymond, who commands the newly created United States Space Force, recently told reporters and editorial writers for the New York Times that, in the event of a crisis, he has no direct line of communication with his Chinese counterpart — a potentially dangerous situation if, for example, an accidental collision with a Chinese spacecraft were to be misconstrued as an act of aggression.
The history of such dialogues does not bode well for the future. In an effort that spanned many administrations, the United States attempted for years to persuade Chinese officials to discuss how they would protect nuclear weapons in North Korea in the event that the country fell. The goal was to prevent a clash between Chinese, South Korean, and American personnel who were all attempting to locate and retrieve unsecured weapons at the same time. The Chinese have long shied away from discussing the potential of the North’s collapse, maybe out of fear of being implicated in such discussions.
China and the United States have never had an in-depth conversation about missile defences in the Pacific, according to official records. Independent analysts, though, believe that the hypersonic test may push the issue since it is evident that Beijing’s goals are growing in scope.
The Pentagon has also begun on a massive operation to launch up to 500 satellites into orbit, which will give greater monitoring capabilities for ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic missiles, among other things. Swarming is deemed essential for building a comprehensive system capable of identifying hypersonic assaults and directing interceptors into flight routes that would allow them to kill the oncoming gliders, according to experts.
Ms. Gottemoeller, who just wrote a book about her experiences negotiating the New Start accord with Russia, is concerned about it all. It’s important that we speak about how we’re going to disrupt it.”