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America’s Arms-Control Restraints No Longer Make Sense

Our enemies are proliferating, so we must adapt

On June 18, 1935, the United Kingdom and Germany entered “a permanent and definite agreement” that limited Germany’s total warship tonnage to 35 percent of the British Commonwealth’s. This was a major concession from Great Britain, since agreements at the Washington (1921–22) and London (1930) naval conferences had already significantly reduced its own fleet. Hitler defined “permanent and definite” to mean lasting less than four years: He abrogated the treaty on April 28, 1939, four convenient months before the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact carved up Poland and started World War II. Arms control at work.

After 1945, America concluded a series of treaties that were, when signed or shortly thereafter, almost uniformly disadvantageous to us. Considerable efforts to eliminate these restraints have been made, but significant risk remains of reverting to the old ways or not extracting ourselves from the remaining harmful treaties. Whoever next wins the presidency should seek the effective end of the usual arms-control theology before the tide turns again.

To have any chance of bolstering U.S. national security, arms control must fit into larger strategic frameworks, which it has not done well in the last century. Even if they made sense in their day, many arms-control treaties have not withstood changing circumstances. Preserving them is even less viable as we enter a new phase of international affairs: the era after the post–Cold War era. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Iran’s ongoing “ring of fire” strategy against Israel, China’s aspirations for regional and then global hegemony, and the Beijing–Moscow axis augur trying times. We need a post–post–Cold War strategy avowedly skeptical of both the theoretical and the operational aspects of the usual approaches to arms control.

Rethinking arms-control doctrine down to its foundations began with Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative and resumed with George W. Bush. The partisan and philosophical debates they launched have continued ever since, but the next president will confront foreign- and defense-policy decisions that cannot be postponed or ignored. Best to do some advance thinking now.

Bush’s aspirations were more limited than what liberals derided as Reagan’s “Star Wars.” Bush worried about American vulnerability to the prospect of “handfuls, not hundreds,” of ballistic missiles launched against us by rogue states. Providing even limited national missile defense, however, required withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, as Bush did in December 2001. Arms control’s high priests and priestesses, and key senators such as Joe Biden and John Kerry, were apoplectic. Missile defense was provocative, they said. Leaving the ABM Treaty meant abandoning “the cornerstone of international strategic stability” (a phrase commonly used by politicians, diplomats, and arms controllers) and upsetting the premise of mutual assured destruction, they said.

But Bush persisted and withdrew. As the saying goes, the dogs barked and the caravan moved on. In 2002, Bush turned to a new kind of strategic-arms agreement with Vladimir Putin, the Treaty of Moscow, which set asymmetric limits on deployed strategic nuclear warheads and was structured in ways very different from earlier or later nuclear-weapons treaties. We abandoned the complex, highly dubious counting and attribution metrics of prior strategic-weapons deals, as well as verification procedures that Russia had perfected means to evade. The Treaty of Moscow was sufficiently reviled by the arms-control theocracy that Barack Obama replaced it in 2010 with the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), reverting to failed earlier approaches, more on which below.

During Bush’s first term, we also blocked efforts in the United Nations at international gun control. We established the G-8 Global Partnership — to increase funding for the destruction of Russia’s “excess” nuclear and chemical weapons and delivery systems — and launched the Proliferation Security Initiative to combat international trafficking in weapons and materials of mass destruction. Neither effort required treaties or international bureaucracies. We unsigned the Rome Statute, the treaty that had created the International Criminal Court, to protect U.S. service members from the threat of criminal action by unaccountable global prosecutors.

Finally, the Bush administration scotched a proposed “verification” protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) that risked intellectual-property piracy against U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers but did not enhance the verification of breaches. The BWC and the Chemical Weapons Convention express aspirations not to use these weapons of mass destruction, but it is almost impossible to verify compliance with them. Moreover, arms controllers forget that the BWC sprang from Richard Nixon’s unilateral decision to eliminate American biological munitions, which proved that we could abjure undesirable weapons systems on our own.

The Bush administration went a long way toward ending arms control, but the true believers returned to power under Obama. Eager to ditch the heretical Treaty of Moscow, his negotiators produced New START — the lineal descendant of two earlier SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) and three START agreements — which entered into force in February 2011 for ten years, extendable once for five more. The Senate should never have ratified this execrable deal, as I explained in these pages (“A Treaty for Utopia,” May 2010). Nonetheless, with a Democratic majority it did so in a late-2010 lame-duck session, by 71 votes (all 56 Democrats, two independents, and 13 Republicans) to 26. While the vote seems lopsided, there were three nonvoters — retiring anti-treaty Republicans who opposed ratification — and the Senate secured the constitutionally required two-thirds ratification majority by only five votes. Today, given a possible Republican majority ahead and the unlikelihood that so many Republicans would defect again, ratifying a successor treaty is a dubious prospect at best.

The Trump administration resumed untying Gulliver, exiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019. While the INF Treaty may have made sense in the 1980s, by the time of withdrawal only the United States was abiding by its provisions. The likes of China and Iran, not treaty parties, were accumulating substantial numbers of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and Russia was systematically violating INF Treaty limits. That left America as the only country abiding by the treaty, an obviously self-inflicted handicap that withdrawal corrected. Then, in 2020, the U.S. withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty because Russia had abused its overflight privileges and because our national technical assets made overflight to obtain information obsolete. Russia subsequently withdrew from Open Skies.

But the arms-control theology still has powerful adherents. On January 26, 2021, newly inaugurated Joe Biden sent his first signal of weakness to Putin by unconditionally extending New START for five years without seeking modifications to it. This critical capitulation was utterly unwarranted by New START’s merits or by developments since its ratification. The treaty was fatally defective in that it did not address tactical nuclear weapons, in which Russia had clear superiority. It remains true that no new deal would be sensible for the United States unless it included tactical as well as strategic warheads.

In addition, technological threats that postdate New START (which deals with the Cold War triad of land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers) need to be confronted, especially cruise missiles, which can now reach hypersonic speeds.

Most important, China has made substantial progress since 2010 toward becoming a peer nuclear power. Beijing may not yet have the deliverable-weapons capacity of Washington or Moscow, but the trajectory is clear.

A tripolar U.S.–Russian–Chinese nuclear world (no other power has or will have rates of warhead production comparable to China’s) would be almost inexpressibly more dangerous than a bipolar U.S.–USSR world. The most critical threat that China’s growing strategic-weapons arsenal poses is to the United States. How will it manifest? Will we face periodic, independent risks of nuclear conflict with either China or Russia? Or a combined threat simultaneously? Or serial threats? Or all of the above? Answers to these questions will dictate the nuclear-force levels necessary to deter first-strike launches by either Beijing or Moscow or by both, and to defeat them no matter how nuclear-conflict scenarios may unfold.

None of this is pleasant to contemplate, but, as Herman Kahn advised, thinking about the unthinkable is necessary in a nuclear world. These existential issues must be addressed before we can safely enter trilateral nuclear-arms-control negotiations. Beijing is refusing to negotiate until it achieves rough numerical parity with Washington and Moscow. There is little room for diplomacy anyway, since in February 2023 Russia suspended its participation in New START. Further strategic-weapons agreements with Russia alone would be suicidal: Bilateral nuclear treaties may be sensible in a bipolar nuclear world, but they make no sense in a tripolar world. Russia and China surely grasp this. We can only hope Joe Biden does as well. Next January, our president will have just one year to decide how to handle New START’s impending expiration. We should assess now which candidates understand the stakes and are likely to avoid being encumbered by agreements not just outmoded but dangerous for America.

A closely related challenge is the issue of U.S. nuclear testing. Unarguably, if we do not soon resume underground testing, the safety and reliability of our aging nuclear arsenal will be increasingly at risk, as America’s Strategic Posture, a recent congressionally mandated report, shows. Since 1992, Washington has faced a self-imposed ban on underground nuclear testing even though no international treaty in force prohibits it. The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 bars only atmospheric, space, and underwater testing, a gap that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would have banned all testing, was intended to close. Because, however, not all five legitimate nuclear powers under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ratified the CTBT, it never entered into force and likely never will. Though the U.S. signed the CTBT in 1996, the Senate rejected its ratification by a vote of 51 to 48 in 1999. Russia recently announced its withdrawal, thereby predictably dismaying Biden’s advisers. The next U.S. president should extinguish the CTBT by unsigning it. As was recently revealed, Beijing seems to be reactivating and upgrading its Lop Nor nuclear-testing facility. We can predict confidently that neither China nor Russia will hesitate to do what it thinks necessary to advance its nuclear-weapons capabilities. We should not be caught short.

Additional unfinished business involves the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, another arms-control “cornerstone,” this one of European security. Effective since 1990, as the Cold War ended, CFE became obsolete almost immediately. The Warsaw Pact disbanded (its members largely joining NATO) and the USSR fragmented. Russia suspended CFE Treaty compliance several times before withdrawing formally in November 2023, having already invaded Ukraine, another CFE Treaty party. In response, the United States and our NATO allies suspended CFE Treaty performance. Like the CTBT, the CFE Treaty is a zombie that the next president should promptly destroy.

The list of arms-control-diplomacy failures goes on. The NPT, for example, has never hindered truly determined proliferators such as North Korea (which now has a second illicit nuclear reactor online) or Iran, much as arms-control agreements have consistently failed to prevent grave violations by determined aggressors.

This long, sad history has given us adequate warning, and the next president should learn from it. The array of threats the United States faces makes it imperative that we initiate substantial, full-spectrum increases in our defense capabilities, from traditional combat arms and cyberspace assets to nuclear weapons. Instead of limiting our capabilities, we must ensure that we know what we need and have it on hand. We are nowhere near that point.

This article was first published in The National Review on January 25, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Kim Jong Un Drops the Mask

North Korea officially repudiates ‘peaceful reunification’ in favor of total domination.

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un last week eviscerated any remaining pretense that his regime seeks peaceful reunification with South Korea. Now that Pyongyang has nearly developed the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile, Mr. Kim has decided to scrap almost 80 years of intra-Korean policy.

In a Castro-length speech filled with rhetoric about America’s “policy of confrontation,” Mr. Kim announced his decision to strip the North’s “constitution” of all vestiges of peaceful reunification and to eliminate the government offices handling the issue. By effectively recognizing that there are two states on the Korean Peninsula, Mr. Kim has ensured there is no turning back. If war breaks out, he said, the North plans on “completely occupying, subjugating and reclaiming” South Korea and annexing it “as a part of the territory of our Republic.”

Mr. Kim’s belligerence and constitutional changes are bell ringers, the strongest possible signals of his intentions. The audience is both domestic and global. His rhetoric exposes how the South Korean left’s “sunshine policy” of détente and appeasement is not only wrong but dangerous. Mr. Kim refers to Seoul as Pyongyang’s “primary foe and invariable principal enemy.”

Over the years, many credulous South Korean and American leaders have accepted the North’s claims that it pursued nuclear weapons only because it was afraid of being attacked. These observers decided that persuading the Kim dynasty to abandon its nuclear objectives was a matter of proving that the U.S. had no “hostile intent” toward the North. This argument failed to grasp that the regime wanted nuclear weapons to pursue reunification its own way—the North absorbing the South, not the other way around. Using nuclear weapons to threaten Seoul’s allies and neighbors, Pyongyang sought U.S. withdrawal from South Korea. Mr. Kim wanted to convince the Americans to abandon the South Koreans in the event of an invasion.

Counting on weak U.S. leaders who didn’t see South Korea as a strategic asset, and whom they could subject to nuclear blackmail, the Kims followed a version of Deng Xiaoping’s “hide and bide” approach: concealing their growing nuclear and ballistic-missile programs and awaiting a docile regime in Washington. Today, the North sees its moment at hand in a weak Joe Biden—or a feckless Donald Trump, who unilaterally canceled joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in 2018 without receiving anything in return.

Moreover, despite the “no-limits partnership” between Moscow and Beijing, Mr. Kim has regained sufficient leverage to be able to play Russia against China. His grandfather Kim Il Sung did the same during the Cold War. In 1950, neither Joseph Stalin nor Mao Zedong was enthusiastic about North Korea attacking across the 38th parallel, which they both feared would provoke war with the U.S. Kim Il Sung nonetheless persuaded both leaders that the other supported invasion. On June 25, 1950, Pyongyang caught Seoul and Washington by surprise and nearly drove U.S. forces into the sea.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Moscow’s influence in Pyongyang waned considerably, increasing the North’s reliance on Beijing for its survival. Now equipped with nuclear capabilities and increasingly potent delivery systems, Mr. Kim remembers his grandfather’s game plan. Russia’s failures in Ukraine opened an opportunity for realignment that Mr. Kim swiftly seized, arming Russia at a critical time. Vladimir Putin will soon have a chance to say thanks in person. The Russian leader has announced plans to visit North Korea at “an early date.”

The U.S. failure to repulse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy against Israel is undoubtedly prompting considerable deliberation in China. While Ukraine wasn’t overrun, it is far from being victorious, thereby proving to the world that the West will tolerate unprovoked aggression. In the Middle East, Americans and Israelis disagree on how to prosecute the war on Hamas, likely to the detriment of both countries. Mr. Trump’s only contribution to date has been to say that he’ll resolve both conflicts quickly, details to follow.

With the Biden administration overwhelmed and a presidential election looming, Pyongyang and Beijing may well believe their window of opportunity has arrived. By rallying the North’s people, rewriting its constitution, and abolishing the machinery of reunification diplomacy, Mr. Kim could be preparing to jump through it.

This article was first published in Wall Street Journal on January 25, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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Face reality, ‘democracy advocate’ Biden: Taiwan is already independent

Taking advantage of a split opposition, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party won an unprecedented third straight presidential victory in Saturday’s elections.

President-elect William Lai and his vice-presidential running mate, Bi-khim Hsiao, are savvy and experienced, capable of leading Taiwan through potentially perilous times ahead.

On domestic issues, the DPP is generally to the left of its largest opponent, the Kuomintang, once led by Chiang Kai-shek, who brought the Republic of China government to Taiwan in 1949 after repeated defeats by Mao Zedong’s Communists.

nternationally, however, the DPP view of Taipei’s place in the world is comfortable with Reagan-style Republicanism.

Given the threats Lai’s incoming administration will face, it needs full support from its American friends and across the global West.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is undoubtedly outraged that Beijing’s latest effort to subvert free elections failed once more, likely again backfiring and increasing DPP support.

Through political and military threats and intimidation, media influence operations and outright efforts at subversion and corruption, China worked hard to prevent another DPP presidential victory.

Thwarted by the voters, Xi will undoubtedly turn to far more dangerous methods to gain control over Taiwan.

He has already stressed to President Biden that’s his objective.

He is serious.

And since the opposition holds a small majority in Taiwan’s incoming Legislative Yuan, the Lai administration will face political constraints that outgoing DPP President Tsai Ing-wen did not.

Beijing and its Western sympathizers endlessly argue — they continue after the campaign — that Lai and the DPP are reckless, risking war across the Taiwan Strait, and, in any case, America long ago agreed that Taiwan is part of China.

This is entirely wrong, but even many Americans, including the Biden administration, accept this disingenuous rendering of the “One-China” policy.

In the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, President Richard Nixon agreed that America “acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.”

Translated from diplo-speak, this means we recognized the reality that, in 1972, Chiang and Mao each still believed in ultimately prevailing over the other in China’s civil war.

Those days are gone. Also gone are any ideas of what “all Chinese” in Taiwan believe.

Its citizens have come to see themselves as a different people, not unlike Americans transitioning from seeing themselves as English, pointedly so in 1776.

After 30-plus years of Taiwan opinion surveys, the latest results are that only 2.5% consider themselves Chinese; 62.8% Taiwanese; and 30.5% Taiwanese-Chinese.

Taiwan meets the key tests of international “state” status: defined territory and population and a fully functioning government.

This reality constitutes de facto Taiwanese independence, whether China likes it or not.

President-elect Lai doesn’t have to declare independence since Taiwan already has it. Only if China succeeds in conquest will that change.

Standing firm for Taiwan’s freedoms is provocative only to Beijing’s Communist authoritarians, who fear the spread of ideas totally antithetical to the autocracy they desperately hope to preserve.

The right policy for America here is to recognize reality: Taiwan is independent.

I recommended as far back as 2000 that Washington extend full diplomatic relations to Taipei, unsuccessfully so far.

Unfortunately, we already have Biden’s knee-jerk reaction to Saturday’s elections: “We do not support independence.”

Making Xi’s day, that Biden, a real democracy advocate!

Whatever Taiwan’s abstract political status, it is critical to American national security for many reasons, from geopolitics (the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in Douglas MacArthur’s words) to economics, as a key American trading partner, particularly in vital semiconductor chips.

These US national interests have been consistently reaffirmed ever since the guarantees embodied in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

Today, Taiwan is more threatened by China than ever.

Following Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine in February 2022, many rightly saw Taiwan’s increased precariousness.

With the Iranian-backed aggression in the Middle East now consuming Washington decision-makers, Beijing may be irresistibly tempted to take advantage of Taipei’s incoming government.

What Biden should do, with allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia, is make clear that we expect China to keep hands off, period.

America’s November elections are also problematic because Taiwan may be at greater risk in a second Trump term.

Donald Trump never said he fell in love with Xi, as he did with Kim Jong Un, but it’s close.

Trump’s view of national security focuses invariably on what brings the greatest attention to himself, not US national interests.

This will not be an easy year for Taiwan’s new government.

This article was first published in New York Post on January 16, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

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US should support India’s emerging global role

Two recent, seemingly unconnected events involving India highlight its growing global role. Both were largely unreported in the United States media. One involves a combined U.S.-Indian effort to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, and the other is a murky Qatari prosecution of former Indian naval officers allegedly spying for Israel. Together, they demonstrate New Delhi’s steadily growing importance to Washington and underline why we should pay more attention to the world’s most populous country. Prospects for closer bilateral cooperation are plentiful and important, notwithstanding continuing different perspectives on key topics such as trade and relations with Russia.

Beyond doubt, India will be a pivotal player in containing China’s hegemonic aspirations along its vast Indo-Pacific perimeter. Moreover, India’s already considerable Middle Eastern role will inevitably grow. The ramifications for India from Israel’s current war to eliminate Hamas’s terrorism and constrain its Iranian puppet masters are significant, opening opportunities for both countries. But the situation also presents risks in a complex and difficult region.

FEDERAL COURT TO WEIGH AMTRAK BID TO TAKE DC’S UNION STATION IN EMINENT DOMAIN CASE

Major economic news with obvious geopolitical implications came in early November when the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation announced it would loan $553 million for a deep-water container terminal project in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital and largest port. The Adani Group, one of India’s biggest industrial conglomerates, with deep expertise in port construction and management, is the project’s majority owner in this the first significant cooperative effort between India’s private sector and America’s government, one directly competitive with China.

Colombo’s port was an early target of China’s BRI, a program aimed at ensnaring developing countries in complex financial arrangements for major infrastructure projects. China ultimately took full control of its port facility, which many fear will ultimately serve military purposes.

Contesting China’s economic and influence operations across the global south, especially the BRI, must be a U.S. strategic priority. Teaming with a pathbreaking private Indian firm in the Colombo venture is a dramatic example of leveraging U.S.-Indian resources to mutual advantage. The Development Finance Corporation advances American interests by financing a major project potentially benefiting U.S. firms, and thereby vividly contrasts with China’s corrupt and ultimately subversive BRI approach. Sri Lanka also gains significantly. Since the Adani project is almost entirely private sector-owned (as opposed to BRI’s government-to-government matrix), Sri Lanka’s sovereign debt will not grow. There is no guarantee that additional projects or joint ventures with the Adani Group or other Indian firms will be easy, but the template is at least now in place.

In a separate development, Qatar arrested and charged eight former Indian naval officers (doing consulting work with Qatar’s military) as Israeli spies in August 2022. The specifics are unclear, and little was heard about the men until after Hamas’s brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Declaring a dramatic shift in position, India announced support for Israel’s right to self-defense, whereupon Doha revealed on Oct. 26 that the prisoners had received death sentences. India greeted this news, tied in the public mind to its support for Israel, with outrage and dismay. Ironically, New Delhi had been trying to increase defense cooperation with Doha, and approximately 600,000 of its citizens work in Qatar (out of Qatar’s total population of about 2.5 million). India has insisted that Qatar release the men or at least commute their sentences; Qatari legal proceedings to that end are now underway.

Qatar has a lot riding on finding the right answer on the Indian prisoners, especially given the current war against Israel. Moreover, Qatar will not want to disrupt the promising initiative, announced at this year’s G20 meeting to link South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe more closely together through an “Economic Corridor.” In some ways, more is at stake here for Doha than for New Delhi. With China’s population declining, its internal socioeconomic problems growing, and its place in the world declining steadily relative to India’s, this is no time for Qatar to stay on board a sinking ship. India’s already voluminous demand for oil will only grow, while China’s will shrink as its economy slowly declines.

The Qatar-India imbroglio could figure significantly in U.S. efforts to counter the China-Russia axis (including its outliers such as North Korea, Iran, and Syria) in the Middle East and South Asia. Washington cannot by itself end tensions among the Gulf’s oil-producing Arab states, nor can it resolve all disagreements between the Gulf monarchies and the wider world. But America is hardly indifferent to regional dynamics, especially those weakening the common front against Iran’s support for international terrorism and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Just as the Adani Group’s Colombo port project, bolstered by U.S. financial connections, is geostrategically important to counter China’s hegemonic aspirations, so is increasing greater unity among America’s Arab partners. A wider Indian role and cooperation with the U.S. globally will serve both countries’ national interests.

This article was first published in The Washington Examiner on December 1, 2023. Click here to read the original article.

ABOUT JOHN BOLTON

Ambassador John Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. He served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2005-2006. He was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from 2001 to 2005. In the Reagan Administration, he was an Assistant Attorney General.