Often overlooked in all this is that China has demonstrated a willingness to adopt some confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) that promote greater military transparency and understanding among potential military rivals. Indeed, during the past two decades, China has negotiated a set of bilateral CSBMs with Russia to govern military activities along their joint border. In July 1994, the Russian and Chinese defense ministers agreed to a set of procedures to avert future incidents, including arrangements to prevent unauthorized ballistic missile launches, prevent the jamming of communications equipment, and warn ships and aircraft that might inadvertently violate national borders. In September of that year, Chinese and Russian authorities pledged not to target strategic nuclear missiles at each other. In April 1998, moreover, China and Russia established a direct presidential hot line – China’s first with another government.
But there’s more that the three countries could do that could ultimately lead toward more formal arms control measures, while serving a valuable stabilizing function in their own right even without more formal treaties and agreements. Such measures could include:
— Pursuing measures to increase transparency regarding the capacity of each sides’ nuclear weapons production complexes to construct new nuclear forces in any attempt to rapidly break out of any arms control agreement.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
— Agreeing to slow the development of new capabilities that the other side perceives as especially destabilizing (e.g. U.S. prompt global conventional strike, Russia’s planned heavy nuclear missiles, China’s expanding nuclear tunnels complex).
— Increasing the transparency of the thousands of nuclear warheads the countries keep in storage pending their dismantlement by storing them separately from their active warheads and making periodic declarations of their numbers.
— Operational arms control measures to avoid accidents, misunderstandings, confrontations, and other developments that risk escalating into an inadvertent nuclear war.
A related confidence building measure would limit the use of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. In 2007, China decided to test its first ASAT in outer space against one of its defunct weather satellite. The collusion experiment, which produced an enormous quantity of space debris and ended a decades-long international moratorium against such experiments, was roundly criticized by most of the world’s government, but not Russia. Chinese representatives have informally indicated that they don’t plan a repeat ASAT, but it would be useful to have a more formal agreement given the importance of satellites in maintaining strategic stability.
Ultimately one thing should be clear – the United States may be pivoting to the Pacific, but it should also be keeping a closer eye on Russia’s relationship with China.