A review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the UN headquarters in New York City on April 27, 2015
In a recent interview with Beijing Review, Gregory Kulacki, an expert on nuclear weapons and global security and China project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Massachusetts, the United States, shared his views on China-U.S. relations, the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and global nuclear disarmament and arms control. The UCS is a scientific community founded in 1969. It calls for research directed away from military technologies and toward solving environmental and social problems. An edited excerpt of the interview follows:
Beijing Review: Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump had their first meetings on April 6-7. What is your comment on the meetings and the establishment of the four-pronged high-level dialogues? What are the differences between the new dialogues and the strategic and economic dialogues during Barack Obama's presidency?
Gregory Kulacki: I paid a lot of attention to the meetings of the two presidents because they are very important. The meetings looked good, and the two leaders got along. The good thing is there was nothing negative; things didn't get worse. Many people were afraid of what would happen because of all the things that Trump said about China during his campaign.
The old dialogues were not very effective. They did not accomplish much mainly because the U.S. used them to make requests. The U.S. set the agenda in the last dialogues, but it sounds like in the new dialogues, China may set the agenda. Trump doesn't have many advisors. So his administration was probably less prepared than the Chinese Government. If the new dialogue agendas are going to be set by China, that will be a big change from the past. That's something that remains to be seen.
The Trump administration has said that the United States will act alone if China cannot rein in North Korea's nuclear program. What do you think of Trump's intention? What options does Washington have related to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula?
If Trump means military action, everybody seems to think he is bluffing. The United States cannot act alone; it has to have the agreement of both Tokyo and Seoul. If the U.S. Government said it was going to act alone on North Korea without consulting its allies, Tokyo and Seoul, that would be a bad thing. So, it is likely not the case. The Carl Vinson Strike Group has been [reportedly]sailing in waters near the Korean Peninsula, but this isn't really significant in solving the issue.
But if it's diplomatic action that the United States is going to take, such as talks directly with North Korea, that will be great. For the United States and North Korea to have one-to-one talks, China will certainly welcome that. Everybody will because that is probably the only way to really solve the problem. And our organization will also support that.
North Korea is making meaningful progress. Their missile program is slow, but such technologies are not hard to develop. Although the last test failed, North Korea now has medium-range missiles that they could use to strike U.S. bases in Okinawa and mainland Japan. I think it is very unlikely that North Korea will use nuclear weapons against South Korea because they can destroy Seoul with conventional artillery.
North Korea has not demonstrated practically effective nuclear weapons, as it has yet to perfect the required miniaturization of nuclear bomb technology; the missile warheads they can now produce could not actually survive rocket flights. So, there is one more step to take in their test program. But they are making steady progress, and that's why we follow it closely.
The United States is trying to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. THAAD won't save South Korea if North Korea wants to attack the South. In that sense, it is not useful militarily. THAAD has demonstrated some ability to intercept missiles. But it is not going to be valuable if there is a war between North Korea and South Korea. It offers no meaningful protection for South Korea from North Korean attack.
The U.S. military wants to install radar systems in Asia. That will help the U.S. enlarge its surveillance networks and maintain its observation capabilities.
Not long ago, Trump said he would strengthen the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure the United States' leading position in nuclear weapons. What do you think of Trump's remarks?
It is a waste of money. The arsenal is already more than strong enough. The United States has 7,000 nuclear warheads. Russia has about the same number as the United States. The United States has much more sophisticated delivery systems, such as submarines. In the minds of some people in Washington, these systems should be replaced because they are getting old. Even the Obama administration was going to spend $1 trillion to recapitalize the U.S. nuclear weapons program. I don't know how the Trump administration could spend more. So, he is just talking. It really doesn't mean much at all.
One of the things that we are most worried about is the redeployment of tactical weapons in Asia. Former President George H. W. Bush in 1991 removed all tactical nuclear weapons from Asia. But there are people in the U.S. bureaucracy who never liked this decision. They are trying to reverse it and trying to put U.S. nuclear weapons back into Asia. We would encourage President Trump not to take their advice. The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Asia increases the possibility of errors, poor judgments, accidents and the chances of using nuclear weapons in a crisis.
What efforts should be made to realize a world without nuclear weapons?
Today, fewer people research nuclear disarmament and arms control than in the past because the world has achieved little progress in international negotiations on nuclear disarmament in recent years. Many bilateral or multilateral talks on nuclear disarmament have been suspended. There is only one such international negotiation that continues under the framework of the United Nations (UN).
[By resolution 71/258, the UN General Assembly convened a meeting in New York City, the United States, on March 27, to negotiate a legally binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.]
All nuclear powers refused to participate in the negotiations. In 2015, as the UN voted on the resolution, many states with nuclear weapons chose to oppose it or to abstain. It is obvious that nuclear powers will not sign a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. But they should take part in the negotiations to promote the effort to move toward a nuclear-free world.
In fact, calling for negotiations on prohibiting nuclear weapons is what non-nuclear nations can do in a bid to push nuclear disarmament forward. A basic rule of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is that nuclear states should stop development of nuclear weapons, and non-nuclear nations should abandon their nuclear programs. However, some nuclear states do not strictly abide by the treaty. They continue to improve their nuclear arsenals. Nations that possess nuclear weapons should not ignore states which do not. So, the nuclear powers' response to the UN negotiations is not constructive.
There is also a problem with nuclear states like India and Pakistan. They have not signed the NPT, and the International Atomic Energy Agency cannot observe or regulate their activities. The international community should try to find a way to bring these countries into the agreement without violating the spirit of the NPT. It is tougher for India and Pakistan, as well as for Israel. It is a difficult diplomatic question.
Unfortunately, the deals the United States has made with India on nuclear energy are a clear violation of the spirit of the NPT. It is just not the right way to handle the problem, and it is unfair to all the other countries that have signed the NPT.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
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