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О процессе "ядерной пятерки", ОК ДНЯО 2022, AUKUS, и соперничестве между Китаем и США с Тун Чжао (КНР)

Тун Чжао

In the interview with a senior fellow Tong Zhao in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about problems and prospects of the P5 process, its influence on the NPT RevCon 2022, AUKUS, and the U.S.-China competition from the Chinese side.

What problems do you think the P5 process is facing now?

I think the greatest challenge is there is so much internal division and struggle among the five nuclear states. Of course, the U.S.-Russian relationship is stabilizing and the U.S.-Russia bilateral strategic stability dialogue is going relatively well. But the U.S.-China strategic competition is still very serious, and the growing threat perception towards each other is making both U.S. and China more interested in investing in their nuclear capabilities rather than working together to conduct arms control сooperation and against the background of rising great power competition, even the UK is taking measures to reduce nuclear transparency and raise the upper limit of its nuclear stockpile. And France is also doing many things to improve its strategic capabilities. So the internal rivalry among the P5 States is a very serious challenge and undermines their collective capacity to work together on the P5 agenda in terms of promoting nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Do you think it is getting more serious, given the previous rivalry and previous relationship between USA and China?

I think that rising U.S.-China competition is a very important factor. There are certainly other issues among other P5 countries, but the U.S.-China competition is so by far the most consequential great power rivalry in the international system, and it has very far-reaching geopolitical implications at and beyond the Pacific region. We have a new, basically U.S.-China-Russia trilateral dynamic. I think that complicates the P5 effort to promote common arms control and disarmament agenda.

At the last meetings of the P5 process, topics for discussion were the Bangkok Treaty, nuclear doctrines, a glossary of key nuclear terms, strengthening cooperation on the peaceful use of the atom, an FMCT. What topics can be added or removed?

The P5 process can try to deepen some of their existing discussions. The issue of the Bangkok Treaty is becoming more salient after the U.S., the UK and Australia declared the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal, and in the aftermath of that, China has repeatedly protested against the deal by claiming that this AUKUS deal would undermine the Bangkok Treaty and the Southeast Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone. So I think in this new situation, it may be useful for the P5 States to try to develop a more detailed code of conduct for nuclear submarine operation in the Asian Pacific region, especially in Southeast Asian waters, including the South China Sea, because this is the place where multiple countries might operate their nuclear summaries. It's not only the U.S. and the UK and France but maybe also Chinese and Russian and even Indian nuclear submarines in the future. It would complicate the legal provisions of the Bangkok Treaty and its subsidiary protocol signed by the nuclear-weapon States. So in order to reduce confusion and build some confidence would be useful for the P5 process to try to clarify the rules of operations for nuclear summaries in this region as an effort to strengthen the Bangkok treaty.

Also, you mentioned they include a nuclear doctrine discussion as topics for discussion, which is very important, but I think the discussion on nuclear doctrine can be further deepened. There are many specific, detailed topics that they should cover. For example, there has been growing attention internationally towards the implications of developing and deploying conventional nuclear dual-capable missile systems. The associated risk of conventional nuclear entanglement might bring about zero, a greater risk of escalation in the future conflict. China has been deploying its DF 26 dual-capable missile. Other countries also have similar entangled military platforms, so this is a general challenge that many nuclear weapons States face. It would be useful for them to discuss these specific issues that relate to their nuclear doctrine.

Another specific issue they can discuss is the launch on warning nuclear posture. China has been reportedly developing early warning systems and maybe shifting towards a launch on warning posture, according to the recent US DoD report. So if more countries deploy launch on warning capabilities, the implications would be very significant, so it would be useful for 25 to join today and examine the issue of placing nuclear weapons at higher levels of alert and also the employment of launch on warning posture.

Regarding the issue of FMCT I think it's also gaining relevance because again, the American DoD Report recently claimed that China may be using its civilian nuclear facilities, such as fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities to produce fissile materials potentially for its nuclear weapon program. So in order to quell this accusation from the United States, I think China should work together with other P5 countries too and set up some confidence-building measures before a formal fissile material cut-off treaty can be negotiated. They can discuss the feasibility of conducting joint inspections at some civilian nuclear facilities in order to reduce international concern about using CBD facilities for achieving military objectives. They cannot have a deeper discussion of these confidence-building measures. But a new topic that should be added to the future agenda is to discuss the impact of new technologies on nuclear stability like AI, cyber, and technology. They all have a very important impact on the nuclear operation and activities, how to thoroughly understand their impact in affecting nuclear stability, and how to think about potential measures to mitigate their negative impact on nuclear stability. I think those issues are very worse discussed by the P5 process. 

Will the accumulated experience of interaction following the occurrence of a number of meetings of the P5 since 2010 help bring the states of P5 to a consensus and adopt the final document of the NPT Review Conference 2022?

Again, I think the risk of the P5 internal division and internal struggle was the most serious threat of war for the P5 to work together in securing a successful RevCon and successful adoption of a final document at the RevCon next year. The rising great power competition and rivalry is a really important factor that could affect the outcome of the review conference. But I think in recent months, we have seen some very positive developments in some of the bilateral relations among some of the P5 countries. We have seen the successful US-Russian Strategic Stability Dialogue. Even the U.S.-China strategic competition is being stabilized. There have been a number of very high-level meetings between American and Chinese officials. Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, recently said that the U.S. does not seek the fundamental transformation of the Chinese system, which is a very reassuring signal to China. So I think people are becoming slightly optimistic for the future of the US-China bilateral relationship. So those are positive developments that could help contain the internal division and internal struggle among the P5, which could help secure and promote a successful NPT Review Conference, even though the AUKUS deal is presenting some new issues and causing some new concerns. But in general, I think the P5 process has a shared interest in presenting a united front at the review conference, and they have a clear understanding of their shared interest in promoting a successful review conference. I think there are opportunities they can further demonstrate their joy and resolve to promote nuclear disarmament and arms control in order to reduce tensions with non-nuclear-weapon states and the RevCon. The P5 has been discussing the possibility of presenting their doctrine discussions on the sidelines, on the RevCon. I think certainly they can try to give a detailed presentation and also invite comments and feedback from non-nuclear-weapon states at such a presentation. They can welcome deeper interactions with non-nuclear-weapon states in order to show their goodwill efforts to bridge the gap with non-nuclear-weapon states on the issue of disarmament. Another challenge is facing the P5 at the RevCon is the entry into force of the Treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons (TPNW). In order to reduce the risk of becoming TPNW a controversial issue, dividing participants of the RevCon the P5 can show their willingness to be more open to other countries, including the allies of nuclear weapon states, to observe the first member states conference of TPNW. It would be useful for the United States, for example, to drop its opposition and obstruction against its own allies, participating as observers at next year's first member states conference of TPNW. So in general, I think the P5 can show a more open and accepted attitude towards TPNW. That could help bridge the gap with non-nuclear-weapon states and eventually help secure a successful outcome of the review conference. 

On the eve of the 2022 NPT Review Conference, what do you think could become a "stumbling block" for the adoption of the final document? Will it again be a question of creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East?

The WMD free zone in the Middle East could still be a thorny issue. Especially given the deadlock in the negotiations to revitalize JCPOA after the Trump administration withdrew from JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal. The Biden administration's efforts to rejoin the deal have not been very successful. Iran has used this time to further bolster its nuclear capability, has reached uranium to higher levels of greater quantity and experimented with new centrifuge technologies. All of those new developments regarding Iran's nuclear potential are projecting a very serious shadow over the issue of the WMD free zone in the Middle East, so it could still be a very serious roadblock. But there are other also very important challenges. One example is the widening gap on the issue of nuclear disarmament between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states. The TPNW has entered into force, mostly because of this dissatisfaction of non-nuclear-weapon states towards the very slow progress on nuclear disarmament. So there is a need for the P5 to demonstrate that their preferred approach to nuclear disarmament. In other words, the gradualist incremental nuclear disarmament approach can work and can continue producing progress. But now the situation is the opposite. Instead of any substantive progress on nuclear disarmament, we have seen a reversal and backward development in this area. I mentioned the UK's efforts to raise the upper limit of its nuclear arsenal, China's reported efforts to accelerate its nuclear build-up process. The recent reports about China's androids of ICBM silos in the northwestern part of the country reported testing of an orbital hypersonic nuclear weapons system. As for Russia, President Putin has announced for a long time the development of new nuclear delivery technologies for nuclear weapons. Even the United States is conducting its nuclear posture review, and it might take measures to strengthen rather than reduce its nuclear capabilities. So given this development, how to address this widening gap on the issue of nuclear disarmament between the two groups of countries is a serious concern that could derail the overall agenda of the Review Conference. And also, the rising great power competition is also undermining the P5 capacity to conduct basic cooperation to address North Korea's various past efforts to increase its nuclear program and that will cause additional proliferation concerns in East Asia. So this is emerging as a very serious threat to the successful review conference.

What are the prospects for the activities of the P5 on the issues of reducing nuclear risks and strategic security in general?

Most of the P5 countries have not fully appreciated the risk of nuclear conflict. I mentioned the issue with the development of conventional nuclear-capable missile systems. The fact that some countries are still massively procuring such dual-capable missile systems indicates that they do not fully understand and appreciate the risk of entanglement and an aversion to nuclear escalation as a result of their entangled missile system. So the first priority is to jointly explore these issues and to develop a greater awareness of nuclear risks. And if countries could better appreciate the risks, it would be much easier for them to take either unilateral effort or joint efforts to address nuclear risks. And another obstacle is there is a serious disagreement about who is responsible for causing the nuclear risk in the first place. In the case of the U.S.-China, China thinks it's US efforts to conduct close range, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities near China's coast. That is, raising military tensions and the risk of a military conflict. And therefore, China is reluctant to engage in bilateral discussions avoiding the United States about a risk reduction. So because countries have different perceptions about who is causing the risk in the first place, the so-called low-hanging fruit of conducting cooperation on nuclear risk reduction is not achieved. So we need to have a better understanding of the driver of the raising nuclear risk.

In the Chinese case, I think China used to prefer a top-down approach to building trust. In this regard, it might be useful for the U.S. to acknowledge the existence of mutual nuclear vulnerability with China. That could send a very effective, reassuring signal to Beijing that the US is prepared at the top level to accept China to be willing to be peacefully together with China. And with that reassurance at the top level that would make operational level cooperation and a discussion on addressing nuclear and security risks much easier to take place. It is very important to have direct engagements among the heads of state of the nuclear-weapon states on these issues, especially in countries where they have centralized decision-making systems. The top leadership interest in these issues, like risk reduction and promoting strategic security cooperation, is imperative for motivating operational level interest and effort to achieve practical outcomes. And simultaneously, it is also useful for experts to start working together and jointly examine specific proposals of reducing nuclear risk and enhancing strategic stability.

There is a lot of disagreement among the major powers about the role of missile defence in affecting strategic stability. So maybe the experts from the major powers can jointly examine whether it is technically possible for the United States to develop a missile defence system that can effectively intercept North Korean ICBMs without seriously threatening Russian or Chinese nuclear deterrent. So a deeper and joint technical examination of those issues would provide concrete ideas for political leaders about how to move forward in reducing nuclear risk and to enhance strategic stability. And again, I think from the Chinese perspective, it is very important to work together on addressing the impact of new military technologies. Chinese officials openly call for international cooperation in this area. So a discussion about new technologies could be a near-term effort that will receive strong Chinese support. 

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The interview was conducted by Sofya Shestakova, an Intern, PIR Center on December 18, 2021.