Su Hao, Professor and Director, Center for Strategic and Peace Studies, China Foreign Affairs University
I. The strategic triangular stability and denuclearization of Northeast Asia
Human society has had wars between nations since there were nations, and weapons are the key factor for a nation to win a war. Whether in the era of cold weapons or hot weapons, advanced and powerful weapons often determine the outcome of a war. However, since the acquisition of nuclear weapons and the two atomic bombings of Japan by the United States in August 1945, mankind has seen the devastating effects of thermonuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are almost impossible to be used in wars and can only be used as a political weapon of strategic deterrence. The current five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, as legitimate nuclear states of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), provide a strategic stable state of mutual deterrence to the global pattern of international relations. In the meanwhile, the NPT’s legitimate nuclear states also provide their region with a strategic stability framework based on nuclear deterrence and become the strategic pillar of regional peace and stability.
However, in some regions without NPT nuclear states, due to the sharp antagonism among states, some countries take the risk of trying to construct nuclear weapon deterrence capability, so as to form a regional strategic stability framework. For example, India and Pakistan in South Asia form mutual nuclear deterrence by pursuing de facto nuclear state status, while Israel in the Middle East tries to become a de facto nuclear state and form strategic stability on the basis of nuclear deterrence against Arab states. But these countries cannot be recognized as legitimate nuclear states by the international community because of the threat they pose to global strategic stability. As for the extensive nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world, with the signing of a series of “nuclear-weapon-free zone agreements,” they have played a positive role in promoting the construction of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
In Northeast Asia, a region with sharp confrontation among states, there are three NPT nuclear states—the United States, Russia and China—forming a triangular stable state of mutual strategic deterrence. Under the strategic framework of triangular stability, if small and medium-sized countries try to acquire nuclear weapons, such strategic stability will be broken, thus disrupting the international order in Northeast Asia and causing damage to the long-term peace and stability of the region.
II. The policy basis for denuclearization of small and medium-sized countries in Northeast Asia under the nuclear balance of major powers
A nuclear-weapon-free zone for small and medium-sized countries in Northeast Asia is a rational and reasonable policy choice. So what is the policy basis for this choice? The answer is the strategic stability framework formed by the mutual nuclear deterrence provided by the three NPT nuclear states of the United States, Russia and China. The following are some explanations:
Firstly, the absence of nuclear weapons is the ideal and future goal of human society. The devastating function of nuclear weapons determines that mankind must eventually destroy nuclear weapons and realize a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Secondly, NPT nuclear states provide strategic stability framework. In the realistic international order of Northeast Asia, the mutual deterrence of the three NPT nuclear states has formed the strategic stability framework of the region, making it difficult for the major powers in Northeast Asia to break out into war. Although there was the Korean War in history and the U.S. had considered using nuclear weapons against China, it did not dare to do so under the deterrent of the powerful military forces of China and the Soviet Union, indicating that nuclear weapons should not be used even during the war.
Thirdly, the nuclear option of Northeast Asian small and medium-sized countries has no practical strategic significance. Even great powers dare not use nuclear weapons in time of war with each other, and the threat of a nuclear attack on a great power by a small country in time of peace has no practical significance. All the powers in Northeast Asia and the international community would oppose the nuclear option if small states tried to acquire nuclear weapons to deter a single power, but the result would be a universal threat to the great powers.
Fourthly, the nuclear policy options of small countries will not be sustainable. The nuclear options of some small and medium-sized countries will have a domino effect and thus completely overturn the international security order in Northeast Asia. Therefore, the people of Northeast Asian countries and even the international community will oppose the impulse of such nuclear choices. Because it is impossible to get support from any country, if a small country carries out a nuclear arms program it will cause huge financial burden to the country and make it difficult to support economic development and improve the people’s livelihood. Therefore, it is unsustainable.
III. China’s position on denuclearization
China has been actively supporting the policy choice of denuclearization for small and medium-sized countries in Northeast Asia.
Firstly, China’s nuclear strategy is unique. Among the NPT’s nuclear powers, China is the only one that has explicitly committed itself to “no first use of nuclear weapons” and “no use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.” Secondly, China strictly observes the provisions of the NPT, does not proliferate nuclear technologies to nuclear-weapon-free zones or non-nuclear-weapon states, and is opposed to any country becoming a new nuclear power by developing nuclear weapons in violation of the NPT. Thirdly, China opposes the use of nuclear weapons by any nuclear state as a means to threaten and suppress other non-nuclear states, because it will stimulate proliferation in some countries. Fourthly, China has insisted on UN sanctions against some nuclear proliferators, so China supports and adheres to a series of sanctions resolutions against North Korea. Fifthly, as a major country in Northeast Asia, China bears the responsibility for maintaining regional peace and stability. China will play an active role in preventing any acts that may undermine regional peace and stability. Sixthly, in view of the fact that some countries in Northeast Asia seeking to acquire nuclear weapons poses a threat to China’s nuclear security, China will take a resolute attitude of opposition against such acts.
The Northeast Asian nuclear-weapon-free initiative is crucial to the long-term stability of the region and represents the sincere aspiration and ideal of the people in the region. It is a positive proposal that deserves the applause and support of the international community.