As the world seeks to pull back from an unbridled nuclear-tipped missiles race, it is imperative to rope in China, the new superpower on the blocks, to enable a three-way agreement on a ceiling along with the US and Russia.
China’s involvement in a new treaty to limit deadly ultra-long range missiles tipped with multiple nuclear warheads will check the domino effect on India and Pakistan that are experimenting with similar longer range ballistic missiles with implications for the stability of the subcontinent.
The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is the sole nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia. Like the old START, it has enforced an upper limit of 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons on no more than 700 deployed launchers. This is backed by rigorous joint verification.
The original START was a Cold War relic when China had not come of age. In tune with its growing economic and military strength, China is beginning to match the US and Russia not just in the range of its nuclear missiles but also more powerful delivery systems on land, air and sea.
China is on way to becoming a modern strategic nuclear force with the imminent induction of Dong Feng 41 that will have a range of 10,000 kms thus posing a threat to every nook and corner of the US, India and, in an uncertain world, even its current ally Russia as well. The South Koreans have already alerted India about the Chinese plan to modernise its strategic nuclear forces command and control system to match that of the US and Russia. The Dong Feng – 41 will be mated with the already-developed dissociable warheads that can be mounted easily on the intercontinental ballistic missiles.
There is the growing fear that China will soon match the Big Two in other equally lethal means of delivering nuclear weapons. From air, it will soon be capable of inducting a heavily redesigned bomber (Hong-6) capable of carrying air-launched cruise missiles. This will catapult China in the same league as the Americans and the Russians.
To put the Chinese development of Hong-6 and the importance of heavy lift strategic bombers in perspective, India has none nor is Russia and the US likely to provide it with any. China is not stopping at Hong-6 but engaged in evolving a much more lethal Hong 20 which may debut at the same time as the Russian Tupolov Pak DA and the American B-21 Raider. While China will not suffer from any limitation on the numbers because it is not under any treaty, the Russians and the Americans will have to keep the numbers low to adhere to the New START’s upper ceiling of a total of 750 launchers whether by sea, land or air.
In the sea too, despite derision from western think-tanks, China has started secretly patrolling the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea with Julang 2 submarine launched ballistic missile fitted on its four operational nuclear-powered submarines. More worryingly, it is poised to deploy the next generation Type 096 SSBN fitted with the more advanced Julang-3 missiles with an effective range of 15,000 km and fitted with up to 10 warheads.
From being just an economic powerhouse and possessing a top drawer conventional military, China has or already become capable of matching both Russia and America in deadly multiple-warhead laden long range delivery systems.
The world can hardly afford to overlook the emergence of a third country capable of raining down nuclear hell in any corner of the world. While Russia and the US are equally capable of doing the same, they have been bound by a treaty that limits the numbers.
US President Donald Trump has already abrogated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia on grounds that Moscow secretly violated it by developing 9M729 missile. But the actual elephant in the room was China. Almost 95 per cent of Chinese ballistic missiles are in the range of 500 to 5,500 km and unlike Russia and the US, there was no treaty that put a limit on the numbers.
As a result, China has been free to deploy any number of these missiles to face Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India. While India has responded by upping the numbers, the US has been unable to do so in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea which are under Washington’s nuclear umbrella and prohibited from going down the nuclear path. US Donald Trump has already hinted that it was not a solitary missile developed by Russia but China that had led to the scrapping of the INF Treaty.
Since intermediate missiles do not pose a threat to the American mainland but to countries in China’s vicinity that have different political systems and world views, the US has not bothered to initiate the move for a new three-way INF Treaty involving both Russia and China. This has also compelled India and Pakistan to compete against each other in developing more accurate and lethal intermediate range missiles.
The New START between Russia and the US will expire in two years. Preliminary talks may have already begun. But the matter of long range missiles and delivery systems coupled with China’s latent capability to double the number of warheads from the existing 300 to 600 in next to no time, makes it imperative that countries talking of limiting arms race in space must take similar steps on earth as well.
No bar on dragon ::
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is a nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia
The two countries have to keep the number of nuclear arms low to adhere to upper ceiling of 750 launchers under new treaty
But there is no such limitation on China because it is not bound by such treaty