Foreign policy issues to ponder while CF takes a short summer break

CF is taking a two-week pause

We are embarking on a two-week summer hiatus, so watch for our next blog on Friday, 20 August 2021. In the meantime, here are some of the foreign policy issues we are watching closely.

Rising nuclear armament risks  

Satellite images reveal that China is building a second nuclear missile silo field.

So begins an article by Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

What does this mean for the size of China’s nuclear arsenal, long described as a “minimum deterrent”?  Korda and Kristensen caution:

It should be emphasized that it is unknown how China will operate the new silos and how many warheads each missile will carry.

Nonetheless, in their view:

the silo construction represents a significant increase of the Chinese arsenal, which the Federation of American Scientists currently estimates includes approximately 350 nuclear warheads.

But even with such an expansion, China would still be far from parity with the nuclear stockpiles of Russia and the United States, each of whom operate nuclear warhead stockpiles close to 4,000 warheads.

What is motivating this build-up by China?

The Korda/Kristensen article is particularly important for its exploration of possible Chinese motivations for building the new silos. They write:

The decision to build the large number of new silos has probably not been caused by a single issue but rather by a combination of factors.

Their list includes:

  • Ensuring survivability of nuclear retaliatory capability: China is concerned that its current ICBM silos are too vulnerable to US (or Russian) attack;
  • Increasing the readiness of the ICBM force: Transitioning from liquid-fuel missiles to solid-fuel missiles in silos will increase the reaction-time of the ICBM force;
  • Protecting ICBMs against non-nuclear attack by building silos out of range of US cruise missiles;
  • Overcoming potential effects of US missile defenses so they do not undermine China’s retaliatory (deterrence) capability;
  • Transitioning to solid-fuel silo missiles to improve survivability, operational procedures and safety;
  • Transitioning to a peacetime missile alert posture that, like US and Russian ICBMS, would be deployed fully ready and capable of launching on short notice;
  • Better balancing the ICBM force between mobile and fixed launchers;
  • Increasing China’s nuclear strike capability beyond “minimum deterrence;” and
  • National prestige.

The authors describe the “action-reaction dynamic” that is “most likely a factor in China’s current modernization. They note:

China’s development of its current road-mobile solid-fuel ICBM force was, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency, fueled by the US Navy’s deployment of Trident II D5 missiles in the Pacific.

What to do about it?

Korda and Kristensen note first the “longstanding concern” of both China and Russia with the absence of limits on US missile defences:

When the Bush administration decided to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, officials from both countries explicitly stated that the treaty’s demise would be highly destabilizing, and implied that they would take steps to offset this perceived US advantage.

Nearly 20 years later, the knock-on effects of this decision are clear.

That means any meaningful arms control dialogue among these nuclear armed states will have to include possible limits on strategic missile defences.

But, in the authors’ view, Chinese nuclear modernization is driven by more than just missile defenses. Other driving factors include:

the nuclear modernization programs of the United States, India, and Russia, the significant enhancements of the conventional forces of those countries and their allies, as well as China’s own ambitions about world power status.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

So the untold billions spent by the USA on nuclear modernization and missile defences have played a key role in convincing China that it, too, must increase its nuclear arsenal.

Can there be clearer proof of the utter disconnect between the US nuclear posture and the security of that country (and its allies)?

Whither Canada?

These latest actions by China demonstrate the terrible security-undermining nature of the “action-reaction” dynamic that propels nuclear arms racing. NATO needs to stop reinforcing that negative feedback loop and Canada can help.

We call on Canada to use the opportunity of the NATO review of its strategic doctrine, now ongoing, to ensure that nuclear de-escalation measures are an essential part of the dialogue.

The Arctic as a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone (NWFZ) – an Inuk hope

In ongoing support of nuclear arms control and disarmament, Canada should have an aspirational statement that it supports a goal of an Arctic region free of nuclear weapons.

This is the modest proposal in a recent, most timely, article in the Hill Times entitled Biden-Putin’s Arctic cooperation gives Canada an opportunity (Adele Buckley, hilltimes.com, 28 July 2021).  Its author, a former Chair of the Canadian Pugwash Group, situates her proposal in the context of the installation of Canada’s first Inuk Governor General, Mary Simon:

The appointment … raises hope that all of Canada will raise its awareness of Arctic issues and that the Government of Canada will expend resources to support its Arctic security policy.

Buckley’s article reminds us of the longstanding hope of the region’s indigenous peoples for a nuclear-weapons-free Arctic, encapsulated in policies elaborated by the Inuit Circumpolar Council at a time when Mary Simon was intimately engaged with that organization. They include a 1983 resolution that states in part:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Inuit Circumpolar Conference [now Council] emphatically restates its nuclear position:

  • that there shall be no nuclear testing or nuclear devices in the arctic or sub-arctic.

The ICC is composed of the indigenous members of the “Inuit homeland” in Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Russia and the USA. Denmark, also a NATO member, has included the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free Arctic in their policy since 2012.

Buckley concludes:

Continuing to draw attention to the Arctic and the Inuit people, Canada can make a modest contribution to Arctic cooperation through an aspirational statement, similar to Denmark’s supporting the future attainment of a nuclear-weapon-free Arctic.

For non-Hill Times subscribers, the article in pdf format can be obtained here.

For background on this proposal, see: The Theory and Evolution of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: Could the Arctic Be Next? (Alexander MacDonald, naadsn.ca, 1 February 2021). For more from northerners on Arctic security, see Chapter 3 of our ebook Beyond the Cooperation-Conflict Conundrum: Proceedings of an Arctic Security Webinar Series (P. Whitney Lackenbauer and Peggy Mason, editors, May 2021).

In the view of Ceasefire.ca:

The perspective of our northern peoples brings even greater urgency to Canada’s nuclear de-escalation dialogue within NATO.

76th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings

Never again: Nagasaki must be the last atomic bombing

News that China maybe abandoning its “minimum deterrent” policy comes at a time when preparations for the annual commemorations of the 1945 nuclear bombings of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August, respectively, are well underway.

2020 was the 75th anniversary of these terrible events, and Ceasefire.ca devoted its entire blog to the commemorations. For some of this year’s remembrances see below.

The Hiroshima Nagasaki Day Coalition is co-hosting a virtual event with World BEYOND War entitled Hope for the Earth: Canada, Sign the Ban Treaty.

Peace activists and dynamic artists will highlight the importance of Canada’s joining the growing number of nations signing the Ban Treaty, and how we can contribute to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

To register to attend the Hope for the Earth event online on August 6th, please visit the Action Network’s webpage, https://actionnetwork.org/events/hopefortheearth, and follow the directions.

See also the Lantern Ceremony in Ottawa, where the co-chair of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Sylvie Lemieux, will speak.

For more information, contact GayM@psac-afpc.com

For information on the Japanese ceremony, held every year since 1947, see: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony and Peace Message Lantern Floating Ceremony (visithiroshima.net). And see And see the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Memorial on Sunday 8th August at the World Peace Bell, Ōtautahi Botanic Gardens in Hiroshima.

More calls for engagement over estrangement

In our 16 July 2021 blog, we affirmed that Canada’s Cuba policy — in opposing the cruel and counterproductive American trade embargo and in urging dialogue — was the right one.

Our view is now endorsed in a Nation article about an astonishing never-before-published letter from the US Embassy community in Cuba to the State Department at the height of the so-called “Havana Syndrome”.

The article begins:

On September 21, 2017, more than 30 members of the US Embassy community in Havana, Cuba, sent a letter to the State Department imploring Secretary Rex Tillerson not to reduce the embassy staff in response to a series of mysterious “acoustic incidents” experienced by US intelligence and diplomatic personnel.

Their diplomatic mission of engagement was simply too important.

Their entreaty was ignored and then Secretary of State Tillerson ordered a severe reduction of embassy personnel, effectively shuttering the consulate and leaving only a skeletal staff to handle emergencies.

Now the Biden administration has finally ordered a “review” of staffing levels at the US Embassy in Havana, although, in the wake of recent anti-government protests in Havana, the president is justifying possible increased staffing in terms of  “civil society support,” not government-to-government dialogue.

Against this backdrop, the article authors write that, in the face of an unknown, serious health risk:

the support for engagement over estrangement put forth by the embassy personnel in 2017 deserves to be remembered.

(As an important aside we also note that the article explodes the myth that Cuba was the origin of the so-called Havana syndrome.)

For the full article see:  Now Is the Time for Biden to Restaff the Havana Embassy (Peter Kornbluh and William M. LeoGrande, thenation.com, 23 July 2021).

Drone warfare update — the sentencing of a whistleblower

This week saw the sentencing of Daniel Hale, a former US Air Force intelligence analyst, who exposed the inner workings of the US military’s drone programme and its severe civilian costs.

In his own words to US District Judge Liam O’Grady, Hale stated:

it was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.

Hale leaked classified information indicating how often people who are not the intended drone targets are nonetheless killed, as well as a secret, unclassified “rulebook” detailing the U.S. government’s “sprawling” system of watchlists.

On this latter system, the Intercept Editor-in-Chief, Betsy Reed, comments:

Hale was also charged with disclosing a secret rule book detailing the parallel judicial system for watchlisting people and categorizing them as known or suspected terrorists without needing to prove they did anything wrong.

Under these rules, people, including U.S. citizens, can be barred from flying or detained in airports and at borders while being denied the ability to challenge government declarations about them.

The disclosure of the watchlisting rule book led to dozens of legal actions and important court victories for the protection of civil liberties.

For the full article, see: Daniel Hale Sentenced to 45 Months in Prison for Drone Leak (Ryan Devereaux & Murtaza Hussain, theintercept.com, 27 July 2021).

For an earlier discussion of some of the issues surrounding better protection of whistleblowers &Mdash; and Canada’s dismal ranking herein — see our 16 April 2021 blog.

Photo credit: Wikimedia (Parliament Hill in summer)

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