Enemy Du Jour: House GOP Plays China Card On START

House GOP The START follow-on treaty currently being negotiated in Geneva seeks to prudently cut US and Russian nuclear arsenals, which account for about 96 percent of all nuclear weapons in the world. Yet in the search for a foe to justify building new nukes, as well as maintain the possession of thousands of nuclear weapons, conservatives on the Hill have insisted that the Cold War either isn’t over – as was argued at the Heritage Foundation last week – or a new Cold War is on the way. Since the Russia fear-mongering flopped last week, the enemy du jour has now become China.

A group of House Republicans, led by John Boehner (R-OH), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Mike Pence (R-IN), have put forth a resolution attacking a new START follow-on treaty. Despite the fact that the House has no responsibility in ratifying a new START treaty (which is the exclusive role of the Senate), nevertheless the Cable reported, “Fifty-seven Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, R-OH, have already cosponsored Ros-Lehtinen’s bill. State Department insiders see House Republicans as piling on by giving their Senate counterparts one more issue to make hay with, mixed with some good old-fashioned China bashing.” The House resolution reads:

Expressing the sense of Congress that the President, in negotiating any new bilateral strategic arms agreement with the Russian Federation, shall ensure the continued deterrence capability of the United States strategic arsenal and flexibility in the allocation of its components in the event that third countries may pursue the deployment of significant and technologically advanced nuclear strategic forces not covered by such a United States-Russian arms agreement.

In other words, this resolution argues that the US should be wary of signing onto a new START treaty because it may inhibit our ability to expand our nuclear arsenal to compete with China. This is way off base.

First, there is such a massive gap between the US and China that North Dakota could deter China. The idea we wouldn’t sign on to a new START treaty in order to “deter” China is absurd. The US has more than 9,000 total nuclear weapons, China has about 250 in total. The Cable also notes that:

The GOP’s own resolution actually states that China has about 40 nuclear-tipped missiles that could reach the continental United States today, and could only amass about 100 over the next 15 years. That’s well below the levels being discussed between the U.S. and Russia — between 500 and 1,100 deployed warheads each, not counting the non-deployed ones.

Second, China is not concerned with challenging the US in the nuclear arena, you see because nuclear weapons are so 1970s. There is a pretty wide consensus among level-headed experts that China is quite comfortable in its current nuclear posture. A report from the East-West Institute concludes:

Both Russia and the United States believed that keeping a large portion of their strategic forces on alert is essential to deterrence and strategic stability. China, on the other hand, is said to keep a portion of its missiles on low alert with the warheads separated… China thus seems to be willing to live with this seeming vulnerability even though it is not clear if the situation is likely to last… The most important reason [for this approach] may be political, as nuclear weapons are viewed as weapons of coercion and not use. The mere fact of possession creates parity and achieves almost all the deterrence China desires.

As for the claims that China is feverishly working to develop new nuclear warheads, Jeffrey Lewis writes, “There are no indications that China is designing, testing, or producing new nuclear weapons designs.” In other words, the Chinese realize that there are much better ways of spending their money than building a huge and ultimately useless arsenal of nuclear weapons.