When President Richard Nixon helped "open China," part of the aim
was to counter any alliance between the archrival Soviets, and
China. Jokes and friendship toasts between then-Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger and Chinese officials in the 1970s always included
verbal jabs at Moscow.
In reality, mutual suspicions and animosity between Moscow and
Beijing then were so thick that a "Sino-Soviet" alliance never
materialized. Yet today, a struggling Russia and a rising China are
now exploring a wide range of cooperative ties, including closer
military relations. The White House announcement Tuesday to design
and deploy a nuclear missile shield could accelerate this emerging
In fact, by proposing to cut nuclear weapons stockpiles and
abandon the traditional concept of nuclear deterrence, the Bush
administration may be introducing the most significant geopolitical
change since World War II.
The US plan comes at a time when relations between the "Bear" and
the "Dragon" are in their "most intensive phase in decades,"
according to a Russian Foreign Ministry
statement. Already, more than half of Russia's growing arms
exports are to China, a nuclear weapons state that sees its
deterrent as devalued by the prospect of an effective missile
defense in the US.
Yesterday, China's Xinhua state news agency warned: "The US
missile defense plan ... will destroy the balance of international
security forces and could cause a new arms race."
Early this week, Russia and China announced a longterm
"friendship and cooperation treaty" to be signed when Chinese
President Jiang Zemin visits his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in
Moscow this July.
With the US threatening to withdraw unilaterally from the
Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the keystone of cold-war arms
control, the message received in Moscow is that Russia is no longer
considered a strategic equal, but rather a second-tier nuclear
power such as Britain, France, or China.
"Our leaders have great difficulty accepting this, but the impact
upon them is purely psychological," says Andrei Piontkovsky,
director of the Center for Strategic Studies, an independent Moscow
think tank. "We still have over 1,000 nuclear missiles, which would
be more than enough to overwhelm the missile shield the Americans
are contemplating. Russian leaders should relax and concentrate on
the positive elements of Bush's message, such as the suggestion to
slash strategic offensive weapons."
Should China and Russia overcome their differences, geopolitics
would be significantly altered in the Pacific-Asia region, an area
described by Ashley Tellis of the Rand Corporation as "poised to
become the new center of gravity in international politics in the
A serious Sino-Russian power block could in time challenge the US
strategic and military role in the region, backed by the US Pacific
Fleet, which for many years has provided security in East Asia. For
that reason, the US missile plan is already raising the level of
concern among states like Japan and South Korea, experts say.
"There is some reluctance and some concerns, particularly
[regarding] China," says Masahi Nishihara, the president of the
National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Japan. "But China will expand
its nuclear positions anyway; they're simply using American support
for Theater Missile Defense [TMD] as their excuse for expanding
The US considers a smaller-scale shield for Japan as necessary to
defend it, and US forces based there, against a North Korean missile
threat. China considers a TMD shield as the first step in the
remilitarization of Japan. It also worries that Taiwan might get
such a shield, according to Thomas Bickford, an Asia security
specialist at the University of Wisconsin.
Already, China purchases an estimated $2 billion worth of Russian
military hardware annually, intelligence reports say - and China may
be negotiating secretly to purchase Russian "stealth" destroyers
that would give its small navy the capability of sinking US
aircraft carriers. …