Reflections on Strategic Stability

By Yin, Lu | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Reports, October 28, 2016 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Strategic Stability


Yin, Lu, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - Reports


In recent years, official Obama administration documents have contained frequent references to the United States' strategic stability vis-à-vis China, particularly in terms of nuclear strategy and security In China, too, there have been more discussions about strategic stability Both the factual reality and the future development of strategic stability have become important topics for discussion, whether from the perspective of classic arms control theory-that is, the guiding principles employed by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War-or from the perspective of bilateral strategic relations between the United States and China.

UNDERSTANDING STRATEGIC STABILITY

Since the closing years of the twentieth century, there have been intermittent references to strategic stability in the dialogues and discussions between China and the United States involving their nuclear strategies and policies. In this context, the U.S. Department of Defense-in its Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report and Nuclear Posture Review Report, which were released successively in 2010-for the first time expressed a U.S. desire to maintain strategic stability with both Russia and China and to conduct dialogues on strategie stability with China.1 The Quadrennial Defense Review 2014, also released by the U.S. Department of Defense, again conveyed that the United States wants to maintain strategic stability with Russia and China.2 Such frequent references to U.S.-China strategic stability in official reports reflect the high level of U.S. attention being given to this topic.

However, with respect to the substantive nature of U.S.-China strategic stability-such as its definition, its component parts, and how to maintain it-the U.S. administration, its policy analysts, and scholars have yet to form a clear-cut view. The Obama administration has not even officially declared its policy on U.S.-China strategic stability. When senior U.S. officials mention this concept, they tend to view it more in terms of specific military, security, political, diplomatic, and even economic issues. Meanwhile, when Chinese officials discuss U.S.-China strategic stability, they tend to start from the overarching context of bilateral relations, with the aim of maintaining stable U.S.-China relations. Chinese policy statements focusing on strategic weapons can be found in relevant United Nations (UN) conference documents on disarmament and nonproliferation.3

Chinese officials have made a number of statements in relation to strategic stability. First, China's former ambassador for disarmament affairs, Hu Xiaodi, stated in a July 2009 speech at the third plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament that "what is critical for arms control and disarmament is to maintain global strategic stability, strengthen the treaty system that has been established in the field of arms control and disarmament, not introduce weapons or weapons systems into outer space, comprehensively prohibit and thoroughly eliminate all weapons of mass destruction, and prevent the proliferation of those weapons and their delivery vehicles."4

Second, in an August 2009 speech, then-Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi declared that "nuclear-weapon-states should reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their national security and commit themselves to no-first-use of nuclear weapons as early as possible. . . . The international community should negotiate and conclude an international legal instrument on security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states at an early date. . . . The practice of seeking absolute strategic advantage should be abandoned. Countries should neither develop missile defense systems that undermine global strategic stability nor deploy weapons in outer space."5

Third, in an October 2013 address to the UN General Assembly, Zhang Junan said, "We should uphold the principles of'maintaining global strategic balance and stability' and 'undiminished security for all. …

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