The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
China's emergence as a nuclear power poses new and important issues for U.S. strategic and arms-control policy. How one assesses the "China problem," and the alternative means to cope with it, has a direct bearing on what the American position should be on key questions in the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) during the months and years ahead. It will certainly influence-directly or indirectly-major decisions of the United States and the Soviet Union on whether to build or forgo new weapons systems.
In analyzing the "China problem," one point must be kept in mind. Despite Peking's ambition to be a great power, its support for revolutionary struggles in the underdeveloped world, and its obvious efforts to increase China's international influence, the Chinese military-strategic position in relation to the superpowers is fundamentally weak, and the Chinese know it. As a consequence, China's basic military posture in big-power relations is of necessity defensive.
There is no doubt that ever since 1949 the Chinese communist régime has felt very vulnerable to external pressures and possible attack by one or both of the major nuclear powers. Particularly since the late 1950s- following the Sino-Soviet split and the start of U.S.-Soviet collaboration in the arms-control field-Peking has felt itself to be, in a sense, "encircled" by the two superpowers.
One of China's basic aims, therefore, has been and still is to acquire at least a minimal nuclear deterrent to improve its ability to deal with the United States and the Soviet Union. Its hope is to achieve a position less unequal than in the past, and to strengthen its bargaining position and leverage in relations with the big powers. Above all, its aim is to deter attack against China and reduce China's vulnerability to external pressures.
Without attempting here to summarize in detail the progress of China's nuclear program, one can say that while its technological progress has been impressive in many respects, its actual capabilities are very limited and will remain so for a long time to come because of the relative weakness of China's resource base. By the middle or latter 1970s China will at best have accumulated 15 to 40 operational intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) plus one to two hundred medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and a limited number of other bombs deliverable by aircraft. Despite some evidence that the Chinese are working toward developing nuclear-armed submarines, it now appears doubtful that this effort will be important in their general nuclear program, at least in the next decade. To provide a crude basis of comparison, today the United States and the Soviet Union each has over 1,000 ICBMs, plus many thousands of other nuclear weapons deliverable by a variety of sophisticated systems including missiles, airplanes and submarines.
Projections of China's nuclear capabilities in the years ahead make several things clear. There is no possibility that in the foreseeable future Peking can aspire to genuine parity with the United States and the Soviet Union in the nuclear field. The Chinese cannot, in short, come close to achieving a first-strike capability against either of the superpowers. Under any conceivable circumstances, in the event of a Chinese attack, Washington or Moscow could retaliate massively. The important question, therefore, is whether-and if so when and with what consequences-China may be able to acquire a limited, defensive, second-strike capability which will serve as a minimal deterrent against attack. Such a deterrent would have the capacity, if subjected to U.S. or Soviet nuclear attack, to retaliate and hit at least some targets in the attacking country, or, in the U.S. case, possibly American forces in the Pacific or bases in allied countries. It has yet to achieve this.
China's attitudes toward basic strategic and arms-control problems are, in many respects, a corollary of these facts, as well as a reflection of its general ideological and political outlook. To date, the Chinese have consistently opposed all U.S.-Soviet steps toward arms control, in part because they have not themselves been willing to accept any limitation on their freedom of action until China has improved its defensive position vis- à-vis the United States and the Soviet Union.
In 1963 the Chinese bitterly attacked the limited test ban because they regarded it as a U.S.-Soviet effort to prevent other powers, including China, from developing independent nuclear deterrence. They also felt that the ban was directed specifically against China.
In 1964, when the Chinese exploded their first nuclear bomb, Peking made a strong "no-first-use" pledge. This was probably genuine in the sense that the Chinese recognized their relative weakness and wanted to exert political pressure on the United States and the Soviet Union to deter them from considering "first use," Since then they have on many occasions called on the other powers to make a similar pledge. Peking at that time also made sweeping proposals for total nuclear disarmament. These were primarily for propaganda purposes, since China undoubtedly knew that they would not be acceptable to other powers. Probably Peking's aim was to highlight the belief that steps toward arms limitation, short of restrictions that genuinely reduce the superiority of the two superpowers, will work to the advantage of the United States and the Soviet Union in relation to weaker powers, including China, at least until such powers can obtain a credible nuclear deterrent. In connection with their 1964 proposals, the Chinese called for various nuclear-free zones as steps toward total nuclear disarmament. Subsequently, however, they have shown less interest in this idea, and they have said little about it recently.
The Chinese have consistently opposed the nonproliferation treaty, and at various times-for example, in 1963 and 1965-have stated that they actually favored proliferation, at least among socialist states, because this would reduce the freedom of action of the United States and the Soviet Union and would exert pressure toward general nuclear disarmament. In fact, they have not aided any other nation in its nuclear development and seem unlikely to do so. If at any point China were seriously to consider actively encouraging proliferation, it would probably be more tempted to do so in areas fairly distant from China, such as the Middle East
The Chinese have condemned proposed seabed agreements, calling them simply another example of U.S.-Soviet collusion which would not benefit weaker powers because there would be no limitation on nuclear-armed submarines or any real reduction of U.S.-Soviet nuclear dominance. They have criticized American and Soviet steps toward building anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems, labeling ABM development another example of U.S.-Soviet collusion specifically directed against China. They have not had much to say about multiple independently targeted reëntry vehicles (MIRVs), but they have mentioned them and called them another sign of big-power aggressive intentions.
Surprisingly, the Chinese have not had very much to say so far about the U.S.-Soviet SALT talks. Interestingly, however, the Chinese have referred to the United States and the Soviet Union as Contending and yet colluding with each other," a sign of Peking's increased sensitivity to the complexities of the U.S.Soviet-Chinese triangular relationship.
Although Peking's views on all arms-control measures sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union have so far been consistently hostile, this does not mean they will be immutable. It should be remembered that Peking's position in regard to arms control crystallized at a time when the Sino-Soviet dispute was developing and China found itself increasingly at odds not only with the United States but with the Soviet Union as well. Even more important, this was a time when China itself had just started on its plan to develop an independent nuclear capability, and Peking wanted no restrictions or limitations imposed on its own program. The general Chinese strategy-a Maoist strategy-which took shape at that time was based on intense hostility toward both the United States and the Soviet Union and put primary stress on the need for Chinese "self-reliance."
Looking to the future, it is certainly possible that China's overall international strategy, and its specific foreign policies, could undergo significant changes, for they have changed on several occasions in the past. After Mao Tse-tung dies, and even before, a new leadership will emerge in China, in all probability some sort of collective leadership prone to compromise policies. It seems likely that such a leadership will react against many aspects of recent Maoist policies. It is at least possible that future leaders will put less stress on ideology than Mao has done, and be more pragmatic, realistic and possibly flexible in their approach to both domestic and foreign policy.
As a result of the internal disruptions caused by the Cultural Revolution in China during the past four years, the Peking régime has clearly been weakened in some respects. Consequently, there are now new constraints, in fact if not in theory, on Chinese policy, which will certainly affect its strategies abroad. The steady deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations in the 1960s, and the growing complexities of the triangular relationship involving the United States, the Soviet Union and China, also seem to have impelled the Chinese leadership to consider new options and strategies, to reduce China's present isolation and vulnerability and explore new opportunities for man?uvre and flexibility. At this point in time, it is extremely difficult to say what Chinese leaders, as they look ahead, hope to achieve in terms of specific strategic relationships with the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1970s. There is undoubtedly debate and uncertainty in China about this, and future Chinese policy will almost certainly be influenced by decisions made in both Washington and Moscow.
During the last few years, as Sino-Soviet relations have deteriorated, the "Russian threat" appears to have replaced the "U.S. threat" as Peking's major foreign policy preoccupation. Yet, there always have been, and presumably still are, some Chinese leaders who believe China should move to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union and try to work out a modus vivendi with Moscow. However, it also seems likely that today there are leaders in Peking who are urging greater flexibility in China's approaches to powers other than the Soviet Union, including the United States, in the hope that this can provide a counterbalance to the "Soviet threat" or at least reduce the external pressures on China. To date, the Chinese have not basically changed their posture toward the United States, but there are signs of at least uncertainty and possible debate in Peking in this regard. The resumption of U.S.-Chinese talks at Warsaw in January 1970 may prove to be a step toward more flexibility on Peking's part.
The fact is that, in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, China is now undergoing a very important transition period. New leadership and new policies will emerge in time. This could result in important changes in China's general foreign policy strategy and in its positions regarding many international issues, including strategic problems and arms control. However, fundamental changes in China's posture on strategic and nuclear arms-control issues will not be easy for Peking to make because of China's basic weakness in relation to the two superpowers.
If one asks when and under what conditions a more flexible and pragmatic leadership in China might be inclined to change its posture on arms control, and begin to see arms-control measures as in the interest of China as well as of the other powers, the answer would seem to be: when China is convinced that its own nuclear development has reached a stage where it has a minimal credible nuclear deterrent-that is, some kind of second-strike retaliatory capacity-that will enable it to deal with the United States and the Soviet Union on terms less unequal than at present.
It is not easy, however, to define the point at which China may believe itself to have achieved this goal. Somewhat elusive psychological factors are involved. By simply calculating and comparing numbers of nuclear weapons, one can argue that the United States and the Soviet Union should continue to have a first-strike capability against China for the almost indefinite future. In other words, they should have a theoretical capability of destroying all of China's nuclear weapons in a first strike. Therefore, simply in terms of numbers of nuclear weapons, China's inferiority will persist, and it may not have a dependable or credible deterrent for a very long time to come.
It seems doubtful, however, that a simple numerical calculus, comparing weapons stockpiles, will determine the attitudes of leaders either in China or in the United States and the Soviet Union. At some point, China will have acquired a sufficient nuclear capability so that the United States and the Soviet Union-as well as China itself-will believe that China might have the capacity, after a first strike, to mount a retaliatory attack against the United States or the Soviet Union or other related targets including Asian allies.
At what point, then, will this element of uncertainty in the balance be such that in practice China will have acquired what must be considered a credible deterrent? Stated another way, at what point will the United States and the Soviet Union feel they must act as if they believe that the principles of mutual nuclear deterrence operate in their relations with China, and at what point will China genuinely believe that they are acting in this fashion?
There are no simple answers to these questions, because they depend, to some extent at least, on American and Soviet attitudes toward China's nuclear capabilities, as indicated both by their statements and their actions.
One can say, though, that when such a point is reached, China may reconsider, and possibly revise, its views on strategic and arms-control questions. The realization that pursuit of parity is a will-o'-the-wisp is likely to begin to sink in in China. Moreover, once China has acquired any sort of credible deterrent, some Chinese leaders may conclude that it is more feasible to try to reduce the gap between China and the superpowers through agreements limiting-or reducing-American and Soviet capabilities than by trying to catch up in a hopeless race. And, as the cost of deterrence goes up (it inevitably must, as China gets involved in more sophisticated hardware), and as the competition for resources in China increases between those stressing economic development and those emphasizing defense, there may be greater pressures within China on economic grounds to limit investment in strategic arms development.
Factors such as these may come into play in time. But it does not seem likely that they will have a significant effect on Chinese policy until China is convinced it has acquired a minimal deterrent and until the Soviet Union and the United States have adjusted their attitudes and policies to this fact. Until that point has been reached, China's investment in nuclear development will not really have achieved any very significant result from the Chinese point of view, at least in military-strategic terms.
If this analysis is correct, the United States and the Soviet Union have two quite different options in approaching the "China problem." They can, if they so choose, take a variety of steps to try to postpone as long as possible the time when China will have acquired a credible deterrent. Specifically, they can strive to insure that they have total damage denial capability against China. This would clearly put off the day when China must be accepted into the international community in which the principles of mutual deterrence are assumed to operate.
If this course is chosen, there will be a number of problems, even if the technical problems all prove to be solvable. One can argue that, to be wholly effective, this would require not only ABM area coverage ensuring total damage denial for all of the United States and the Soviet Union but also measures that would fully protect allies that might be targets for retaliatory second-strike threats by China.
At best, this approach would probably only postpone-not prevent-China's ultimate acquisition of a second-strike capability. It seems likely that eventually China would be able to acquire sufficient numbers of nuclear weapons, at least some of them "hardened," or develop penetration aids that would make ABM systems no longer capable of ensuring total damage denial. But that day would be put off. While taking such measures, the United States and the Soviet Union could downgrade the significance of China's nuclear capabilities and indicate to Peking that in Washington's and Moscow's view the Chinese deterrent is not credible.
Despite some possible advantages, however, this course would virtually guarantee that China will continue devoting major resources to nuclear development, until it believes it has achieved a credible deterrent. In short, it would tend to raise the level of nuclear development which Peking would consider essential as a minimum goal. It would also virtually ensure China's continued opposition and refusal to participate in any arms-control measures sponsored by the United States or the Soviet Union.
An alternative and very different approach would be for the United States and the Soviet Union to refrain from deploying ABM defenses or taking any other measures obviously designed to prevent China from acquiring even a limited second-strike capability, and instead, as soon as it is justifiable, accept the fact that China has acquired a credible deterrent of a minimal sort. At that point Washington and Moscow might indicate to Peking that, in the American and Soviet view, China has reached the stage in its nuclear development where it is assumed the principles of mutual deterrence apply to it as well as to the two superpowers.
This need not, and should not, involve unrealistic exaggeration of China's power. Peking's acquisition of a minimal deterrent will not make it a superpower. The overwhelming superiority of the United States and the Soviet Union will continue and will be obvious not only to the Chinese but to others as well. So, too, will be the fact of China's continuing weakness in economic and other terms relative to Japan and Western Europe as well as to the United States and the Soviet Union. Peking will doubtless learn, as other nuclear powers have, that a small nuclear capability cannot be automatically translated into increased political influence in international affairs and may even complicate the problems of national security rather than clearly solve them.
There is no real reason, therefore, why China's example-any more than the examples of France and Britain-should convince non-nuclear powers that they should themselves "go nuclea.," Acceptance of the fact that China has acquired a minimal deterrent would simply involve recognition of Peking's improved defense capabilities, not a general upgrading of China's overall power position in the world balance. A conscious effort should be made, however, to convince non-nuclear powers that international political influence does not depend on nuclear status. It might be desirable, for example, to reconstitute the U.N. Security Council so that it includes non- nuclear powers such as Japan.
One could even argue that it might be worthwhile to jump the gun and begin talking and acting as if China has acquired a credible nuclear deterrent as soon as it has placed a minimal nuclear missile force in operation-and before its deterrent is wholly and unquestionably credible-in the hope that China might then begin to reexamine its posture on strategy and arms control in the belief that it has achieved one of its basic goals.
At this point-and probably not before-one could press more vigorously for China to participate in international arms-control efforts with some realistic basis for hope that there would be a greater possibility than at present that it would consider participating.
What risks or costs would this involve? It would require acceptance of the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union cannot with impunity consider or threaten nuclear first strikes against China. One can question, however, whether this would involve high costs, at least for America. The arguments and inhibitions against considering nuclear first strikes in most conceivable situations are already very great, though this may be less true for the Soviet Union, as the vague hints in 1969 about a possible preëmptive strike suggest. But even Moscow must feel strong inhibitions about initiating a nuclear first strike, Moreover, in most limited conflicts in Asia, nuclear weapons are likely to be almost irrelevant.
The possibility that key non-nuclear powers such as Japan, India and Australia might feel more vulnerable and threatened cannot be ignored. If this impelled them to embark on independent nuclear programs, the cost in relation to U.S. aims, including the desire to prevent proliferation, would be substantial. Yet as long as such countries have confidence in the U.S. commitment to defend them against nuclear threats, and as long as it is clear that American nuclear superiority in relation to China is such that any offensive nuclear threats by China would not be credible, there is no reason why China's acquisition of a minimal deterrent should basically alter the position or the views of such countries.
It is sometimes argued that if the United States maintains a first-strike capability against China and builds invulnerable defenses, for example by developing ABMs, the Japanese are likely to have greater confidence in our defense pledges. It can also be argued, to the contrary, that if the United States focuses on such a defense strategy rather than relying on the continued applicability of mutual deterrence, the Japanese may conclude that America in a crisis situation might concern itself only with its own defense and abandon interest in allies not protected by such defenses. The fact is that not only have the Chinese to date resisted whatever temptation they may have felt to engage in "bomb rattling," it is difficult to see how, from their position of nuclear inferiority, they will have any significant capacity for credible "nuclear blackmail" in the years immediately ahead. To date, Peking's cautious emphasis on defense as its sole aim in developing nuclear weapons suggests that Chinese leaders may already realize this.
Some might fear that once the Chinese believe they have acquired a credible deterrent, they might tend to become more aggressive in areas such as Southeast Asia, feeling that they could take more risks in non-nuclear or sub-nuclear situations because they would be less vulnerable to nuclear counterthreats. Whether one considers this to be a significant risk depends very much on one's general assessment of China's foreign policy goals, strategy and behavior.
If one views China as a power committed to territorial aggression and expansionism, willing to take large risks and prone to irrational action, i.e. inclined to commit aggression without regard for possible consequences, there would be cause for major concern. However, among specialists on Chinese affairs, both in and out of the American government, there appears to be a fairly broad consensus that China's behavior and doctrine over the past two decades do not support this view. In general, this consensus maintains that:
China is not committed to broad territorial expansionism. Among its national goals, certainly, is the recovery of what it considers to be lost territories, but even in regard to these territories its inclination is to pursue long-term, low-risk policies.
It appears to be predisposed to keep Chinese military forces within China's boundaries, and it seems likely to continue doing so, except in cases where it feels Chinese security-or that of a communist buffer state on its periphery-is seriously threatened, as in Korea.
Its primary stress, both in the structure of its conventional military forces and the doctrine governing their use, is on defense rather than offense.
It cannot and does not ignore the possible risks and costs of large-scale conventional war, even when nuclear weapons are not involved, and it places a high priority on the desirability of avoiding large-scale war of any sort with the major powers.
It is strongly predisposed, in general, to low-cost, low-risk policies, and while it encourages and supports revolutionary struggles in other countries, such support does not include Chinese manpower on any significant scale. Even Maoist doctrine insists that all revolutionaries must be "self-reliant," and should depend primarily on indigenous resources; it thus opposes the use of Chinese forces to fight other revolutionaries' battles for them.
It uses pressures and probes against its neighbors for a variety of purposes, but in doing so its use of force is generally carefully calculated and controlled.
In crisis situations, it tends to act with considerable prudence and caution, and repeatedly it has moved to check escalation when there has appeared to be a serious risk of major conflict.
There is, of course, no guarantee that these patterns of behavior, which seem to have characterized Chinese actions over the past two decades, will persist in the future. Nevertheless, there is general agreement among China specialists that they are likely to continue. As indicated earlier, there is also a belief that post-Mao leaders are likely to be more pragmatic than Mao and subject to greater internal as well as external constraints. It is plausible to believe that such leaders may downgrade the importance of revolutionary aims, not ending, but possibly decreasing, Chinese activity in this field, and upgrade the importance of state-to-state relationships and more conventional political and economic instruments of policy. There is remarkably little support among China specialists for the idea that China is now-or is likely to be in the future-prone to act in an irrational or highly reckless manner. And it would certainly be doing this were it to ignore the continuing fact of its nuclear inferiority, and its vulnerability to both conventional and nuclear retaliation, even after it acquires a minimal deterrent.
If these judgments are correct, there are strong reasons to assume that once China achieves a nuclear deterrent it can be expected, in a basic sense, to act much as the other nuclear powers have, and to be constrained, as they are, by the realities of nuclear deterrence. There is little basis for arguing that the United States and the Soviet Union can feel secure vis- à-vis China only if they have a total damage denial capability and an unquestionable ability to threaten China with a first strike. To argue this is to argue, in effect, that the United States and the Soviet Union can feel secure only under conditions that guarantee that the Chinese will continue to feel highly insecure.
Despite the fact that the above judgments have been accepted by many as a basis for policy even within the American government, others have argued- although not convincingly in the view of those who accept the judgments summarized above-that somehow Peking may be able in the future to engage in "nuclear blackmail" against the United States or its Asian allies. This belief helps explain continuing pressure in Washington for construction of a full-scale anti-Chinese ABM.
One other element of possible uncertainty and risk must be considered, namely the danger of accidents. Very little is known of China's command and control mechanisms affecting nuclear weapons. However, in almost all crisis situations during the past 20 years the Chinese have exercised careful control over their forces. This, plus the fact that Peking has adopted an extremely cautious posture regarding nuclear weapons since its first detonation, would not lead one to conclude that China will be indifferent to the problem of control.
It would certainly be desirable for the United States and the Soviet Union to have greater confidence in the dependability of China's command and control techniques in the nuclear field.
Perhaps the best way to achieve this, however, is to try to draw China into international efforts toward arms control. The hope should be that in time Peking as well as Washington and Moscow will be genuinely concerned with the problem of strategic stability and willing to collaborate in efforts to achieve it.
In the light of these facts and judgments, how should the "China problem" be taken into account by the United States and the Soviet Union in their approaches to arms limitations?
It should be recognized, first of all, that the mere fact of major American and Soviet talks on strategic arms limitation involves the danger that China may be confirmed in its view that they are actively collaborating against China. It may tend to reinforce Peking's suspicions that the superpowers are determined to perpetuate their total strategic superiority and prevent China from developing any sort of credible deterrent in order to exclude it from the international community of mutual deterrence.
Clearly, the crucial importance of concluding U.S.-Soviet agreements which can check the arms race and achieve a higher degree of strategic stability in relations between the two superpowers is overriding, and China's attitude cannot be allowed to wreck or even unduly complicate this effort.
Nevertheless, the long-run problem of incorporating China Into the international community and bringing its nuclear establishment under the same restraints that affect those of other countries cannot be ignored either. There is good reason, therefore, to make a conscious effort to convince the Chinese that no arms-control agreements are especially directed against them, and to attempt to reduce their feeling that the United States and the Soviet Union are engaged in "collusion" to China's detriment Washington should try to make this absolutely clear.
Though it is to be hoped that the Soviet Union will agree on the importance of this, one cannot be certain that it will. If, as is conceivable under certain circumstances, the Russians try to convey to Peking the impression that Washington tacitly supports Moscow in pressures directed against China, the United States should make clear that it will not be put in the position of supporting anti-Chinese Soviet policies, and that U.S. policies which give high priority to the need for arms-control agreements are not specifically directed against the Chinese.
One way of doing this is for the United States, while negotiating with the Russians on strategic arms limitations, to continue the kinds of initiatives toward Peking that were begun by the Nixon administration in July 1969, taking steps designed to make clear that Washington, in fact as well as theory, is committed to pursue an even-handed policy toward both the Soviet Union and China. We should reiterate that the United States desires to work toward normalization of relations with mainland China and would welcome its eventual involvement in international arms control. Even if the Soviets are not enthusiastic about any sort of conciliatory moves by the United States toward China, Washington should not let this interfere with its continuing efforts to work toward reasonable relationships with the Chinese as well as the Russians.
In more specific terms, however, the "China problem" must also be taken into account both in Washington's unilateral decisions on arms policy and in the U.S.-Soviet arms limitation talks. The key immediate issue concerns ABM defenses.
Debate continues in Washington over the issue of whether to build a comprehensive American anti-Chinese ABM system, In January 1970, President Nixon moved one further step toward construction of such a system. During his press conference on January 30, in outlining the present rationale for moving in this direction, he stated that although 10 years from now Communist China "will not be a major nuclear power," it "will have significant nuclear capacity." He then reiterated his desire for a "breakthrough in some normalization" of relations with Peking, but said that if "we have not made a breakthrough," we would need an anti-Chinese ABM defense as protection against the possibility of Chinese "nuclear blackmail" directed against either the United States or its Asian allies, in order to maintain the credibility of American foreign policy in the Pacific.
In the weeks and months ahead, as the United States proceeds with substantive arms-control negotiations with the Russians, and continues to explore the possibilities of improving relations with the Chinese, it can be assumed that the ABM issue will be subject to further debate and reëxamination. The importance of improving both U.S.-Soviet and U.S.- Chinese relations is too great for positions on an issue of this sort to be irrevocably frozen. As President Nixon put it on March 14, 1969, America is committed "to move from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation" and will periodically review decisions concerning ABM deployment in the light not only of technical considerations and current intelligence estimates but also "any talks that we are having" regarding arms control.
What should the American position be in regard to anti-Chinese ABM systems in the SALT talks? There are strong arguments in favor of trying to reach agreement with the Russians that we will both forgo building ABM systems, to avoid competitive development of costly weapons that might not only have undesirable effects on U.S.-Soviet strategic relations but would also affect adversely the long-run problem of dealing with China and would reduce future prospects for drawing it into more responsible roles within the international community.
If, in the SALT talks, we try to insist on the American need for an anti- Chinese ABM system, the Russians will almost certainly insist on a quid pro quo. They might insist on further development of their own ABM. One can imagine arguments, in theory at least, that the Russians might present for a special need, on their part, for an anti-Chinese ABM. They could point to the undeniable fact that because of geography the U.S. and Soviet situations are different. As soon as the Chinese acquire a significant MRBM capability, they will be able to reach many Soviet targets (they will be able to do so, in fact, even before that, with aircraft), whereas it will be some years before China has acquired ICBMs capable of reaching U.S. targets. It is significant, however, that there is no clear evidence that the Russians have a strong desire to build an anti-Chinese ABM system. In the Soviet view, the very fact of Russia's size and proximity to China may argue for relying primarily on deterrence rather than attempting the difficult task of achieving total damage denial; the Russians may believe this is feasible because of their overwhelming nuclear superiority vis-à- vis China.
If, therefore, the United States insists on an anti-Chinese ABM, it is possible that the Russians may insist on concessions regarding other weapons systems. In this situation the United States might find itself in the worst of all possible worlds, engaged in a process of agreed-upon arms escalation in U.S.-Soviet relations while bearing the principal onus for pursuing specifically anti-Chinese arms policies. If, on the other hand, we and the Russians were to decide that we would both build anti-Chinese ABM systems, we would doubtless reinforce Peking's view that Moscow and Washington are in collusion against China. The probable result would be not only to delay the prospect of Peking considering more reasonable policies in general but to affect adversely any possibility of a "breakthrough" in U.S.-Chinese relations.
The wisest course, therefore, for the United States to pursue regarding ABMs in the SALT talks would be to try to reach agreement with the Russians that neither they nor we will build anti-Chinese ABMs. This would not only help to check the U.S.Soviet arms race but would also keep open the possibility of improving relations with Peking.
In sum, both the United States and the Soviet Union should concern themselves not only with the problem of strategic stability in their bilateral relations but also with the task of inducing China, over time, to participate in arms-control efforts and to accommodate itself more fully than it has to date to the requirements of the nuclear age. Neither need fear that the Chinese will be able to achieve a first-strike capability-or approach nuclear parity-in the foreseeable future. Nor should they consider China's acquisition of a minimal deterrent as a special danger. While it is true that China's acquisition of a credible deterrent will improve Peking's defensive capabilities, it will not significantly alter the overall balance. Moreover, China can be expected to act much as other nuclear powers have acted and to be constrained, as others are, by the realities of mutual deterrence. Equally important, when China achieves a credible deterrent, Peking's leaders may be more inclined than at present to reassess their strategic policies and consider the value of arms control. This may, in fact, be a prerequisite to incorporating China into the community of mutual deterrence.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union should consciously avoid, therefore, strategic and arms-control policies that will be viewed by Peking as being primarily anti-Chinese. Such policies will postpone rather than hasten the day when China may concern itself with problems of nuclear stability. The hope should be that Moscow as well as Washington will see the importance of this. But even if Moscow does not, the United States, in shaping its own strategic and arms-control policies, should take the "China problem," as well as the problems of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations, fully into account.