Robert Zarate writes, for the Foreign Policy Initiative:
In a high-profile speech today in Berlin, President Obama announced his plan to “seek negotiated cuts with Russia” in order to reduce America’s “deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third.” The prudence of Obama’s plan, however, remains far from certain due to many stubborn problems.
President Obama’s plan to further cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal comes at a dangerous time. The President sees his plan as the next step in someday achieving his dream of a “world without nuclear weapons.” But the world has a vote, too, and even if Russia is open to further nuclear cuts—something which remains unclear at this point—other nations do not appear to share Obama’s aspiration.
In the Asia-Pacific, both China and North Korea are modernizing and expanding their nuclear arsenals. In turn, that’s making Japan and South Korea—technologically-capable U.S. allies who have eschewed building their own atomic arsenals thanks, in no small part, to the preponderant strength of America’s nuclear deterrent—increasingly nervous.
While the U.S. intelligence community periodically estimates the size of China’s nuclear forces, House lawmakers want the President to certify that the intelligence community has “high confidence” in these estimates before the United States proceeds with further nuclear cuts. The worry is that if the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal keeps dropping, it is conceivable that China someday could rapidly build up its nuclear forces in an attempt to reach game-changing numerical parity with the United States. That’s why it’s long past due for Washington to stop thinking about any future limitations to nuclear arms in bilateral terms with Russia, and start thinking—at the very least—in trilateral terms with Russia and China.