By Senator Deb Fischer

National Review 

Earlier this month, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, the U.K., France, China, and Russia — issued a joint statement entitled “Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races.” The countries begin by writing, “[We] consider the avoidance of war between Nuclear-Weapon States and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities,” and they go on to affirm that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The optimistic tone continues, and by the end the signatories have committed to “continue seeking bilateral and multilateral diplomatic approaches to avoid military confrontations, strengthen stability and predictability, increase mutual understanding and confidence, and prevent an arms race that would benefit none and endanger all.”

This would be a historic moment for international unity — or rather, it would be if it were true. China and Russia may have signed this document, but they do not intend to honor it.

In Russia’s case, Vladimir Putin signed this statement about “avoid[ing] military confrontations” at a time when 100,000 Russian troops are deployed along Russia’s border with Ukraine, threatening to invade a sovereign democracy and intimidating the West. Under President Putin, Russia has developed a destabilizing doctrine of nuclear first-use and continues to expand its arsenal in direct violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which led to the agreement’s collapse. 

In many ways, China’s recent behavior is even more at odds with the declaration. Like Russia, China is expanding its arsenal, but at a scale and speed that may be without precedent in world history: The Pentagon believes China plans to more than quadruple its nuclear stockpile by 2030, just eight years from now. It too is developing novel nuclear weapons that threaten global peace, including a recently revealed test of a new nuclear-capable system that combines space and hypersonic capabilities. For our part, the United States has starved our nuclear capabilities to the point that we are the only nuclear-weapons state in the world incapable of producing the components necessary to build a new nuclear weapon.

Instead of addressing Russia and China’s nuclear buildups, the Biden administration has often chosen to look the other way. That does not make us any safer. But neither does signing our name next to those of Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Standing shoulder to shoulder with authoritarians to make empty pronouncements about world peace only distracts from their dangerous activities and lends them credibility they do not deserve.

The Chinese Communist Party, for example, has already begun to use the statement to further its own propaganda. Fu Cong, the director-general of China’s Department of Arms Control, said the CCP is “not dramatically expanding its nuclear capabilities, since China maintains minimum nuclear capabilities required for national defense,” a quote that has since been picked up in nearly every major Chinese media outlet. He would apparently prefer that observers believe China is building hundreds of new missile silos in Xinjiang and other remote regions for some other purpose.

As the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which oversees our nuclear forces, I have worked on these issues for nearly a decade. Instead of signing our names to a piece of paper and calling it a day, the president must soberly assess what our adversaries are actually doing around the world, not what they say they are doing, and chart a more serious course for the future. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which periodically reassesses how our nuclear deterrent can best support the national defense, will be our next chance to get this right. 

When it is released in February, the NPR cannot indulge the same delusions as the declaration. While the U.S. takes great pains to honor our diplomatic commitments, our adversaries feel no such obligation. The Biden administration needs to be clear-eyed about the ways in which Russia and China are violating the spirit of the joint statement, and in the NPR, they must advance a concrete plan to address these growing threats. I made this clear to administration officials at a recent defense briefing.

It should go without saying that while a safer nuclear future is a worthy goal, non-binding declarations alone will not be enough to make that future a reality. Some countries, such as China and Russia, respect only strength. The Biden administration must recognize this in the upcoming NPR. 

Read the piece online here. 

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