Amid the lingering fury from the US media over US President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the White House announced Thursday that Trump invited Putin to visit Washington this fall. Mr Trump’s attitude has been firm on improving US-Russia relations. Despite staunch opposition, it is quite likely that US-Russia relations will halt its slide during Mr Trump’s presidency.
Mr Trump has repeatedly stressed that Russia and the US are the two biggest nuclear powers in the world, with their combined nuclear arsenal accounting for 90 percent of world’s total, and thus the US must live in peace with Russia. On US-Russia relations, Trump is clearheaded.
Russia’s economy is weak. Its GDP did not make the world’s top 10, yet its military, especially its nuclear power, has sustained its status as one of the most influential nations in the world. Russia and the US have serious geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East and Europe, but Mr Trump suddenly reversed the hardline US stance and showed a low-key response to Mr Putin. That’s probably because, as Mr Trump said, Russia is a nuclear power.
We know US-Russia relations cannot be improved overnight because it is difficult for the two countries to make strategic compromises in Europe and the Middle East. Even if their relations improve, other frictions may emerge, causing new rifts in bilateral ties.
Yet Mr Trump’s respect toward Russia is worth mentioning. Mr Trump is a man who values strength, and he attaches great importance to military strength, especially nuclear strength. The US has defined China as its strategic competitor and is exerting more pressure. The trade war may be just the beginning. Tensions between the two nations may spread to other areas. We believe that during this process, the White House will continue to evaluate, including a look at China’s nuclear arsenal.
China is different from Russia. China has a robust economy and has many tools at its disposal, which is an advantage. Yet China’s relatively weak military, especially its nuclear power, which lags behind the US, is a major strategic sore point.
A popular view among Chinese strategists is that we need only a sufficient number of nuclear weapons. Too many nuclear weapons cost more and may trigger outside alarm, leading to strategic uncertainty. Those who hold this view believe China does not need to increase its strategic nuclear weapons and should instead focus on modernising its nuclear weapons to secure the country’s capability for a second nuclear strike. We believe this view is a serious misinterpretation of the major countries’ nuclear situation.
China is no small country that needs only a few nuclear weapons to scare off an intimidator at a critical moment. China has grown into a global influence, facing greater risks and pressure than smaller countries do. We must reconsider what constitutes “sufficient” in terms of nuclear weapons.
China’s nuclear weapons have to not only secure a second strike but also play the role of cornerstone in forming a strong deterrence so that outside powers dare not intimidate China militarily. Once major countries are engaged in military conflicts, each side must evaluate the determination of the other side to see the conflict through. Nuclear power is the pillar of that determination. One of the major reasons that the US used a “salami-slicing” method to push for NATO’s eastward expansion but refused to engage in open conflict in Ukraine and Syria with Russia is probably because it was concerned about what Moscow might do with its huge nuclear arsenal.
Of course, we do not believe nuclear power development should override all the other work or its development should come at the expense of other major developmental interests. But this work must be made a top priority. We must recognise the urgent need for China to strengthen its nuclear prowess.