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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

China and Kissinger Associates

Awhile ago, I meant to blog about a April 19, 2010, piece in Time about China written by Joshua Cooper Ramo of Kissinger Associates. Specifically, I was struck by these sentences:
...many Chinese worry about what they see as the aimlessness of a weakened U.S. The Chinese want to like Obama, but they regard even his most prized initiatives, like the new U.S. posture on the use of nuclear arms, as a sign of weakness. (No Chinese leader would dial back the country's option for unlimited nuclear response in self-defense.) Mao's old line has become a trope in China: It's better to deal with Republicans.
Where to begin?

Let's start with "the new U.S. posture on the use of nuclear arms." As I noted more than two months ago, the United States simply noted that it "will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations." It could, however, employ a "devastating conventional military response."

These kinds of "negative security assurances" have been sought by non-nuclear states since the negotiation of the NPT and are employed by other nuclear-armed states. The U.S. exempted non-compliant states like Iran and North Korea and even made explicit counterproliferation threats against them. Thus, the U.S. arguably dialed-up some threats in the new nuclear posture even as it made a limited "no first use" promise.

Next, what about Ramo's sentence in parentheses? "No Chinese leader would dial back the country's option for unlimited nuclear response in self-defense." In point of fact, China's nuclear posture is far "weaker" by Ramo's standard. As Nina Tannenwald points out in her work on the nuclear taboo, China first offered an unconditional "no first use" declaration in 1964. The state has maintained this policy for nearly 50 years -- and frequently renews the pledge.

Contra to Ramo's thesis, China has actually urged the U.S. to sign a sweeping "no first use" pact, which would yield an even "weaker" posture (by Ramo's standard).

I'm not really familiar with Ramo, but his uncle Simon Ramo provided the "R" in TRW. That might make him somewhat sympathetic to the military industrial complex, which worries (presumably) about any weakening of American militarism.

Ramo boss Henry Kissinger is a long-time advocate for China. Reporter Bill Gertz of The Washington Times calls Kissinger the leading former bureaucrat for marshaling China policies that are "undermining America." Then again, Kissinger was a loyal Republican party servant long before he was a China hack. So, I'd read Ramo's conclusion with that caveat in mind.

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