Don’t Forget China

Jet planes dispersing of nuclear waste with explosions on the ground

The New York Times [5-16-15] reports that China is reversing its long-time policy of not competing with the United States in the development of nuclear weapons.

After decades of maintaining a minimal nuclear force, China has re-engineered many of its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple warheads, a step that federal officials and policy analysts say appears designed to give pause to the United States as it prepares to deploy more robust missile defenses in the Pacific.

What makes China’s decision particularly notable is that the technology of miniaturizing warheads and putting three or more atop a single missile has been in Chinese hands for decades. But a succession of Chinese leaders deliberately let it sit unused; they were not interested in getting into the kind of arms race that characterized the Cold War nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Now, however, President Xi Jinping appears to have altered course, at the same moment that he is building military airfields on disputed islands in the South China Sea, declaring exclusive Chinese “air defense identification zones,” sending Chinese submarines through the Persian Gulf for the first time and creating a powerful new arsenal of cyberweapons.

Why the change? And why now?

It would have been foolish to expect anything different.

First of all, any government — regardless of its stance on freedom and individual rights — will want a strong defense capacity.

A free country only concerned with respecting the individual rights, including safety, of its citizens will want a defense arsenal — the strongest possible — to deter attack from any real or potential enemies.

Likewise, an aggressive government concerned with conquering and ruling other people as well as its own citizens will also want the strongest possible arsenal — not only for deterrence, but to act aggressively against other nations whose citizens’ lives it seeks to control and dominate.

In a case like Iran, it’s obvious what the intentions are. Iran is a totalitarian regime intent on ruling the entire planet under Islamic Sharia Law. While one can debate how capable Iran is of achieving this end, there can be no debate about its government’s intentions and desires, and the threat such a government poses (at least to its neighbors) once it has nuclear weapons.

China, many will argue, is not an aggressive nation. This has always been the argument for not worrying about China. The argument was based on the assumption that China did not attempt to increase its nuclear arsenal. As The New York Times reports, that’s now beginning to change.

The Chinese government does not respect the individual rights of its citizens. The Chinese have no Bill of Rights, no firm foundation of private property rights, and no political or cultural tradition for anything close to that. At the same time, the Chinese government has permitted and encouraged a very high level of business and technological development in recent decades, particularly when compared to the hard-core, unyielding ideological Maoist Marxist regime which preceded it.

Today, most people argue and assume that China is now “capitalist,” like the United States, and therefore we have no more to fear from that government as we do, say, from Canada. But that’s a naive assumption. Also, China does not respect the individual rights of its citizens nearly as much as the United States still does, or Canada or Western European nations do. While it’s reasonable not to fear an attack from Great Britain, Sweden, Germany or Canada, it’s not reasonable to place China in the same category. You can only trust the government of a nation as much as that nation’s citizens can. The Chinese people cannot rely on their government to protect free speech, freedom of thought, freedom of association; nor can they count on their government to uphold private property rights, not when the business plans fail to uphold the goals of the central government.

The fact is that the United States is moving in the direction of China — towards that of a fascist-like regime that permits business enterprise for the purpose of “society,” which in practice means the government. The United States still differs crucially from China in its nominal (and to some extent still real) upholding of free speech and free association, but those rights are withering away slowly. Obama has made it especially clear, throughout his time in office, that the purpose of an economy is to have the greatest degree of social and wealth redistribution possible; imposing the progressive-socialist idea of “fairness,” not economic growth or individual rights, including private property rights, represents the purpose of government, nearly all of America’s politicians now assume. If that trend continues, including beyond Obama, then the United States will continue to look more and more like China, in that respect.

If we reach the point where two of the world’s biggest superpowers are no longer rights-respecting countries, but still have large and robust economies (subject to government control), then you can expect those two countries to be major rivals militarily. You can expect things like arms races, not between an essentially free country and a totally enslaved one (as with the United States of an earlier era against Soviet Russia); instead, an arms race between two authoritarian governments who allow enough economic freedom to keep those governments well-funded and strong, but don’t especially respect the rights of their citizens, particularly citizens disrespectful of the government.

“China’s little force is slowly getting a little bigger — and its limited capabilities are slowly getting a little better,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based policy research group. He told the Times that the new Chinese warhead deployments represented “a bad day for nuclear constraint.”

Is nuclear constraint the ideal? Actually, it isn’t. Freedom and individual rights are the goal. Nuclear weapons are welcome, useful and positive things, the extent to which they preserve and protect the inalienable rights of a free people.

If China and the United States were both strong, rights-respecting governments — who didn’t interfere in the economy or in the private lives of citizens, other than to adjudicate contracts and punish the use of force — then there would be nothing to fear from either government’s possession of nuclear weapons. Those weapons would not pose a threat to anyone, other than to a nation like Iran, who seeks to obliterate other nations whose governments permit freedom and uphold rights. But you want nations like Iran to be threatened.

The real issue here isn’t that China’s nuclear forces are growing while all of America’s military capacity, particularly since Obama, is decisively dwindling. It’s a concern, but not the most important one. The real issue is that two of the world’s most powerful and potentially dangerous governments are not rights-respecting governments, not to the extent that they might and should be. And the United States — historically the most rights-respecting government of all — is incrementally moving in China’s direction.

That’s the real concern: Not the number of weapons a government has; but the kind of government who has them.

Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael  Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1