Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said in a speech this week that U.S. officials are frustrated by the failure to develop a dialogue with China on nuclear weapons.
“I will tell you that I think one of the frustrations that the U.S. side has had for several years now, not simply in this administration, is that we have had a desire to have a deeper dialogue between American and Chinese friends exactly about the purposes of their force modernization and the direction that modernization has taken.”
The Obama administration currently is working on a nuclearposture review to examine the current and future nuclear arsenal, and Mr. Campbell said China “will feature importantly.”
“I think you will see that [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates and others, [undersecretary of Defense] Michele Flournoy at the Pentagon, will over the course of the next little while make a pitch for a deeper dialogue between our two sides about these issues,” Mr. Campbell said.
“I think we have to recognize that as a growing [. . . ] power, China will have military ambitions, but I think it is incumbent upon Chinese friends to be much clearer and much more open not just with the United States, but with surrounding neighbors [. . . ] about what their goals and ambitions are.”
China has balked at holding substantive discussions on its nuclear-weapons program, which is currently being built up with at least three new strategic nuclearmissile systems — the mobile DF-31, DF-31A ICBMs, and the submarine-launched JL-2.
Mr. Campbell also said he believes global climate change could prove to be the most serious national-security threat in the years ahead.
“I think that the most important national-security challenge that we may face over the course of the next 20 to 30 years may turn out to be climate change,” Mr. Campbell said. “I don’t think that there is enough of a recognition that climate change is not just a humanitarian issue, it’s not simply an issue associated with energy security. It is a nationalsecurity issue. It will trigger the very kinds of things that we have to respond to on a regular basis.”
Mr. Campbell spoke Oct. 19 at a conference hosted jointly by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Project 2049 Institute, an Asian affairs research institute.
He said during the presidential transition earlier this year Navy officials were “extremely excited by some aspect of climate change because large parts of the Arctic will melt and so a whole new class of submarines” would be needed.
“So after about an hour I said, ‘You know, guys, [that’s] very interesting stuff, but you do realize that if you’re seeing this amount of melt that, you know, all of Florida, much of the United States will be underwater, a huge environmental catastrophe.’ “
Mr. Campbell said a senior admiral told him melting ice caps are possible but “all this flooding, that’s all completely uncertain, that hasn’t been proved.”
“So my simple statement is I do think that some of the challenges that are completely unrelated to military power, the path and pace of democratization, issues associated with a focus elsewhere on the globe could be completely overwhelmed by the path and pace of global climate change unless it is addressed going forward,” he said.
Still, Mr. Campbell noted that military friction between the United States and China is expected in the years ahead. Both nations need to promote “strategic reassurance,” to avoid military confrontation, he said. The new term was first used recently by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.
Mr. Campbell called for holding a more comprehensive dialogue with China. “Over the course of the next several years, decades, it is inevitable that China’s going to become a more active player in a variety of military fields, and as a consequence, they’re going to rub up more closely against forward-deployed American assets,” he said.
Efforts to develop “rules of the road” with China have been insufficient, and the rules are needed to help identify “red lines,” he said. Military exchanges with China are not enough, and Mr. Campbell said he favors a “more comprehensive security dialogue that involves not just the men and women in uniform, but has a broader context and contour between our two organizations and our two societies.”
Mr. Campbell, a former Pentagon Asia policymaker, said the debate on whether to keep the large U.S. military presence in the Asia Pacific region is over. “One of the things that I note among the strategic community is I think in many respects that debate has passed and I think there are large commitments politically to sustain this enormous capability that’s been created and sustained over the years,” Mr. Campbell said.
Earlier, Aaron L. Friedberg, a Princeton University professor and former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, warned that the future of U.S.Chinese relations are unpredictable and will depend on whether China remains a dictatorship or evolves into a more democratic system.
“At present, I think it’s fair to say that the Sino-American relationship is profoundly mixed,” Mr. Friedberg said. “It contains important elements of both competition and cooperation.”
Mr. Friedberg noted that unlike the conventional wisdom, “the competitive aspects of the relationship are in fact deeply rooted.”
“They’re not merely the result of misperceptions or misunderstandings or policy errors, although these do contribute on both sides,” he said. “They are instead, I believe, the product of two fundamental futures of the contemporary international system.”