Situation and Prospects of International Arms Control in 2020

In recent years, the situation of international arms control has taken a serious step backwards. First, the United States has made a series of eye-popping moves in the field of arms control: withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement and the “Guide to the Treaty”; withdrawing the signature of the “Arms Trade Treaty”; threatening to withdraw from the “Open Sky Treaty”; The bilateral “New Strategic Treaty on Reduction of Strategic Weapons” and the multilateral “Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty” expressed dissatisfaction. Second, regional proliferation issues are becoming increasingly serious. In Northeast Asia, North Korea has successively tested hydrogen bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Despite a series of contacts and negotiations between the United States and North Korea, progress in locking results has not been achieved, and new standoffs are imminent; in South Asia, India and Pakistan The confrontation has intensified, and the two sides have increased their dependence on nuclear weapons. India has even threatened to abandon its commitment not to use nuclear weapons first. As the United States withdraws from the Iran nuclear agreement and imposes new sanctions, the Iranian nuclear issue that has been alleviated has deteriorated again. Third, there is little progress in arms control in the high-tech field, and military applications and competition may be out of order. In the field of outer space, because of U.S. opposition, arms control negotiations have been unable to start, while Russia and the United States have successively established military departments dedicated to outer space military operations; in the network field, attacks have frequently occurred, and substantial arms control consultations have made no progress. On the issue of artificial intelligence, consultations on lethal autonomous weapons have not improved.

There are profound reasons for the decline. First, the international pattern has changed significantly, and the original global arms control arrangement was based on a bipolar pattern. In the past few decades, Russia’s strength has actually declined relative to the United States. While China’s rapid economic development, China has not caught up with the United States and Russia in terms of the number of nuclear weapons. As a result, the United States has the largest power. No longer interested in bipolar-based arms control arrangements and unwilling to be subject to new restrictions in their areas of advantage. Second, the politics of some major powers tends to be conservative. Although the main causes of the conservative forces’ governance in some countries are not international factors, their political orientation is to doubt the role of international cooperation and abhor arms control arrangements. Therefore, once they gain political power, they will choose more competitive and competitive military issues. An adversarial strategy that excludes arms control. The Bush administration had opposed the Clinton administration ’s arms control arrangements, the Trump administration was actively withdrawing from the Obama administration ’s arms control initiative; the Indian Modi government was also tougher on the arms policy than the Congress Party. Third, the regional nuclear-proliferation countries that remain today are more tenacious and ambitious than before. In the past, the regimes of nuclear-proliferation countries in some regions either sought compromise or were replaced. The remaining India, Pakistan, and North Korea insist on owning and developing nuclear weapons, and have a very high profile in the choice of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. This also makes future non-proliferation tasks more difficult.

In addition to the aforementioned three political reasons, the fourth reason is technical. In some high-tech fields, people generally pay attention to and pursue the “first mover advantage” in the development of armaments. If a country breaks the original situation and expands its armaments first, it may gain this advantage. The greater the “first mover advantage”, the more anxious the relevant countries are, the more confrontational the security dilemma, and the greater the driving force of the arms race. A popular view is that in high-tech areas such as outer space, the Internet, and artificial intelligence, the “first-mover advantage” is more obvious, and some even think it is decisive and can win the winner. This view is not necessarily true, but driven by this perception, countries with advantages are more worried about being surpassed and will actively compete and expand their advantages; while countries that are lagging behind are worried that their lagging will solidify into a permanent disadvantage and therefore will Vigorously develop and accelerate catch-up. Such anxiety not only hinders arms control consultations and negotiations in the high-tech field, it may even drive the high-tech arms race into disorder.

Even if the United States and Russia cannot reach an agreement to continue to extend the New Strategic Weapons Reduction Treaty, because the “first mover advantage” brought by the increase in the number of nuclear weapons is not obvious, the quantity race is still unlikely to become a major issue in the future and it is even more worrying What is at stake is the increased risk of nuclear confrontation and conflict. There are three main driving factors: first, some countries are focusing on increasing the role and scope of nuclear weapons in their nuclear strategies; second, the development of high-tech military technology affects the command and control systems of nuclear weapons, and existing experience is difficult to cope with this impact; Third, regional nuclear proliferation has intensified nuclear confrontation. In addition, competition between high and new technology and its application in the military field may occur between countries. Such competition may also extend to economic, social, and ideological fields through import and export controls, technological blockades, and “decouplings” from each other, resulting in a comprehensive economic and social confrontation between countries.

The comprehensive retrogression in international arms control has prompted the mobilization of peace forces among civilians, international organizations, academia, the media, and the government. They advocate consolidating the existing arms control system and creating new arrangements in line with the characteristics of the times. This provides impetus and opportunities for the global arms control community and governments to explore ways of cooperation on issues such as reducing nuclear confrontation and controlling high-tech competition.