By Byungnam Jin
On Wednesday, October 28, our “Simulated Think Tank” class was joined by Dr. Zhao Tong, an associate at Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program based in the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. Dr. Zhao has a diverse educational background; for his undergraduate studies, he majored in Physics at Tsinghua University but became interested in the subject of international relations, which led him to pursue a M.A degree in this field. During his lecture, he discussed the role of science and technology in current international security issues, specifically in arms control issues.
Dr. Zhao began his talk by introducing three types of strategic nuclear weapons: ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile), Strategic Bomber and Strategic Nuclear Submarine, the previous two of which are the two major types deployed by the United States. According to Dr. Zhao, there has always been arms competition between the nuclear-owned states. During the cold war, the US and Soviet Union built large stockpiles of nuclear weapon; 1965-1970, the US had more than 30,000 nuclear weapons, while Soviet Union had more than 40,000 during 1985-1990. Dr. Zhao continued his talk by introducing two of the nuclear targeting options. In nuclear warfare, enemy targets are divided into two options: counter force and counter value. Counter force strategy mainly targets military infrastructure, especially nuclear facilities, while leaving the civilian and industrial infrastructure (counter value target) as undamaged as possible. On the other hand, counter value means destroying civilian and non-military facilities, usually as a mean of retaliating for the first attack by enemy state.
The increased threat posed by nuclear weapons led to added layers of missile defense, which is a defensive system or technology involved in detecting, tracking and interception of attacking missiles. On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan publicly proposed a missile defense system called Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), asserting that the US should build a comprehensive missile defense system in order to neutralize nuclear threat of the Soviet Union. SDI consists of many different components, such as a ground-based program, air-based program and space-based program. Since the Cold War ended in 1990s, the idea of SDI has been largely scaled down, but consistent investment to research and development led to a solid foundation for the current MD systems deployed by the United States.
Starting in 1970s, the United States and Soviet Union commenced bilateral conferences and negotiations on the issue of arms control: Strategic Arms Limitation Talk (SALT). The two round of talks and agreements are SALT1 and SALT2, however SALT2 was never ratified by the US Senate due to Soviet Union’s invasion to Afghanistan and the Soviet Union’s military troops in Cuba. Subsequent discussions took place under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). START is considered to be the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history, its final implementation resulted in the removal of approximently 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons. Today, the United States has more than 5,000 nuclear weapons, while Russia holds slightly more.
As the nuclear-owned states have tried to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, the role of nuclear forces has been gradually decreased. Instead, the role of missile defense and advanced conventional weapons has been more significant. For instance, China’s current top security concern is not the U.S’s nuclear weapons, but its combination of offensive and defensive strategic capabilities. Dr. Zhao stressed the necessity of sound technical analysis in policy making procedures, and that the lack of knowledge about the military’s technological capabilities among some policy makers can lead to threat assessment mistakes. Deploying THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in South Korea is a good example; according to Dr. Zhao, THAAD has no capabilities to intercept China’s missile, only detects. However, many Chinese political scientists, and even some senior policy makers, protested due to a lack of thorough understanding of THAAD.
Dr. Zhao concluded his talk by stressing the role of science and technology in solving various global security problems. One of the most important roles should be motivating state engagement in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In order to make the treaty more acceptable, scientists should develop international monitoring and detecting systems, which are able to detect every illegal test. Four core technologies used in the monitoring and detecting system include seismic, hydroacoustic, radionuclide and infrasound.