Worldwide, climate change is already affecting directly and indirectly the agricultural productivity and ecology of some organisms because of changing patterns in crop production, livestock intensification, changing rainfall patterns, increased drought and flooding, and the geographical redistribution of pests and diseases, as well as altering the transport pathways of chemical contaminants.
Consequently, climate change is expected to aggravate feed and food safety problems during all phases of food production and supply. M.C.Tirado, R. Clarke, L.A.Jaykus, A.McQuatters-Gollop, J.M.Frank stated in their research entitled “Climate change and food safety: A review” published in Food Research International (Vol. 43, Issue 7):
“Climate change and variability may have an impact on the occurrence of food safety hazards at various stages of the food chain, from primary production through to consumption. There are multiple pathways through which climate related factors may impact food safety including: changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, ocean warming and acidification, and changes in contaminants’ transport pathways among others. Climate change may also affect socio-economic aspects related to food systems such as agriculture, animal production, global trade, demographics and human behavior which all influence food safety.”
As human health inescapably relates to the consumption of safe and sufficient quantity of foods, climate change is expected to have considerable impacts on human health as a consequence of serious food contamination and food scarcity. Food hazards, including germs and chemical contaminants, can enter the food supply at any point from farm to table. Most of these hazards cannot be detected in food when it is purchased or consumed. In addition, consumption of insufficient amount of food due to food scarcity may lead to malnutrition and several foodborne diseases. Therefore, climate change by way of temperature increases, changing patterns in crop production, changes in rainfall patterns, toxic contaminations, food scarcity, increased drought and flooding etc. is resulting in worldwide increased water- and food-borne diseases and malnutrition. M. Herrera, R. Anadón, Shahzad Zafar Iqbal, J. D. Bailly, Agustin Ariño stated in their research entitled “Climate Change and Food Safety” published in Selamat J., Iqbal S. (eds) Food Safety. Springer, Cham (2016):
“Temperature increases and changes in rainfall patterns will have an impact on the persistence and patterns of occurrence of bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and harmful algae and the patterns of their corresponding foodborne diseases and the risk of toxic contamination. Chemical residues of pesticides and veterinary medicines in plant and animal products will be affected by changes in pest pressure.”
Therefore, incidences of water- and food-borne diseases are increasing globally. Water- and food-borne diseases are the result of ingestion of foodstuffs or water contaminated with microorganisms or chemicals, or diseases caused by malnutrition. These diseases encompass abroad spectrum of illnesses causing morbidity and mortality worldwide and their real overall health impact on the world population is yet unknown. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (“FAO”) stated in its research in 2008 entitled “Climate Change: Implications for Food Safety”:
“Evidence of the impact of climate change on the transmission of food and waterborne diseases comes from a number of sources, e.g. the seasonality of foodborne and diarrhoeal disease, changes in disease patterns that occur as a consequence of temperature, and associations between increased incidence of food and waterborne illness and severe weather events.”
Following the recurrence of serious events of food contamination and scarcity across the globe, food safety has become a matter of ever increasing international concern and the World Health Organization has defined foodborne diseases as a global public health challenge. Protecting global health from foodborne hazards is a compelling duty and a primary interest of both States and non-State actors; it calls for enhanced proactive cooperation between national and international institutions. Moving from the consideration that food safety issues and the enhancement of health security are of growing international concern, it is interesting to inquire whether the international community is provided with the appropriate legal instruments to face foodborne hazards globally. Unfortunately, the present state of international law on food safety regulation and governance is still unsatisfactory and reforms are desirable in many respects.
The “Right to Safe and Sufficient Food” in International Law
For the reasons stated above, international food safety is perceived as a global challenge. In the wake of a trend towards more efficient food safety policies, the 2007 Beijing Declaration on Food Safety gives voice to the global community’s concern that a comprehensive and integrated approach be adopted, prompting all stakeholders to take cooperative and concerted actions and strengthening links between the different sectors involved. The Declaration, in fact, recognizes that “integrated food safety systems are best suited to address potential risks across the entire food-chain from production to consumption” and that “oversight of food safety is an essential public health function that protects consumers from health risks”. In this perspective, it mainly urges States to develop transparent regulation to guarantee safety standards; to ensure adequate and effective enforcement of food safety legislation using risk-based methods; to establish procedures, including tracing and recall systems in conjunction with industry; to rapidly identify, investigate and control food safety incidents and to alert the World Health Organization (WHO) of those events falling under the revised international health regulations. In short, the Declaration expresses the need to understand food safety as both a national and an international responsibility.
Although emphasis is increasingly being placed on the concept of food safety, legal literature has seldom expanded on the status of a “human right to safe food” in international law. The right to safe food in human rights law is encompassed by both the right to health and the right to food. It is so closely interrelated with these fundamental human rights – being at the same time one of their integral components and an element upon which their realization is dependent.
Article 25, paragraph 1, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) affirms that “[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services”, while article 12, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”) enunciates the right to health as “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. In its General Comment No. 14 on the domestic implementation of article 12 of ICESCR, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“the Committee”) interprets the right to health, as defined in article 12.1, as “an inclusive right extending not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and … [a]n adequate supply of safe food” (Comment No. 14, para. 11). As far as legal obligations are concerned, the Committee makes it clear that States Parties are under the obligation to adopt domestic laws aimed to ensure “the underlying determinants of health, such as nutritiously safe food and potable drinking water” (Comment No. 14, para. 36) and to provide for implementation of such legislation.
Moreover, the Committee reiterates the view expressed in General Comment No. 12 that guaranteeing “access to the minimum essential food which is nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure freedom from hunger to everyone” is one of the core obligations incumbent upon States Parties to grant satisfaction of minimum essential levels of the right to health. In this context, obligations of immediate effect would encompass the duty to guarantee that all individuals under the jurisdiction of the State have equal access to safe and nutritious food; the duty to enact food safety and consumer protection legislation, including accountability measures; the duty to take all necessary steps to implement international regulations and standards.
In its general comment on the right to adequate food, the Committee underlines that “the right … is indivisibly linked to the inherent dignity of the human person and is indispensable for the fulfillment of other human rights enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights” (Comment No. 12, para. 4). While recognizing that the right to adequate food is crucial for the enjoyment of all rights, the Committee considers that the core content of this right implies “the availability of food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances” (Comment No. 12, para. 4).
Moreover, the relevance of food safety to the realization of the right to food both at national and international level is further emphasized by the Committee when it stresses that domestic policies of implementation of article 11 of ICESCR “should address critical issues and measures in regard to all aspects of the food system, including the production, processing, distribution, marketing and consumption of safe food” (Comment No. 12, para. 10), and that States and international organizations have a joint and individual responsibility to ensure that “products included in international food trade or aid programs … be safe” (Comment No. 12, para. 10).
Within the United Nations, the General Assembly has long adopted the same approach as the Committee, in resolution 63/187 of 18 December 2008 on the right to food the Assembly “reaffirms the right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”. The Human Rights Council has repeated the same formula in its Resolution No. 7/14 on the right to food of 27 March 2008, the first adopted by the Council so far.
In different contexts, several international declarations and other soft law instruments have reaffirmed the individual right to adequate and safe food. The World Declaration on Nutrition, adopted by the FAO International Conference on Nutrition in December 1992, asserts that “access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of each individual” (para. 1); the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security includes the States’ commitment to “implement policies aimed at eradicating poverty and inequality and improving physical and economic access by all, at all times, to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food and its effective utilization [World Food Summit Plan of Action, para. 21 (b)]” and the Declaration adopted at the FAO World Food Summit: five years later in June 2002 confirms “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food” (preamble).
From this legal framework it can be inferred that in the human rights perspective it is generally recognized that every individual is entitled to food that is safe and of good quality, since safe food is functional to achieving freedom from hunger and enjoyment of the best attainable state of health; hence it is crucial for protecting life and human dignity. Clarifying whether this entitlement shapes an autonomous right, separate and distinguishable from the rights to adequate food and to health, and whether it can be considered a fundamental human right, will probably be the subject of further insights by future legal scholarship. It is worth considering, however, that food safety has been already defined “an inalienable right of each individual” (WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety: Safer Food for Better Health).
The Need to Move Forward
It is generally acknowledged that due to their transboundary dimension and their potential widespread impact on human health, climate change and food safety challenges demand close international cooperation and global governance. Following in the wake of a clear trend in international law and practice, we are now witnessing the emergence of a general principle on food safety, underpinned by the progressive affirmation of a human right to safe food, which requires that international standards and guidelines be voluntary complied with, legal obligations be fulfilled in good faith and all stakeholders at different levels play their proactive role in enhancing the international community’s preparedness and capacity of response to food safety threats.
It is in fact common view that protecting world health from foodborne illnesses and similar hazards is to be seen as a compelling duty and a primary interest of both States and non-State actors. While food safety governance at the global level calls for multi-sectoral approaches and multi-level cooperation to minimize the effects of food safety related public health events, international law can still count on a limited set of legal instruments.
In fact, in the wake of climate change, the present state of international law on food safety regulation has faults and drawbacks, as authoritatively confirmed by Professor Francis Snyder:
“Food supply insecurity and unsafe food are tolerated, encouraged or even positively promoted by many aspects of current international law. Serious reform is essential if we want to create an international law for (and not just ‘of’) adequate food”.
Therefore, it is to be hoped that the joint efforts of the major international organizations involved at both the universal and the regional level (WHO, FAO, WTO) – which point towards the prospective enhancement of the degree of cooperation among international actors, State authorities and private stakeholders – will succeed in shaping an improved legal framework for food safety governance, which may benefit from the commitment of both international and national institutions. In such an evolving and interdependent scenario, national initiatives concerning targeted domestic legislation can indeed be welcomed as positive steps forward whenever they substantially contribute to realizing the right to safe and adequate food, introduce accountability measures, and strengthen foodborne disease monitoring and surveillance systems.
By focusing only on international law norms and obligations, this essay aims to offer a contribution to the current debate on food safety, with the awareness that it represents only a starting point for further analysis and more in-depth reflections on the innovations and developments needed in food safety regulation to achieve the compelling objective of protecting world health.
Why Human Rights Abuses Threaten Regional and Global Security
Human rights scholars (Brysk, 2009, Mullerson 1997, Chirot and McCauley 2010) argue that discrimination against people on the basis of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, and gender and violations of their social, economic, and security rights, and political opinions leads to conflicts. In response to the discrimination and violation of their rights, people either start to revolt against the aggressor or immigrate to neighboring countries for safety and protection. The rebellion is either supported by locals, locals immigrated to neighboring countries, other states who may obtain a personal gain, or in the name of human rights protection. In each of these scenarios, the internal insecurities cross borders and, with other states’ involvements, eventually become a global insecurity. Modern technology, including social media, globalized economy, and massive immigrations can easily transfer the effect of conflict from one part of the world to the others (Chirot and McCauley 2010). Mullerson argues that in the case of human rights violation, there is a direct link between domestic and international stability. He further states that human rights violation has a direct correlation with domestic stability which may at least indirectly influence international stability (Mullerson 1997).
The authors of “A Complex Network Analysis of Ethnic Conflicts and Human Rights Violations” state that these types of discrimination and violation of rights usually occur in states that are socio-politically unstable or are in the process of democratization (Sharma et al. 2017). Mullerson posits a similar suggestion. “Sometimes the initiation of the processes of liberalization and democratization of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes can have a similar effect” (Mullerson 1997, 37). The liberation and democratization of Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan are excellent examples to support Mullerson’s argument. Sharma et al, examining conflict in new media from the around world, found a link between democratization and ethnic conflicts.
Mullerson further elaborates that during the Cold War, most threats to international relations came from domestic instabilities caused by human rights violation rather than cross-border attacks from different states (Mullerson 1997). The argument of Rainer and Goel regarding Myanmar’s genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minorities and the regional impact of its insecurities is one of the prime examples of arguments stating that there is a correlation between human rights violation and regional and global insecurities (Rainer and Goel 2020). Mullerson presents additional evidence, deriving from the growth of religious fundamentalists and their discrimination against other religions which is disturbing global instability. He further elaborates with regard to the treatment meted out by the extreme right-wing pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Muslim minorities in India and argues that the religious beliefs of the BJP are a recipe for intra-religious conflict (Mullerson 1997). India, one of the world’s largest democracies, has witnessed streams of intra-religious violence since the BJP came into power. Mullerson argues that the internal conflict in India may not cause global instability since Hindu extremism is confined within the borders of India; however, he suggests that the Islamic fundamentalists view Western secularization, democracy, and the global social economy as a threat to their fundamental values, and that this may be the biggest threat to many countries as well as the entire world (Mullerson 1997). He further argues that the Russians, who deem the technological and economic growth of the Western countries as a threat to their national security, may further fuel the agenda of the Islamic fundamentalists to slow the technological and economic advancements of the West.
It is evident from all the arguments that discrimination against people on the basis of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, and gender and violations of their social, economic, and security rights, and political opinions lead to conflicts. Significant evidence has been provided to suggest that in the case of Myanmar, the internal conflict not only created internal and regional instability but also resulted in economic instabilities for Myanmar. Alison Brysk states that there is a direct correlation between human rights and the long-term stability of a state (Brysk 2009).
After WWII, and ever since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in the UN, many states with stable democracies have incorporated human rights into their foreign policy either by being a good Samaritan or under pressure from human rights institutions to address human rights violations in other states. The policy was not given much consideration during the Cold War; however, after the Cold War, many states took actions even against their old friends who committed gross human rights violations during the Cold War.
However, Brysk argues that states do not sacrifice their national interest to protect other states. He states, “Global good citizen states see the blood, treasure, and political capital they contribute to the international human rights regime as an investment, not a loss. Like other states, global good Samaritans are following their national interest; the difference is that they have a broader, longer-term vision of national interest” (Brysk 2009). However, that is not the goal of the discussion in this paper; the main argument here is that as other states get involved whether for being a good citizen of the world or for their personal interest, the conflict is dragged outside the borders of the states. The US actions to stop aid to Myanmar, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the US’ military operation against Yugoslavia to protect ethnic Albanians and prevent regional instability are prime examples of internal conflicts due to human rights violation, creating insecurities regionally as well as globally.
Brysk, Alison. 2009. Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights As Foreign Policy. New York, UNITED STATES: Oxford University Press USA – OSO. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=415385.
Chirot, Daniel, and Clark McCauley. 2010. Why Not Kill Them All?: The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder. Princeton, UNITED STATES: Princeton University Press. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=617256.
“How to Fail at Regime Change | Harvard Political Review.” n.d. Accessed September 21, 2020. https://harvardpolitics.com/world/regime-change-failure/.
Mullerson, Rein. 1997. Human Rights Diplomacy. London, UNITED KINGDOM: Taylor & Francis Group. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=1665651.
Rainer, Elise, and Anish Goel. 2020. “Self-Inflicted Instability: Myanmar and the Interlinkage between Human Rights, Democracy and Global Security.” Democracy and Security ahead-of-print (ahead-of-print): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/17419166.2020.1811968.
Sharma, Kiran, Gunjan Sehgal, Bindu Gupta, Geetika Sharma, Arnab Chatterjee, Anirban Chakraborti, and Gautam Shroff. 2017. “A Complex Network Analysis of Ethnic Conflicts and Human Rights Violations.” Scientific Reports 7 (1): 8283. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-09101-8.
Wehrey, Frederic. n.d. “Why Libya’s Transition to Democracy Failed.” Washington Post. Accessed September 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/02/17/why-libyas-transition-failed/.
Freedom of religion in the African Human Rights System
Apart from the Mainstream religious beliefs such as Islam and Christianity, Africa is also the home of different indigenous religious beliefs most of which are considered regressive. For scholars like Lauric Henneton, colonization in the early modern period was as much about religious missions, about ‘the harvest of souls’, as it was about expanding territorial boundaries and economic resources. In post-colonial Africa, the primary goal of the Organization of African Union(OAU) was defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its member states rather than promoting and protecting the individual rights of the people of Africa. The latter becomes a matter of priority when the African Commission established by the African Charter on Human and peoples’ Right (the Banjul Charter) in 1981. Article 8 of the Charter provides that: “Freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.”This provision does not explicitly mention the word “belief” despite the fact that the right to hold a particular belief is generally considered to be an absolute one. Furthermore, this provision fails to guarantee the right to change one’s religion. However, probably the most problematic part of Article 8 of the charter is its inclusion of ‘the claw-back clause’ – “…subject to law and order…”. Such formulation allows member states to limit the right to freedom of religion ‘to the maximum extent permitted by domestic law’. In other words, they can enact laws which could potentially violate the right to freedom of religion and negate the regional human right protection system. Even though it has never been the primary subject of contention, the issue of freedom of religion has dealt with by the African Commission and Court of Human and peoples’ rights as an auxiliary matter in several cases. In this blog post, I will present four different cases related to freedom of religion decided by the ACHPR and the ACtHPR in their chronological order.
In this case, the complaints described numerous serious violations that took place in different parts of Sudan, primarily between 1989 and 1993. The cases were submitted by four different Non-Governmental organizations alleging that the Sudanese government involved in extrajudicial and summary execution, torture and discrimination on the basis of religion. Though the case involves a number of issues, for the purpose of this blog I will only focus on the ruling of the commission regarding freedom of religion. It was alleged that Christians and other non-Muslims were subjected to expulsion, arbitrary arrests and detention. Their churches were closed, and religious leaders were prevented from getting food with the aim of converting them to Islam. In addition to this, the domestic court of Sudan entertained their case based on Shari’a law which is not subscribed by those victims. The government, on the other hand, alleged that Sudan has guaranteed the right to freedom of faith and worship in its constitution.
The commission founds violation of Article 8 and Article 2 of the African charter stating that
“There is no controversy as to Shari’a being based upon the interpretation of the Muslim religion’, but when applying Shari’a the tribunals in Sudan must do so in accordance with the other obligations undertaken by the State of Sudan. Trials must always accord with international fair-trial standards”
The commission has also emphasized that “Shari’a law, being based on a religious belief, should not be applied to those who do not adhere to the religion of Islam” Accordingly, tribunals that apply only Shari’a law are not competent to judge non-Muslims, and everyone should have the right to be tried by a secular court if they wish.” Concerning other claims related oppression of religious leaders and expulsion of missionaries from the country, since the government of Sudan fails to ‘provides evidence or justifications that would rebut the allegations” the commission concluded that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the Charter.
This case started following the eviction of thousands Endorses tribe members by the then Kenyan government to create a game reserve for tourism. The area from which the community was evicted, according to the complainant had been considered as “the spiritual home of all Endorois”. Their eviction, thus, prevented them from practicing their religion in the appropriate place. After exhausting all the domestic remedies, in 2003 the Centre for Minority Rights Development and Minority Rights Group International brought the communication to the African Commission on behalf of the Endoroi community. Before the commission, the government argued that even though the eviction had actually happened, it was justified and “subject to administrative procedures” The commission found infringement of freedom of religion of the community reasoning that the action of the government was neither necessary nor backed by sound justifications. The commission asserted that “allowing the Endorois community to use the land to practice their religion would not detract from the goal of conservation or developing the area for economic purposes”. Most importantly, in a way which could remedy the shortcoming of Article 8 of the Charter, the commission underscored that “states cannot take recourse to the limitation clauses of the African Charter in order to violate the express provisions of the charter and its underlying principles”(Para. 173)
The case started following Mr. Garreth Anver Prince’s denial of access to the bar in South Africa due to his religious use of cannabis (he was a member of the Rastafari). His claim was that the prohibition of cannabis usage for ritual purposes amounted to a disproportionate infringement on his right to freedom of religion. In addition to his freedom of religion, Mr. Prince alleged that the prohibition of the use of marijuana is an affront to his dignity. The Constitutional court of South Africa decided against Mr. Prince underscoring the qualified or non-absolute nature of the right to freedom of religion. The court specifically ascertained that “While members of a religious community may not determine for themselves which laws they will obey and which they will not, the state should, where it is reasonably possible, seek to avoid putting the believers to a choice between their faith and respect for the law.” Following his unsuccessful appeal, Mr. Prince brought his case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right claiming that South Africa had violated, inter alia, his freedom of religion. The commission affirm the decision of South African constitutional court emphasizing that while the right to hold religious beliefs is an absolute one, the right to act according to the belief is not. As such, “the right to practice one’s religion must yield to the interests of society in some circumstances” (para 41). In legitimizing the limitation imposes by South Africa, the commission made reference to Article 27 of the African Charter which provides the necessity of considering the rights of others in allowing the exercise of any right guaranteed therein.
The African commission V. Kenya is the latest decision rendered by the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights related to the right to freedom of religion. Unlike the rulings of the commission which are merely recommendations, the court’s decision has binding effects. Nevertheless, the court’s mandatory jurisdiction is shrinking. Within the past six months, Tanzania, Benin and Ivory Coast have revoked the right of individuals and NGOs to sue them before the ACtHPR. Consequently, out of 54 member states of AU, the court has binding jurisdiction only over five countries. The facts of this case are similar to the second case discussed in this paper. Following the eviction of members of the Ogiek community from their ancestral land, non-governmental organizations that represent the interest of the community brought an action before the Commission alleging that the action of the Kenyan government had violated different rights of the ogiek tribe members which are enshrined in the African charter. One of which was the right to freedom of religion. The government, on the other hand, argued that the “applicant has failed to adduce evidence to show the exact places where the alleged ceremonies for the religious sites of the Ogieks are located”. The respondent state has also contended that members of the community have already changed their religion to Christianity and therefore the forest has no relevance to exercise their religion.
The court decided that there was a violation of Article 8 of the African charter reasoning that “the communities’ religious practices were inextricably linked with the land and the environment and that interference with their connection to the land placed severe constraints on their ability to practice religious rituals.” (para 166 and 167)
 Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, and Rep. of Tunisia
Triangularity of Nuclear Arms Control
In December 2019, the United States officially invited China to enter intoa strategic security dialogue. The White House said it hoped Beijing’s consent to this proposal might become the first step towards an international agreement encompassing all nuclear weapons of the United States, Russia, and China.As expected, this proposal was rejected. China said its nuclear arsenal was much smaller than those of the United States and Russia, and it would be able to participate in such talks only when their nuclear potentials were brought to parity with its own.
In March 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump once again declared his intention to ask Russia and China to hold such talks with the aim of avoiding a costly arms race (Reuters.com, 2020).The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response followed virtually in no time. Its spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that China had no intention of taking part in the so-called China-U.S.-Russia trilateral arms control negotiations, and that its position on this issue was very clear (ECNC.cn., 2020). He called upon the United States to extend the New START and to go ahead with the policy of U.S-Russian nuclear arms reduction, thus creating prerequisites for other countries to join the nuclear disarmament process. There is nothing new about China’s stance. A year earlier Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, while speaking at a news conference in May 2019, made a similar statement. China refused to participate in a trilateral arms control agreement (Fmprc.gov.2019).
It is noteworthy that while advising the United States and Russia to downgrade their nuclear potentials to its level, China does not say what exactly this level is. One of the rare official statements (if not the sole one) on that score was the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statement, published on April 27, 2004,that China’s nuclear arsenal was the smallest of all (Fact Sheet China, 2004). Even in that case the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not specify if it was referring to the quintet of the UN Security Council’s permanent members. If so, China’s nuclear arsenal, according to official statistics, consisted of no more than 190 warheads (Britain’s level that year). Such(understated according to most analysts)estimates, have also been mentioned by a number of experts. For example, Harvard researcher Hui Zhang says China in 2011 had 166 nuclear warheads. There are other, higher estimates. For instance, Professor Phillip Karber of Georgetown University believes that China has 3,000 warheads at its disposal (Karber, 2011), while many other researchers call this in question.
The estimate offered by H. Kristensen and M. Korda of the Federation of American Scientists, who issue annual world surveys of nuclear arms potentials, is shared by most researchers and draws no objections from political circles in various countries, including the United States. According to their calculations as for April 2020,the United States had 3,800 deployed and non-deployed nuclear warheads, and Russia, 4,312 warheads. As for China, the same survey says it has 320 non-deployed nuclear warheads (Kristensen and Korda, 2020).
While underscoring the importance of nuclear arms cuts by the United States and Russia to China’s level, Beijing does not specify if this idea applies only to strategic or all nuclear weapons. In the former case, if China’s approach is to be accepted, Russia and the United States would have to slash their nuclear arsenals by 65%-75% (from 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads in compliance with the rules of the still effective New START). But if the total number of nuclear warheads on either side is to be counted, each country’s nuclear potential would shrink by no less than 90%. Only after this will China be prepared to consider in earnest its participation in nuclear arms control talks.
The United States and Russia can hardly find this suitable. At the same time, these countries have not yet officially formulated their specific approaches to and basic provisions of hypothetical trilateral talks and a future agreement on this issue. For the time being, these issues are in the focus of experts’ attention in a number of countries, and theyhave over the past few years offered a variety of possible formats and parameters of a future “multilateral” treaty. In most cases, experts delve into certain aspects of a future agreement that might be attractive to China. Very few think of what China might lose the moment it enters into nuclear arms control talks or what military-political consequences might follow if China eventually changed its mind regarding participation in such negotiations.
In my opinion, China’s demand for achieving the “comparability” of nuclear potentials as a precondition for beginning a trilateral dialogue stems precisely from its evaluation of the consequences of its participation in the negotiations. This stance is neither far-fetched nor propagandistic, contrary to what some experts and politicians claim, but rests upon major political, military and strategic cornerstones. Disregard for China’s arguments actually reduces to nothing all efforts, above all those taken by Washington, to engage Beijing in nuclear arms talks.
As far as the United States is concerned, the motives behind its attempts to persuade China to join nuclear arms talks are not quite clear. There may be several possible considerations that the United States is guided by in its policy on the issue. One is that Washington may be looking for a way to obtain necessary information about the current state of China’s nuclear potential and plans for its development in the future in order to be able to adjust its own modernization programs accordingly. Another explanation is that the United States may be reluctant to go ahead with the nuclear disarmament policy and hopes to use China’s unequivocal refusal to participate in negotiations as a chance to blame it for the disruption of this process and for dismantling the nuclear arms control system as such. I believe both explanations may be true, but their analysis lies beyond the scope of this article.
Options Of Engaging China In Nuclear Arms Control Talks
“Americans performed three very different policies on the People’s Republic: From a total negation (and the Mao-time mutual annihilation assurances), to Nixon’s sudden cohabitation. Finally, a Copernican-turn: the US spotted no real ideological differences between them and the post-Deng China. This signalled a ‘new opening’: West imagined China’s coastal areas as its own industrial suburbia. Soon after, both countries easily agreed on interdependence (in this marriage of convenience): Americans pleased their corporate (machine and tech) sector and unrestrained its greed, while Chinese in return offered a cheap labour, no environmental considerations and submissiveness in imitation.
However, for both countries this was far more than economy, it was a policy – Washington read it as interdependence for transformative containment and Beijing sow it as interdependence for a (global) penetration. In the meantime, Chinese acquired more sophisticated technology, and the American Big tech sophisticated itself in digital authoritarianism – ‘technological monoculture’ met the political one.
But now with a tidal wave of Covid-19, the honeymoon is over” – recently wrote professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic on a strategic decoupling between the biggest manufacturer of American goods, China and its consumer, the US.
Indeed, Washington has not formulated in detail its official stance on engaging China in negotiations yet. Disarmament experts consider a number of options that may be proposed in principle. These options may be grouped into three main categories. The first one is putting pressure on China with the aim of making it change its mind regarding arms control. The second one is the search for proposals China may find lucrative enough, which the Chinese leadership might agree to study in earnest. And the third one is a combination of these two approaches.
As far as pressure on China is concerned, the United States is already exerting it along several lines. For one, China is criticized for the condition and development prospects of its nuclear arsenal. Specifically, it is blamed on being the only nuclear power in the Permanent Big Five that has not reduced its nuclear potential. Moreover, as follows from a statement made in May 2019 byRobert Ashley, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, “over the next decade, China is likely to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile in the course of implementing the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in China’s history”(Adamczyk,2019). Both officials and many experts have been quoting this postulate asan established fact requiring no proof.
China is also accused of the lack of transparency, that is, refusal to disclose the size and structure of its nuclear forces, programs for their upgrade, and other nuclear policy aspects. The U.S. leadership argues that this state of affairs by no means promotes strategic stability and international security. Some experts believe that China’s involvement in negotiations would help avoid some adverse effects, for example, another nuclear arms race under a Cold War scenario (Zhao, 2020). Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the Barack Obama administration, believes it may be possible to “make a case for the Chinese to come to the table early on intermediate-range constraints of ground-launched missiles, because they are staring at the possibility of a deployment of very capable U.S. missiles of this kind” (Mehta, 2020).
Apparently, the United States had counted on Russia’s support in such matters, especially as the Russian leadership said more than once that the New START, signed in 2010,was to become the last bilateral nuclear arms reduction treaty and time was ripe for other nuclear states to join the nuclear disarmament process. However, in late 2019 Russia made a U-turn in its stance on China’s participation in negotiations. Speaking at a conference entitled “Foreign Policy Priorities of the Russian Federation in Arms Control and Nonproliferation in the Context of Changes in the Global Security Architecture,” held on November 8, 2019 in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia respected China’s position concerning its refusal to participate in the talks. Moreover, he stated that declaring China’s consent to participate in the negotiating process as a precondition looked “openly provocative.”Thus Russia made it clear that it had no intention of putting pressure on China regarding the issue, but at the same time it would have nothing against the Chinese leadership eventually making a decision to join the United States and Russia in nuclear disarmament talks. Russia is unlikely to alter its position even under pressure from the United States, which has long harbored plans for using the prolongation of the New START as a factor for getting China involved in the talks in some way, or even securing its consent to become a signatory to the treaty. Specifically, the U.S. president’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brian made an unequivocal statement on that score (Riechmann, 2020). Also, in May 2020, the United States came up with an ultimatum that it would not extend the New START until China agreed to participate in it. Moreover, the newly appointed special U.S. presidential representative for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, actually demanded that Russia “bring the Chinese to the negotiating table.”
The United States may exert (or is already exerting) pressure on China “indirectly, ”for example by using such levers as the U.S.-Chinese trade war and China’s alleged “responsibility” for the spread of the coronavirus (which the United States regards as proven). Such pressures may be largely exerted covertly.
Some military and political experts believe that it is worth exploring compromise options of China’s participation in nuclear arms control. Such optionsmay accommodate the interests of all partakers and match the specific structure and quantitative parameters of weapons subject to control. Establishing transparency in the given sphere would be one of the “simple” ways of involving China in the strategic dialogue. In other words, such transparency would imply mutual disclosure of information about the number of missiles and deployed warheads, their basic parameters, including range, and also specific locations and deployment sites (Tosaki, 2019). It must be noted that this seemingly “least painful” and easy-to-accomplish solution for making China join the international arms control dialogue is in fact least acceptable to it.
The long list of other proposals includes various options of a “mixed” approach to the control of missile systems. For instance, reaching an agreement on a common ceilingfor intermediate-range ground-based and air-launched missiles or a similar restriction on any strategic missiles regardless of the type of deployment (ground, sea, or air launched), as well as the intermediate-range missiles of three nuclear powers―China, the United States, and Russia. The proponents of this approach believe that this may provide an approximately equitable basis for talks among the aforesaid states (Zhao, 2020).
All of the aforementioned recommendations―and a number of other ideas―for plugging China into bilateral or multilateral nuclear arms control talks are based on the past experience of negotiations on the issue. In the meantime, the specifics of China’s nuclear policy are left unnoticed or intentionally ignored. It is generally believed that inviting China to participate in negotiations is tantamount to official recognition of its status as a great power responsible, like the United States and Russia, not only for its own security but also for global security. This recognition is often considered a reason enough to expect China to consent to participate in such negotiations and the main problem is seen in the formulation of concrete proposals for discussion. In the meantime, such an approach looks erroneous.
The Fundamental Principles Of China’s Nuclear Policy
China’s policy concerning nuclear arms and their role in maintaining national security has remained unchanged for more than 55 years, starting from its accession to the “nuclear club” in 1964. Central to that policy is China’s pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons or threaten to use them against non-nuclear countries and countries in nuclear free zones. It is believed that Mao Zedong made that decision personally in 1964 (Fravel, 2019).
In accordance with this pledge, China, as it reiterates, maintains its nuclear deterrence weapons at a required minimum by declaring its readiness for retaliation against an aggressor in the event of a hypothetical nuclear attack. China vows it does not participate in a nuclear arms race against any country. These provisions have remained unchanged for many years and can be found in many Chinese fundamental military and strategic planning documents, available from open sources (The State Council, 2019), and are repeatedly quoted by the Chinese mass media (Xinhuaneet.com., 2019).
In contrast to the classical nuclear deterrence formula China does not demonstrate its retaliatory strike capabilities; on the contrary, it conceals them for various reasons. Enhancing the survivability of retaliatory strike systems is one. Such “existential” means of deterrence enables the country possessing a relatively small nuclear potential to keep a potential aggressor in a state of strategic uncertainty as it cannot be certain that its first strike would “disarm” the defending opponent by eliminating all of its nuclear weapons with a surprise counterforce strike.
To confirm its adherence to the no-fist use principle, China declares that it limits its nuclear potential to the “minimum” defense requirements, while all upgrade programs are geared mostly to ensuring the survivability and reliability of retaliatory strike systems. China’s nuclear forces have become more survivable due to the creation and deployment of mobile ICBMs, and measures to shelter a considerable part of its nuclear potential, including mobile ICBMs and shorter-range missiles in a network of underground tunnels―the Underground Great Wall of China. Also, other means of hiding nuclear weapons are used, such as mock ICBM silos and shelters for nuclear submarines inside coastal rocks.
As the information about the condition, development prospects and size of China’s nuclear potential remains scarce, its nuclear policy issues are in the focus of attention of many specialists and think tanks in the United States and other countries. Most of them (but far from all) believe that China’s declared policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and estimates of its nuclear potential (around 300 warheads) agree with reality (Pifer, 2019). But other researchers maintain that under certain circumstances China may revise its attitude to the no-first-use principle and abandon the minimum deterrence concept in favor of gaining opportunities for conducting limited nuclear war. Such conclusions are made on the basis of data showing the growth of qualitative parameters of China’s nuclear forces―greater accuracy of nuclear warheads, the deployment of MIRVs on ICBMs, forecasts for a considerable increase in the overall number of nuclear weapons at the country’s disposal, etc. (Giacomdetti, 2014; Yoshihara and Bianchi, 2019; Schneider, 2019).
It should be acknowledged that the lack of official information about the condition and development prospects of China’s nuclear arsenal and implementation of programs in the strategic field (creation of a heavy ICBM, research and development of a missile attack warning system, deployment of a missile defense, and others)afford ground for a variety of speculations over China’s compliance with the professed principles regarding nuclear weapons.In the meantime, this by no means contradicts the fundamental principle of China’s nuclear policy―no-first-use of nuclear weapons―which will remain unchanged in the foreseeable future. Even if one assumes that China does participate in the nuclear arms race (which is also a subject of speculations), it is by no means its instigator.
Certain changes are possible, though. China may acquire real capabilities for a limited response to a limited nuclear attack. In other words, the country’s military-political leadership, empowered to make a decision to use nuclear weapons, will acquire extra opportunities and options for retaliation other than a massive nuclear strike against the enemy’s major unprotected targets, such as cities and industrial centers. At the same time there is no reason to say that the improvement of parameters of China’s strategic nuclear forces increases the risk of a first counterforce strike against a would-be aggressor just because the nuclear potentials of China and the two leading nuclear powers are incomparable. In this case size does matter.
Effects Of Arms Control On China’s Nuclear Strategy And Policy
Should China agree to participate in negotiations or draft an agreement on control of its nuclear weapons, its nuclear strategy and policy will most likely undergo the most serious changes. And these changes, in the author’s opinion, may be far from positive. They will result not from possible restrictions imposed on China’s nuclear forces or disadvantageous terms of a future treaty forced upon China, but the very fact of concluding such an international treaty.
A close look at Soviet-U.S. and Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control agreements reveals how the parties’ approaches to solving the problems of national security and strengthening strategic stability have been changing. At early stages the two sides managed to come to terms regarding the overall number of ground-based launchers of strategic ballistic missiles, SLBM capable submarines and SLBM launchers. Later, the class of strategic weapons was expanded to incorporate heavy bombers armed with long-range cruise missiles and gravity nuclear bombs. Some types of nuclear weapons, for instance, strategic air-launched ballistic missiles were banned. Next, there followed restrictions on nuclear warheads deployed on delivery vehicles and then their reductions. A total ban was applied to ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range cruise missiles. An attempt was made to outlaw ICBMs with multiple warheads. Each clause of the concluded treaties was scrutinized by the expert community and drew worldwide interest.
In addition, efforts were made to develop a mechanism to verify compliance with the assumed commitments. The first Soviet-U.S. agreements SALT-1 (1972) and SALT-2 (1979) assigned the control function to “national technical means of verification”―intelligence satellites. The contracting parties pledged to refrain from creating impediments to their operation. Also, the signatories undertook “not to use deliberate concealment measures which impede verification by national technical means of compliance.” In the next agreements―the INF Treaty (of 1987) and, particularly, START-1 (1991)―a comprehensive system of control and verification was developed and adopted. It envisaged exchanges of data (including the geographical coordinates of each ICBM silo) and various notifications and on-site inspections, which made it totally impossible to conceal even the slightest violations of these agreements. This system of verification functions within the framework of the still effective Russian-U.S. New START, concluded in 2010.
It is hard to imagine a hypothetical agreement with China not including compliance verification procedures. And it is very unlikely that the system of verification in such an agreement will be“soft,” as was the case with the one established under the earlier SALT-1 and SALT-2 treaties. On the contrary, as follows from statements by U.S. officials, the United States is determined to pay the closest attention to the verification and control of compliance with all future agreements. U.S. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Christopher Ford has made an explicit statement on this score.
Even if such an agreement does not impose any obligations on China, requiring reduction of its nuclear potential, Beijing will be expected to provide exhaustive information about its nuclear weapons and deployment sites. Also, China will have to give up measures to conceal its nuclear forces, change the locations of mobile missile systems and allow foreign inspectors to visit classified facilities (including the Underground Great Wall of China) in order to confirm that the provided information is correct and proper action has been taken under assumed commitments. Besides, China will have to notify other signatories of the commissioning of new nuclear weapons and withdrawal from operational duty or elimination of older systems, the redeployment of weapons, etc. All these measures will make it possible to keep under full control China’s nuclear potential and nuclear arms delivery vehicles.
These measures, understandable from the standpoint of an arms control treaty, may have truly disastrous effects on China’s entire official nuclear policy. Information disclosure and control measures would make China’s nuclear arsenal totally vulnerable to a first nuclear strike and partially – to a non-nuclear strike. A potential aggressor, possessing a considerable advantage in nuclear weapons and full information about the deployment sites, will have a guaranteed capability to destroy the adversary’s entire nuclear potential. Theoretically, it would spend far more nuclear weapons than the victim of the aggression (in this particular case, China) would lose, but still retain an enormous attack potential. In a situation like this, there will be no weapons available to deliver a retaliatory strike. All this will mean that China’s declared no-first-use policy will lose credibility. In other words, it will turn into a propaganda slogan, with no real resources to rely on to implement this policy in practice.
Apparently, it is precisely these considerations that are behind China’s refusal to participate in nuclear arms control talks, and they will remain in place at least until the strategic situation in this field undergoes fundamental change. One of the most important conditions for China to enter into such negotiations (it says so openly) is further reduction of nuclear arsenals by Russia and the United States to levels comparable with China’s potential. As it has been already stated, this condition, described as a political one, has fundamental strategic, military and technical grounds.
Likely Consequences Of China’s Participation In A Nuclear Arms Control Treaty
As has been said above, China’s consent to enter into nuclear arms control negotiations and conclusion of a corresponding agreement will be unlikely in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, it is worth pondering on what decisions in the military and political field the Chinese leadership may adopt if it has to give in to U.S. pressure. One of the most important decisions is, to my mind, the possibility of China remaining committed to the no-first-use principle.
Currently, this principle is ensured not so much by the quantitative parameters of China’s nuclear arsenal, but as its stealthy deployment, concealment measures, and refusal to provide relevant information. In order to retain a retaliatory strike potential in a situation where the information about the deployment sites of China’s nuclear forces has been disclosed while the amount of nuclear arms available remains considerably inferior to those of the “partner” or “partners,” China will have to exert major efforts to ensure the invulnerability of at least some of them. Doing this will be impossible without a major buildup of the nuclear potential, above all, of the least vulnerable strategic systems (mobile ICBMs and SLBMs). All of this will require considerable expenses and time. Even if the work on a new treaty takes two or three, or even five years, one can hardly expect any considerable changes in the quantitative and qualitative structure of China’s nuclear forces by the moment this work is finalized.
The problem of strategic nuclear forces’ vulnerability may theoretically be resolved (at least to a certain extent) by developing and deploying missile defenses around deployment sites. But this would entail heavy spending, too. Also, such a program can hardly be implemented within tight deadlines. The problem of greater vulnerability of China’s strategic nuclear forces can also be resolved by adopting the “launch-under-attack” concept or “launch on warning” concept. Their adoption might be considered, although with great reservations, to conform to the no-first-use principle, but in this case it will be essential to build a warning system based on early warning satellites and radars. However, still there will be no guarantees that such a system will be able to issue a timely notification to the military and political leadership of a missile attack against China, if such a strike is carried out with U.S.S LBM shaving short flight-in time and counterforce capability. Under such a scenario China’s strategic forces will have to remain on high alert all the time. This means that China will be forced to give up keeping missile warheads in store separately and to deploy them on strategic delivery vehicles, thus demonstrating its readiness for instant retaliation in case of an attack warning.
The above arguments prompt the conclusion that China, if it agrees to the drafting and signing a nuclear arms control treaty, will certainly have to depart from the principle of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, with all the ensuing negative consequences. This may also trigger an enhanced arms race and induce China to adopt more aggressive nuclear arms concepts.
It is nakedly clear that China finds it far easier to refuse to hold nuclear arms control talks than address the adverse military and strategic effects its participation in such an international agreement is bound to entail. In this situation the United States should give more thought to its policy of engaging China in nuclear arms control talks and focus on Russian-U.S. strategic relations, including the prolongation of the New START without any linkages and preconditions.
As far as Russia is concerned, its current policy of avoiding pressure on China to make it engage in nuclear arms talks looks reasonable. From the political standpoint―alongside with other considerations―a trilateral agreement would mean that Russia officially regards China, albeit formally, as a “partner” (if not a “potential adversary”), just as the United States, and that strategic relations among such parties are based on the concept of nuclear deterrence, the balance of nuclear forces, and their capabilities to deliver first and retaliatory strikes. Incidentally, China’s participation would have the same implications for Russia. Lending this dimension to bilateral relations hardly meets the interests of the two countries.
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