After nearly 30 years without nuclear test explosions by the United States, the Trump administration is flirting, in 2020, with resuming explosive tests. This follows on the heels of China’s new security bill on Hong Kong and the flurry of Congressional and executive attempts to accelerate our entry into such a pointless conflict, and it’s backed by, thus far publicly unsubstantiated, claims that the Russians and Chinese are already conducting such tests in secret.
It seems our entire government is engaged in chest-beating and pseudo-humanitarian concern about the Chinese specifically, with Senate leader Mitch McConnell calling for a reexamination of the United States’ relationship with China. "A further crackdown from Beijing will only intensify the Senate’s interest in reexamining the U.S.-China relationship," says the majority leader.
Our relationship with the Chinese, already deeply strained by Trump’s misguided trade war, seems to be at its lowest point in recent memory, with both Trump and his presumptive opponent pushing us closer and closer to a full breakdown of normal relations between the countries. The same day as the nuclear issue progressed, the United States further accused China of blocking the reinstatement of US airline flights into that country, and the return of aircraft out of it, in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, the US Department of Transportation calling the situation "critical". For their part, the Chinese have exacerbated the scenario further, dropping the word "peaceful" from official references to Taiwan reunification.
It’s difficult to express how bad of an idea another nuclear cold war would be for the United States, its allies, China, and just about every country in the world. Instead of taking advantage of the global COVID-19 pandemic to cooperate on public health efforts, or using global trade as a glue to bind our nations together, this administration has moved in the opposite direction on both issues by consistently blaming the Chinese for the outbreak of the virus and further restricting the free exchange of goods with China. The Chinese have responded in kind. The only ones who benefit from the ongoing scenario are arms corporations and the nuclear foreign policy establishment.
The 19th century French economist and politician Frédéric Bastiat once said "When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will", and it seems his idea holds true in a nuclear world just as clearly as in his day. That this problem appears to be bipartisan is the most concerning facet of this story, with Democrats and Republicans alike finding reasons to push us closer to a cold conflict with the Chinese. We can only hope that some source of reason, American, Chinese, or otherwise, will shift the rhetorical tide on this issue, but such a voice seems conspicuously absent from the conversation.
Trump’s insistence on unilaterally directing foreign policy, from trade to nuclear weapons, is a booming echo of the Bush administration’s unilateral invasion of Iraq in 2003, and any voice of reason in this scenario must articulate a multilateral view of our responsibilities abroad. Where we accuse, shift blame, and restrict open exchange, we must instead embrace an attitude of cooperation and interconnection among nations. At the very minimum, the US foreign policy establishment needs to pivot away from outright saber-rattling and toward a more soft-spoken approach to other powers; but again, such a voice is missing from the public conversation on these issues, and it seems it will be for the foreseeable future.
Michael Sweeney is a peace activist with a BA in political science concentrated in international relations. He blogs at michaelmsweeney.com.