When comparing this quote, referencing China’s suspected selling of plutonium to Russia for the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD):
“There’s no getting around the fact that breeder reactors are plutonium, and plutonium is for weapons. So I think the [Defense] Department is concerned.”1David Vergun, “Russia Reportedly Supplying Enriched Uranium to China,” Defense.gov, last modified March 8, 2023, accessed March 26, 2023, https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/3323381/russia-reportedly-supplying-enriched-uranium-to-china/.– John F. Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, committee hearing for Congress
With this one, alluding to suspicions of Iraq’s possession of WMD that could potentially threaten US security:
“Our intelligence sources tell us that [Hussein] has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.”– President George W. Bush, State of the Union 2003, referencing Iraq’s potential possession of WMD
A pattern in both is noticeable, and once discovered, a pattern in the United States’ mindset becomes apparent.
Both describe an action – the selling of reactors (machines constructed with plutonium) and the purchasing of aluminum tubes – which by themselves wouldn’t have been cause to raise alarm.
Both then pair their prior statement with “standard and obvious logic”: plutonium can be used for weapons, ergo China is selling weapons, and aluminum tubes can be used in nuclear production, therefore Hussein is planning on building WMD. In both of these quotes, there is no other solution than to proceed with what both Plumb and Bush followed their assertions with:
“So I think the Defense Department is concerned.”
“He clearly has much to hide.”
Both are phrases attributing a strike of fear and importance to these situations. Both label, without necessarily expressing the words to say it, that China’s relationship with Russia, that Hussein himself, pose a threat. It may be a threat to national security, a threat to national interests, or a threat that the United States determines the extent of by measuring its potential impact on itself. No matter the reasoning, however, it is precisely this marking of a “threat” that establishes the United States’ habit of striking “first in self-defense” or striking too preemptively to be considered reasonable.
Both of these quotes relate to different conflicts: the Iraq War, and China-Russia-US relations. With the similarities between both, the most pressing matter at hand is determining exactly how close these relations are to breaking into a violent conflict: is this an entirely different affair altogether, or could “suspected WMD construction” spark a war between three of the world’s greatest powers?
The United States’ suspicions of China providing fuel for WMD to Russia stems from Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, in which the United States strongly supports Ukraine, and China has taken active action – such as spreading Russian propaganda, aligning itself with Russia in United Nations’ votes, and castigating sanctions against Russia – in order to be justly considered alleged with Russia in the conflict. Russia strongly opposed the addition of Ukraine to NATO, among their reasons being their vulnerability to WMD should Ukraine – a neighbor country – accept, and the United States, albeit providing Ukraine with defensive weapons to assist it in the war, opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMD with any country.2John Tironne, “China’s Imports of Russian Uranium Spark Fear of New Arms Race,” Bloomberg, last modified February 28, 2023, accessed March 26, 2023, Both China and Russia, members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, have no evidence against them of distributing WMD to each other or of increasing their own armory of nuclear weapons, and yet, according to Plumb,
“China is engaged in a significant and fast-paced expansion and diversification of its nuclear forces.”3Vergun, “Russia Reportedly,” Defense.gov.
In other words, the United States continues to suspect China of doing so, and the accusations aren’t one-sided. Russia alleges that the United States is “using laboratories in Ukraine to develop biological weapons” for the war, to which the United States answered by labeling it and similar statements as ‘disinformation’. The Global Times, a newspaper with a strong allegiance to China and “oppressive press freedom,” continues by declaring that “if the US fails to clarify itself by providing credible counter-evidence, the evidence provided by Russia must be taken seriously.”4Yang Sheng, “China Urges Hard Evidence from US to Clarify Bio Weapons Suspicion in Ukraine,” Global Times, last modified March 12, 2022, accessed March 26, 2023, https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202203/1254661.shtml. Both countries – the United States and China – are in the same position, on opposing sides, employing the same tactics. Iraq and the US were in similar circumstances in 2003. As the United States expressed concern over China’s selling of plutonium to Russia, it voiced opposition to Hussein’s activities and consequent possession of WMD twenty years ago. 5Commission of Public Affairs, “Report to the President,” in White House Archives, [Page #], last modified march 31, 2005, accessed March 26, 2023, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/wmd/text/report.html. Each case had the United States seek, but lack, solid evidence to justify its claims and rely on what was determined as suspicious activity to define the potential threat. Iraq’s relationship with the US had been rocky – as is China’s today – and the United States attributed its invasion of the country to Bush’s “War on Terror” to maintain national security, a motive not dissimilar for the United States’ warranting of interference in China’s dealings with Russia.6Commission of Public Affairs, “Report to the President,” in White House Archives, [Page #], last modified march 31, 2005, accessed March 26, 2023, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/wmd/text/report.html.
With one and the other broadcasting disputing and disputed statements to their own respective populations, and the inner workings of each nation drastically opposing the other – such as the United States’ democracy and capitalist economy directly contrasting China’s authoritarian government and communist market – the United States and China, and by extension Russia, maintain some of the tensest – and therefore critical – relationships amongst countries in the world. Russia, formerly the Soviet Union and one of the United States’ greatest political rivals, and now the world’s third most powerful country following China and the United States, is similar to China in political stance and attitude on human rights – such as concerned with the complete freedom of speech and assembly allowed in the US – and therefore allied with it rather than with the United States. Perhaps one of the most important differences between the three countries are their perspectives on military intervention, which both Russia and China view as violating the sovereignty of another country and reserve as a last resort, compared to the United States, which tended to follow the interventionist belief of taking preemptive action, a belief that it pursued in 2003, which resulted in no WMD found, and the repercussions of an 8-year war befalling both Iraq – one of 152 listed developing countries in the world – and the US.
The similarities between both of these situations are clear:
Both consider the creation and distribution of WMD, and the subsequent question of safety that the United States poses itself. Plutonium machines may be broken down to construct plutonium weapons, which are classified as weapons of mass destruction, and aluminum can be used to build WMD.7Tironne, “China’s Imports,” Bloomberg. Both involve US intelligence that has been questioned before and data that has been falsified or proved to be incorrect (such as in the case of the Iraq War) in the past.8Leonard S. Spector, “U.S. Efforts to Halt Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missile Programs in Iran,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, last modified April 17, 1997, accessed March 26, 2023, https://carnegieendowment.org/1997/04/17/u.s.-efforts-to-halt-weapons-of-mass-destruction-and-missile-programs-in-iran-pub-128.
Each of these circumstances may or have resulted in monumental consequences for any country involved, and a number of countries who may not be – countries dependent on Iraq’s exports (such as oil) suffered immensely due to the war, and should China and Russia implicate themselves in an active conflict against the United States, any physical action or damage dealt would result in nothing short of a world war, irreversibly damaging oil and nuclear markets as well as, should sanctions and tariffs be utilized – bankrupt economies worldwide.
Twenty years following a suspicion resulting in disaster, the United States’ attitude remains the same. Is this suspicion of China selling materials for WMD grounds for interference – and if so, will history repeat its course at a tenfold scale? So long as the situation stills at the purchasing of plutonium – and so long as the Russia-Ukraine War does not employ WMD – the United States cannot reasonably intervene; however, should the public begin to panic; should the United States find solid evidence, or even a testimony attesting to something similar to its suspicions and national alarm be called, there’s a likely chance that invasion – or at least economic repercussions – would be the next step for either country; and should that occur, there’s no telling if – or even when – WMD would really begin to be employed. That being said, China and US relations have never been and most likely will never be perfect. Both are involved on opposing sides of a major war, and both suspect the other of committing actions little evidence will support. There’s a minuscule risk that any suspicion of either nation will escalate, but it is imperative that unjustified suspicions remain just that – and that, for the safety of the people worldwide, justified ones be resolved peacefully, and history not repeat itself once more.
Cover Image: “Пусковая установка ПГРК Тополь-М (Topol-M missile system TEL)” by Vitaly V. Kuzmin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0