As Presidents Hu Jintao and Barack Obama meet in Washington, DC, it is important to note that this is different from Cold War era summits, as the United States and China share far more common interests, including economic concerns, than the US and the USSR ever did.
At the same time, however, it is also important to recognize that there are major security areas that remain of concern, and nuclear weapons is one of those areas. China fields a far smaller nuclear arsenal than the USSR did, but it is in the process of modernizing that force, including new warheads for its land-based forces, and a new ballistic missile submarine.
China’s new nuclear systems also highlight the reality that the United States is the only nuclear power that does not have an active modernization program—and while improvements at the national laboratories are badly needed, that is hardly the same thing as fielding a new generation of weapons.
American nuclear forces have been a vital part of preserving the stability of East Asia. They played a key part in ending the Korean War and have been an essential element in preventing the outbreak of a new conflict on the peninsula. They also played a role in preserving the security of Taiwan in the various Taiwan Straits crises. As the US and China seek to work together, it is essential that the American nuclear deterrent remain credible and capable.