New article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, building on research for Founders Pledge. First few paragraphs:

During the short thaw of US-China relations over the last six months, the Biden administration has emphasized the importance of crisis communication channels or “hotlines” for stabilizing the relationship between the two powers. After the Biden-Xi Woodside Summit in November 2023, the administration touted an agreement to reopen military-to-military communications—though progress on implementing the agreement has been slow. Ahead of a follow-on call between the two leaders this April, a senior US official explained that “President Biden has made clear that this mil-mil [military-to-military] communication is critical at all times but especially during times of heightened tensions.”

Unlike the United States and Russia, who established the first hotline in 1963 after the near-catastrophe of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the People’s Republic of China have a much shorter history of crisis communications. The Beijing-Washington hotline was only established in 1998, during President Clinton’s visit to China, followed by the opening of the military-to-military Defense Telephone Link (DTL) in 2008. Since then, US-China hotline relations have been fraught; during several crises between the two countries, Beijing simply has not answered, leading many commentators to call the military hotline “dangerously broken.”

Current hotlines are not up to the task of preventing escalation, in part because the mechanisms are far too slow. The term “hotline” itself may be a misnomer for some of these communication systems. Worse, no one can be confident that the current systems would continue to function in wartime as they are not designed to survive either a direct attack or the indirect effects of a major war. To avoid the possibility that a future crisis spirals into outright conflict and that such a conflict spirals further into an all-out thermonuclear war, the United States and China need to cooperate to establish shared norms and understanding, set up a dedicated channel for faster communications, coordinate the mutual hardening of their communications systems, and take bilateral steps to ensure that hotlines would work when military and political leaders need them most.

Full article: 




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