Dangerous myths about China’s nuclear weapons

At the beginning of this summer, when American and Russian diplomats gathered in Vienna to discuss the expansion of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, much of the focus was on one country that did not attend the summit: China. Before the meeting, the U.S. Special Commissioner for Arms Control President Marshall Billingsley tweeted : "China just said that it has no intention of participating in the tripartite negotiations. It should reconsider… no longer need to keep the Great Wall secret. Solve its nuclear issue. Waiting for China in Vienna.” To emphasize China’s absence, US negotiators placed the Chinese flag in front of the empty chair, which Beijing later referred to as "performance art." Once the negotiations began, it was reported that US officials even gave a confidential briefing to Russian officials, outlining China’s modernization of its nuclear arsenal and the risks it posed.

As China's growing nuclear power has gained new attention, there are some long-standing myths about them. There are many legitimate concerns about China's nuclear arsenal. China’s nuclear expansion and modernization are relaxing the long-term technical restrictions that guide the country’s nuclear policy. The potential entanglement between China's conventional and nuclear power increases the risk of misunderstanding, leading to the first use of nuclear energy in a crisis or conflict. China's opacity in the nuclear field has exacerbated dangerous misunderstandings and misunderstandings between Washington and Beijing. Unfortunately, these actual risks are often overshadowed by more dubious claims. Too many analysts focus on the wrong questions about China's nuclear power, including claims that China has a huge stock of nuclear warheads, its no-first-use policy is forged, and that tactical nuclear weapons have been developed and deployed. arms. Misleading these claims can exacerbate mistrust, increase threat perception, and make it more difficult to solve more real problems. Especially the three myths.

Three lasting myths about China’s nuclear weapons

Since the first nuclear test in 1964, China’s approach to nuclear weapons has often been different from other nuclear-armed countries, which puzzles scholars and analysts . Although major nuclear powers such as France and Pakistan have adopted an asymmetric upgrade trend consisting of high-alert tactical nuclear systems, China has made slow progress in developing a limited, fixed, liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal. While the Cold War superpowers are engaged in an arms race, China is committed to building a "simplified and effective" force. Since acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities, China has publicly declared an absolute no-first-use policy and declared that "China will not engage in any nuclear arms race with any other country and maintain its nuclear capabilities at the lowest level required for national security." We attribute the nuclear strategies and policies that China has retained in history to a range of factors, from leadership beliefs, domestic and organizational constraints to strategic culture and military-civilian relations.

However, regardless of the origin of China's nuclear doctrine, people's misunderstanding of it still persists. These misunderstandings may be the by-products of a variety of factors, including confusion about the historical differences between China’s nuclear policy and U.S. nuclear policy, shock at Beijing’s increasingly severe behavior in other security areas, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s orders on the nuclear issue. An opaque area of ​​suspicion that people worry about. Together, these factors provide decision makers with room for worst-case assumptions, allowing the emergence and spread of persistent and counterproductive myths.

The first myth is that China maintains a huge hidden arsenal of potentially thousands of nuclear weapons. The warhead of an underground tunnel in the country. As the United States called for a trilateral arms control agreement with Russia and China, the author of the "Wall Street Journal" article claimed that any reluctance by Beijing only confirmed the existence of this point. Secret nuclear power. The two observers wrote in Hill that "the estimates of the size of China's nuclear arsenal vary greatly, from less than 300 nuclear warheads to a large number of warheads " [emphasis added]. Indeed, the argument about China’s massive expansion of nuclear arsenals is nothing new. Major American newspapers made similar claims nearly a decade ago.

However, there is little evidence to support these claims. The most reliable estimates of China’s nuclear power by the US government and independent experts testify to Beijing’s relatively limited nuclear power, albeit with increasing complexity. The Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese military estimates that China has about 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles, making China’s nuclear warhead storage "as low as 200 seconds", even lower than many highly respected independent estimates.

People are worried that China might try to carry out the so-called "sprint towards parity" by rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal to the United States. The US government predicts that China will double its stock of nuclear warheads in the next ten years (although similar past forecasts for the growth of China’s nuclear arsenal have not yet been realized). Given the current size of the inventory, compared with the 1,550 deployed warhead limit set by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the doubled quantity will be less than 500 weapons.

However, perhaps most importantly, China lacks the fissile material needed for nuclear weapons to build a larger nuclear arsenal. The International Committee on Fissile Materials reports that China stopped the production of fissile materials for weapons in the 1980s and Beijing has Relatively limited stocks of uranium and p. In addition, China's warhead design may be relatively conservative, requiring more nuclear fuel than other states.

Some skeptics have set their sights on China's extensive underground tunnel system reportedly used to cover and move some of its missiles, claiming that the tunnel itself is evidence of a large nuclear reserve. If China’s arsenal is really so small, why build such a complicated underground network? Answer: cover up this fragile nuclear deterrent. Not surprisingly, China is trying to protect its relatively small deterrent by hiding its power. As one expert said, Beijing can increase the viability of its troops by expanding the scale. Beijing's reliance on concealment has improved the survivability of its troops at a lower cost, and has brought the added benefit of not introducing the pressure of an arms race.

The second myth about China's nuclear power is that Beijing's "no first use" policy is a fraud. China claims to adhere to a policy of no first use, which means that it will only use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by another country. For decades, including last year’s national defense white paper, this policy has been repeatedly reiterated.

However, American observers have a long tradition of doubting the sincerity of this policy. The 2006 edition of the Ministry of National Defense’s annual report on the Chinese military (partially citing incorrect translations of Chinese text) suggests that China may adjust its no-first-use policy in the future. At a Congressional hearing in February of this year, General Charles Richard, the head of the US Strategic Command, said that he can “drive trucks through a policy of no first use.” Hill Edit page A writer in recently regarded China’s announced no-first-use policy as a "false propaganda campaign."

But evidence from public and confidential Chinese military texts reiterated the no first use policy. The use policy states that it is still complete without first use. According to reports, China’s nuclear warheads were not used in conjunction with delivery vehicles, which would confuse the first attempt to use nuclear weapons. Chinese military reports continue to describe the PLA's rocket team conducting exercises under nuclear attack conditions, indicating that China's nuclear missile force plans to act after the enemy's nuclear strike. In its 2019 report on the Chinese military, the Pentagon acknowledged the concerns of China’s nuclear power and policies, but the conclusion is simple: “There is no sign that leaders of various countries are willing to make subtle differences to China’s existing NFU. And warning [19459016"

The third myth is that China has developed and deployed a series of nuclear warfare capabilities including tactical nuclear weapons. Although there is no strict definition of tactical nuclear weapons, they are usually defined as low-yield warheads fixed on short-range vehicles and designed to be used against military targets on the battlefield or other high-value theater targets. Last year, some American media published claims that China is deploying or has deployed a series of tactical nuclear weapons. However, this claim is unfounded.

If such a decision is made, China will undoubtedly have the industrial and technological basis for the production of tactical nuclear weapons. There are sporadic reports that during the Cultural Revolution, Beijing may have initiated projects to develop such weapons. But these projects were eventually cancelled because they conflicted with China's nuclear strategy. China successfully tested neutron bombs in the 1980s, although it is not yet clear how these designs can easily be transformed into modern nuclear warfare capabilities.

More than 30 years ago, US intelligence agencies estimated that China would deploy these bombs soon. Various functions. But 35 years later, as the Department of Defense and independent assessments of China’s capabilities continue to fail to mention deployed tactical nuclear weapons, these predictions have not yet been realized.

Misplaced attention: the actual risks of Beijing’s nuclear weapons

Although there is little evidence to support China’s huge secret nuclear arsenal, its policy of no first use was forged or developed There is evidence of various tactical nuclear weapons claims, but there are still many reasons for concern about China's nuclear power. Unlike the myths above, which usually focus on China's military modernization and potential arms race dynamics, these reasonable concerns are usually related to the actual use of nuclear energy.

First of all, China's nuclear proliferation and modernization, although relative to a larger and larger arsenal, are still insignificant. Some countries in the United States and Russia have eased technological restrictions that affect their nuclear policies. If Beijing’s leadership ever decides to do so, it will make it easier for Beijing to change into a more vigilant posture.

China is deploying more and more advanced solid fuel and road-mobile land-based missiles, deploying a fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and redistributing nuclear roles to its air force.

Mobile and survivable missiles, and the realization of a complete nuclear triad of land, air and sea-based delivery systems, will expand Beijing’s nuclear policy options. More precise missiles increase the potential value of using nuclear weapons against enemy units on the battlefield. There are calls within the Chinese military to increase the alert status of its nuclear forces, which has raised questions about the long-term development trajectory of China's nuclear policy. According to reports, China is developing a space-based early warning system. If such a decision is made in the future, it may support a shift to an early warning launch situation. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would assist China in developing early warning capabilities. In fact, the Ministry of National Defense declared in its 2020 report on the Chinese military: “China intends to increase its nuclear force’s peaceful war preparedness capabilities by expanding its base warehouse-based alert status.” Some developments, such as the deployment of nuclear-powered ballistic missiles The submarine fleet may put new pressure on warhead cooperation in peacetime or pre-authorization of launch rights in some cases. Although China’s expanding fissile material production capacity is intended for commercial purposes, it can be used to support a larger expansion of its nuclear weapons arsenal. Recent reports indicate that the activities of China’s nuclear weapons laboratories and test sites have increased.

Together, these developments have created new opportunities for China to use nuclear power, or put new pressure on long-term nuclear weapons policies and practices. They also partly prompted the United States to be skeptical of China's nuclear policy. In the past, the operational and technical characteristics of China’s nuclear arsenal have provided inherent credibility for Beijing’s claim that it retains only retaliatory capabilities. China may have pursued these new capabilities, mainly to ensure the viability of its nuclear deterrent. But today, due to these modernization efforts, China’s nuclear forces may not only have the ability to retaliate.

Secondly, experts are increasingly warning that the entanglement of China's conventional and nuclear forces may bring dangerous escalation risks when a crisis or crisis breaks out. This is happening against the background of increasingly intensified strategic competition and mutual suspicion between the United States and China, further deepening the awareness of threats. conflict. China has deployed the world’s largest and most complex conventional and nuclear ground ballistic missiles. All these missiles are under the control of the PLA Rockets. Some of these missiles, such as the DF-21, are both conventional and nuclear weapons. A missile system, the DF-26, technically seems to be able to switch between conventional or nuclear payloads. Chinese military reports describe the DF-26 force's rapid transition from conventional strikes to nuclear strikes. The mobility of these systems increases the possibility that nuclear and conventional units are far away from the family garrison and are close to each other. This overlap in organization, technology, and geography may make it difficult for the United States to determine which systems are nuclear and which are conventional systems.

In a crisis or conflict, the United States' attack on China's conventional capabilities may inadvertently weaken Beijing's nuclear deterrent and introduce dangerous escalation pressure. The United States’ efforts to locate and track China’s conventional missiles may be misunderstood in Beijing as preparing for the first disarmament of its nuclear forces. Similarly, the United States may mistake the launch of conventional Chinese missiles as a nuclear attack. Given the evidence that the United States has misunderstood the motivations of Chinese entanglement, these risks caused by entanglement are more obvious. Several American analysts believe that Beijing may deliberately entangle its conventional and nuclear forces to increase the risk of nuclear use and deter the United States. Although the logic is convincing, some Chinese strategists may have begun to realize the potential deterrent effect of entanglement, but there is evidence that China’s entanglement develops to a certain extent from the narrower organizational dynamics (that is, through the use of Similar systems save costs) instead of trying to manipulate risks. This mismatch between what Americans and Chinese analysts believe is the driving factor of entanglement may exacerbate the escalation dynamics. U.S. officials mistakenly believe that China is prepared for the risk of entanglement, and Chinese officials mistakenly believe that the United States (unintentionally) Actions against China’s nuclear weapons are part of a campaign to weaken China’s nuclear deterrence. In short, this entanglement may increase the pressure on China to use nuclear weapons or the United States to exert pressure on nuclear weapons, thereby increasing the possibility of a dangerous spiral escalation.

Third, China's long-term opacity of its nuclear weapons and policies is risky, especially if there is evidence that there are misunderstandings and misunderstandings between Beijing and Washington. China and the United States seem to have dangerously different views on the dynamics of escalation and the ability of countries to control the scope and intensity of conflicts. On the one hand, although American experts often emphasize potential escalation paths in crises or conflicts, Chinese strategists are optimistic about the escalation potential of the steps China may take to gradually escalate its nuclear force to show determination. This mismatch in concept may cause both parties to misjudge each other's actions or intentions. For example, China’s military text describes potentially escalating signal processing methods to prove its resolve in a crisis, including conducting broadcast operations involving its strategic forces and even firing intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads into enemy territory. Although there is no indication that China has ever deployed conventionally armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, such future actions can easily be mistaken for actual nuclear strike preparations.

Similarly, although Americans’ suspicion of China’s nuclear policy, including its promise of no first use, exacerbated these risks.

Similarly, although doubts about China's no-first-use policy may be exaggerated, it is dangerous if it is deemed inviolable in China. All possible situations. In a crisis or conflict, the plan may change. There are occasional reports that Chinese strategists and military officers are discussing the advantages of the no-first-use policy, including concerns about potential adversaries' efforts to take advantage of China’s no-first-use policy through conventional first strikes against Chinese nuclear forces. The version of this debate has been going on for decades, and there is no conclusive evidence that China's no-first-use policy has changed (in fact, the existence of the debate itself is evidence that the policy still exists). But this should not make U.S. military planners believe that non-nuclear operations aimed at undermining China’s combat capabilities or imposing costs on China pose no risks.

Dealing with risks

These myths can exacerbate the dangerous nuclear power between China and the United States. Believing that China’s no-first-use policy is a forgery, which increases the risk that Washington mistakenly identifies China’s signal of determination as preparation for a nuclear strike. Increasing distrust may lead Beijing to mistakenly believe that the US reconnaissance of its missile force marks an imminent strike against Beijing’s nuclear deterrent. Similarly, the belief that Beijing has concealed a tactical nuclear weapons arsenal will increase the United States’ worries about a possible nuclear strike by China.

Myths may also hinder efforts to deal with more legal risks. Many of these risks, especially those rooted in different ideas, can be mitigated through formal dialogue. Beijing and Washington can share and improve their understanding of escalation dynamics or their goals in crises or conflicts. However, sometimes misunderstandings and misunderstandings rooted in the myths discussed above can make it difficult to conduct such dialogues. For example, you can see some of these developments in the previous Track-1.5 and Track-2 conversations, where skeptical American participants put forward imaginative assumptions to their Chinese counterparts in an effort to determine Beijing’s priority. Use policy boundaries. Participants in China may not view these hypotheses as illustrative thought experiments, but as potential threats that derail attempts to engage in more substantive discussions.

Perhaps most importantly, the misleading of myths may in turn make these myths a reality. U.S. concerns about China’s current and future nuclear policies (whether real or imagined) will drive the U.S. to adopt policies to deal with an uncertain nuclear future, such as the development of a more powerful ballistic missile defense system or the deployment of more advanced anti-missile target capabilities . In turn, these U.S. actions may raise China’s concerns about the viability of its own nuclear deterrent, making Beijing more likely to adopt the approach the U.S. fears: send a larger and more diversified arsenal, and take higher measures. The state of alert, and

observers rightly criticized China’s dismissal of US arms control proposals, but Beijing may consider these proposals to be insincere or misleading. However, focusing attention on claims with insufficient or unfounded sources will make any conversation less likely to happen, and if it does happen, the efficiency of the conversation will also decrease.

There are many real worries about China's nuclear modernization, which need to be addressed and not be disturbed by myths.

David C. Logan is a doctorate. Candidate of Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs, expert consultant of China Military Affairs Research Center, which is part of National Strategic Research Institute of National Defense University. The views expressed are his own, not the views of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the US government.

Picture: The official Twitter account of Marshall S, the special presidential envoy for US arms control. Billingslea

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