China's Nukes: What Happens in a Showdown with America?
A Map Published by a state-owned Newspaper showing a nuclear strike against Los Angeles
“China's strategic community views the U.S. development and deployment of ballistic missile defense capabilities as the most serious threat to China's nuclear deterrent. Chinese analysts believe that the deployment of early warning systems and interceptors gives the United States a rudimentary missile defense capability against Chinese nuclear missiles. China's strategic community also expects the system to become more integrated and effective in the future. For many, the Obama administration has only slightly altered the Bush administration's missile defense plan, as U.S. missile defense has bipartisan support and is now a permanent feature of the strategic landscape.”
Point #3 - The Future of China’s Nuclear Posture:
“Chinese concerns about U.S. capabilities are likely to further underscore the ambiguity that China has allowed to persist regarding its no-first-use policy. In the mid-2000s, a debate over whether to maintain the policy occurred within China amid concerns about a future conflict over Taiwan's unification involving the United States. The debate was prompted in large part by the prospect of conventional strikes against Chinese nuclear capabilities and nonnuclear strategic targets, such as the Three Gorges Dam.”
Mining Mandarin sources, the authors feel:
“China is unlikely to alter its nuclear strategy. That is, the pursuit of a lean and effective force to conduct a retaliatory campaign to deter a first strike against China remains the basis of China's nuclear strategy. Even though China is expanding the size and sophistication of its arsenal, sources and individuals consulted for this article indicate, in essence, that China will seek to achieve the goals contained in its current strategy and not pursue new ones, such as the ability to conduct a first strike on an adversary's nuclear weapons. As the Science of Military Strategy describes, “China's nuclear force employment follows the principle of ‘striking after the enemy has struck’ (houfa zhiren); a nuclear counterattack is the only type (yangshi) of combat employment for Chinese nuclear forces. The relative superiority or inferiority of China's nuclear counterattack capability directly influences the effectiveness of its nuclear deterrence. Therefore, the fundamental goals of the development of the Second Artillery are to effectively increase the number of missiles to ensure that a sufficient number are available for a nuclear counterattack, and to increase the effectiveness of an actual nuclear counterattack.” The main challenge from China's perspective is how best to achieve a secure second-strike capability in light of the continued development of missiles defenses and various long-range conventional strike capabilities.”
Final Point - Chinese Nuclear Ambiguity Could Make a Showdown with America Dangerous:
“China's continued commitment to a nuclear strategy of assured retaliation with a small but robust nuclear force structure avoids the wastefulness of Cold War arms racing. To deter U.S. conventional attacks on its nuclear forces, however, China relies on limited ambiguity over its no-first-use policy, which could make a future U.S.-Chinese crisis more dangerous. China appears willing to accept this risk because its assessments of crisis stability in the U.S.-China relationship are relatively optimistic…Even if Chinese analysts accurately assess the nuclear risks present in a U.S.-China contingency, their optimism is unwarranted because it is not shared by the United States and because China likely underestimates U.S. assessments of the stakes in a potential crisis.”
Clearly I am cherry picking some of the major highlights of a very scholarly and important forty-three-page academic article. Considering past works by Fravel when it comes to Chinese nuclear doctrine are now assigned reading at many of the top security studies programs around the world, Asia hands should consider the ideas in this paper very seriously. But don’t take my word for it: read the whole thing.
Harry Kazianis is the former Executive Editor of The National Interest. Mr. Kazianis also serves as Senior Fellow (non-resident) for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest, Senior Fellow (non-resident) at the China Policy Institute as well as a Fellow for National Security Affairs at The Potomac Foundation. He previously served as Editor of The Diplomat and as a WSD Handa Fellow at Pacific Forum: CSIS