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Rise of China
China Going Nuclear

China’s military capabilities are improving at such a clip that the entire western United States will be vulnerable to a Chinese nuclear attack within ten years, according to a new report. Defense News has an excellent summary of the congressionally funded report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission from November 19:

The report said China’s growing nuclear warfare capabilities are ominous. Over the next five years, China’s nuclear force will rapidly expand and modernize, providing China with an extensive range of military and foreign policy options and “potentially weakening U.S. extended deterrence, particularly with respect to Japan.’

Over the next three- to five years, China’s nuclear program will also become more lethal and survivable with the fielding of additional road-mobile nuclear missiles; five nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, each of which can carry 12 sea-launched intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBM); and ICBMs armed with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV).

In 2013 the Pentagon reported that China’s nuclear arsenal consisted of only 50- to 75 ICBMs, with the number of ICBMs capable of reaching the United States could expand to more than 100 within the next 15 years. However, the report said some analysts assess China may be obscuring a much larger nuclear effort and have much larger stockpiles.

It’s not just ICBMs. China’s navy, too, is improving in ways that will enable Beijing to carry out a nuclear attack on the United States:

China’s growing sea-based nuclear deterrent began in 2007 with the commissioning of three Jin-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) and the expected introduction of two additional SSBNs by 2020.

The Jin’s SSBN’s JL–2 submarine-launched ballistic missile appears to have reached initial operational capability, “giving China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent.” The JL–2’s range of 4,598 miles gives China the ability to “conduct nuclear strikes against Alaska if launched from waters near China; against Alaska and Hawaii if launched from waters south of Japan; against Alaska, Hawaii, and the western portion of the continental United States if launched from waters west of Hawaii; and against all 50 U.S. states if launched from waters east of Hawaii.”

The Chinese ability to place nukes all over the United States will change the strategic calculus in a potential U.S.-China conflict. And that’s not the only game-changing Chinese military capability. According to the report, China is set to complete development of other key weapons technology, with anti-satellite laser and jamming technology, as well as road-mobile missile launch platforms, coming along swiftly.

The Defense News piece also cites a piece in China’s Global Times about the impact of a potential nuclear missile strike: “The article notes that the survival probability for people outdoors in a 746 to 870 mile radius was zero.” Read the whole thing here.

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  • Andrew Allison

    The silver lining to this cloud is the enormous concentration of the Chinese population, and economy. Remember MAD? Of course, to be credible, MAD must be backed by a government willing to execute it . . . .

    • qet

      Thank you. I was going to ask precisely that–doesn’t MAD mean anything anymore? I know from a PR standpoint that nukes in our adversary’s hands gets lot of folks here all wee-wee’d up, but what exactly is the benefit to China from being able to place a nuke in every American driveway? As I have said elsewhere, nukes are unusable weapons, but that does depend on the paradox that a nation (the USA) must in fact be willing to use them, a will you rightly call into question. However I expect that even an Administration like the present one would, if that unthinkable day ever came where it was advised that nuke ballistic missiles were incoming from China or Russia, launch our own.

  • Anthony

    Besides submarines, the major concern in the report is China’s proliferation of road mobile nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, such as the DF-31. Read more and ponder for yourself:

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    This is a foolish worry, the USSR and now Russia have had that capability for 50 years, and China has had nukes on missiles for decades as well.

    • qet

      Yep, seems like everyone here is getting it. Nothing to see here, move along. (Although I’m sure that in the Pentagon budget infighting this will be a big deal).

  • FriendlyGoat

    The challenge is convincing the leaders and people of China that you can HAVE nuclear weapons, but you cannot actually USE nuclear weapons any more than America or Russia (or former USSR) has been able to use theirs in the last 60 years. M.A.D. is still self-suicidal in a few hours and therefore literally “mad”.

    Perhaps we should be MORE concerned about the various reported Chinese capabilities for knocking out American satellites. First of all, an attack on our satellites likely would not trigger a first-strike nuke launch from America (such being “mad” and all), but we might find that, indeed, our missiles and other weapons could stop working for various technical communications reasons. Being rendered rather helpless like that could be a BIG problem. Countermeasures to this risk may be possible and they may not be, so diplomacy and trade matter more and more going forward. Who wants to destroy either their customers or their suppliers?

    • qet

      Yes, I agree with this. Even if the US could successfully launch only 50 nukes to China’s 500 owing to their preliminary activities, that would not exactly be a win for China.

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