Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age

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2004-09-20

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Among the 5 states authorized under the NPT to possess nuclear weapons, China has the most restrained pattern of deployment: The People's Republic of China (PRC) operationally deploys about 80 nuclear warheads exclusively for use with land-based ballistic missiles. Its declaratory doctrine rejects the initiation of nuclear war under any circumstance. The PRC does not maintain tactical nuclear forces of any kind, and its strategic forces are kept off alert, with warheads in storage. This posture has been sustained over time and changes in threat perception, suggesting restraint is the result of choice and not expediency. The apparent implication of the sustained pattern of Chinese restraint implies a distinctly different strategic assessment from that developed by Russia and the US to justify and direct their larger and more actively deployed forces. As articulated in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, the United States seeks credible options for the preventive use of strategic forces. Such options will presumably undermine confidence among Chinese leaders that a small strategic force provides adequate deterrence, and that vulnerability to preemption poses a less significant risk than the loss of control over alert forces. There is no evidence yet of a fundamental revision in the traditional deployment pattern of Chinese strategic forces, perhaps because China is likely to preserve a modest capability sufficient for its minimalist conception of deterrence. If China were subjected to a level of preemptive threat that Beijing judged intolerable, Chinese leaders would likely to reject, at least initially, the systematic emulation of US deployment patterns. Although the inner deliberations of China's leadership are only barely perceptible, patterns in Chinese defense investments, strategic force deployments, and arms control behavior suggest China would consider asymmetric responses that targeted the vulnerable command, control and intelligence (C2I) systems essential to preventive operations. This dissertation attempts a systematic examination of Chinese policy statements and diplomatic actions for two purposes: 1. To test the plausibility of China's apparent strategic logic against the conflicting expectations of prevailing US assessments. 2. To provide guidance for shaping both the specific security relationship with China and global security arrangements in general.

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