The Pentagon expects the Chinese military to double its store of nuclear weapons over the next decade but still remain far behind the arsenals of the United States and Russia.
The Department of Defense presented its annual report to Congress on China’s military and other security issues on Tuesday, revealing that U.S. intelligence estimates that China’s nuclear weapons stockpile is in the “low 200s.” Analysts also expect it to grow in the coming years as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees its place in the world grow more precarious.
China does not report how large its nuclear weapons arsenal is and has refused to engage in arms control talks, arguing that its stockpile is nowhere near as large as the United States’ or Russia’s, according to The Wall Street Journal. Experts said the real surprise of the report is that the Chinese nuclear arsenal is as small as it is.
“While China is modernizing its nuclear arsenal, the biggest news is that its nuclear stockpile is smaller than has been widely assumed,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), told WSJ.
Russia has 4,310 nuclear weapons in its stockpile to the United States’ 3,800, according to FAS. The Trump administration has been attempting to negotiate a three-way arms control treaty that would govern all nuclear weapons of the United States, Russia, and China. So far, though, both Russia and China have resisted entering into any such deal.
The report summarized China’s actions concerning its nuclear arsenal in five points:
China’s strategic ambitions, evolving view of the security landscape, and concerns over survivability are driving significant changes to the size, capabilities, and readiness of its nuclear forces.
China’s nuclear forces will significantly evolve over the next decade as it modernizes, diversifies, and increases the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms.
Over the next decade, China’s nuclear warhead stockpile—currently estimated to be in the low200s—is projected to at least double in size as China expands and modernizes its nuclear forces.
China is pursuing a “nuclear triad” with the development of a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) and improving its ground and sea-based nuclear capabilities.
New developments in 2019 further suggest that China intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture with an expanded silo-based force.
China has grown increasingly aggressive with neighboring countries as the CCP expands its influence into the South China Sea and over the formerly independent territory of Hong Kong. The CCP has also continued what many experts and human rights activists are calling a “genocide” in the western province of Xinjiang.
China’s aggressive tactics and its failure to control the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic that was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year has severely damaged the international reputation of the CCP and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The damage was compounded after China sent millions of defective pieces of equipment to virus hotspots while demanding that heads of state to publicly praise Xi in return.
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