Chinese President Xi Jinping likes to use Chinese idioms in his public remarks. While speaking to a select group of U.S. luminaries in Seattle on the first day of a state visit to the United States, President Xi dropped the following Chinese gem on his non-Chinese speaking audience: 桃李不言, 下自成蹊. Read More]]>
Chinese President Xi Jinping likes to use Chinese idioms in his public remarks. While speaking to a select group of U.S. luminaries in Seattle on the first day of a state visit to the United States, President Xi dropped the following Chinese gem on his non-Chinese speaking audience: 桃李不言, 下自成蹊.
His translators rendered the idiom into English as “peaches and plums do not talk, yet a path is formed beneath them.” The topic of the speech was, not surprisingly, the state of U.S.—China relations, so the idiom was generally understood, as heard in English, as a generic comment on cooperation. That’s understandable given it was followed by the following sentence: “These worthy fruits of cooperation across the Pacific Ocean speak eloquently to the vitality and potential of China-U.S. relations.” Right before using the idiom Xi ran through a list of areas where the United States and China were able to work together for the common good, such as the 2008 financial crisis, the Iran negotiations and the fight against Ebola. These are the “worthy fruits” of U.S.—China relations.
In this morning’s Facebook feed I ran across a discussion between a pair of U.S. China watchers about what the “peaches and plums” idiom actually meant, and whether there was some sort of deeper meaning behind it. One discussant thought it referred to “soft power” or “attraction.” The other followed with “the basis of great power relations, so to speak.”
Actually, Xi was using the idiom not to illuminate something about the relationship itself, but to say something about the quality or character of individual state behavior—China’s behavior in particular.
A Chinese idiom dictionary explains.
“Although peach tress and plum trees don’t know how to speak, because their flowers and fruits are beautiful, they attract people to come, so beneath the tress there will naturally be a path. The metaphor is that as long as your behavior is noble, there is no need to brag to be respected by people.”
In other words, the Chinese President seems to be subtly chastising his audience for complaining that China does not do enough to support the collective good. President Obama has made that accusation on a number of occasions during his presidency. Xi seems to be responding to that, noting that the fruits of Chinese efforts to cooperate with the United States in the maintenance of the international system—the “worthy fruits” he just listed—should be obvious to everyone.
We’ve used this blog, on a number of occasions, to remind readers interested in U.S.—China relations about the critical impact of culture and language. Misunderstanding and misperception are routinely underestimated factors inhibiting effective cross-cultural communication. It is not possible for me to know for certain what President Xi meant. Perhaps he reinterprets idioms, as U.S. presidents are known to do. The late, great Yogi Berra would certainly understand.
But Xi’s peaches and plums moment is another useful reminder that the role of language and culture in U.S.—China relations deserves more careful attention.
Every time I return to China the unlearning continues.
During the eight months between this visit and the last, my news and social media feeds were chock full of definitive statements from learned U.S. experts on the current political, economic and social and disposition of the People’s Republic. George Washington University Professor David Shambaugh, a seasoned China-watcher, asserted, “despotism is severely stressing China’s system and society—and bringing it closer to a breaking point.” He was referring to the rule of China’s supposed strongman, Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping.
A more recently minted pair of U.S. China hands, Andrew Erickson of the Naval War College and Gabe Collins of the Wall Street Journal, responded to news of China’s recent stock market slump by writing, “China’s leadership has proved unwilling and unable to implement reforms sufficient to maintain current levels of economic growth amid gathering challenges.” They painted a dismal picture of an economy on the precipice of an accelerated slowdown that could “transmit” massive risk to the rest of the world.
Renowned U.S. sinologist Perry Link published an article in Foreign Affairs stating, “being Chinese in the twenty-first century means being materialistic, nationalist, and aggressive.” He lamented, “Whereas Chinese students of a generation ago admired Western life and values so much that they built a statue, Goddess of Democracy, on Tiananmen Square, today, after decades of government-sponsored anti-Western indoctrination, many see the West more as a hostile rival than as a friend.”
A good number of my Chinese friends and colleagues were demonstrating for democracy in the streets of various Chinese cities in the spring of 1989 and they still “admire Western life and values.” So do most of their children. They are a little less enamored of the United States than they were in the days of the Goddess of Democracy, but that is more a product of personal encounters with some of the uglier faces of U.S. political culture than communist party propaganda. An overwhelming majority of those Chinese admirers of the West, young and old, have strong positive impressions of Xi Jinping. Some believe, perhaps naively, that Xi is working to accumulate enough authority to follow in the footsteps of Nationalist Party President Chiang Ching-kuo, who ended decades of one-party rule in Taiwan in 1987, paving the way for the democratic transformation of the island’s politics. Others think Xi is more likely looking to Singapore as a model for the mainland’s political future.
Most of the Chinese I have come to know personally over the last three decades prospered and accumulated a modest measure of personal wealth. Those preparing to enter retirement do so with little fiscal anxiety. My parents left this planet relatively successful middle class Americans but were unable to leave behind anything more than a few sticks of furniture to their number one son. A Chinese gentleman of modest means I knew very well, a political officer in the air force who retired decades before he passed away last year, was able to leave each of his three sons the equivalent of thirty thousand U.S. dollars. His widow, an equally long-retired cultural worker, receives a government pension more than generous enough to meet her needs. I know many others like them from non-military walks of life. A few dabble in the stock market. No one seems particularly concerned about the recent bubble and its dramatic deflation. None of them are foolish enough to invest their savings in Chinese stocks. China’s young and volatile market is a sliver of China’s overall economy and its sudden rise and fall did not seem to make anywhere near as much of an impression on anyone I know in China as it did on the U.S. commentariat.
I hear the same sad complaints about the lack of freedom and the indignity of self-censorship from Chinese friends and colleagues in academia. The ideological reigns are tighter lately. But “despotism” seems a bit melodramatic. Lively debates about politics and policy are standard fare in China. You can hear them walking through a crowded train station or waiting in line at a busy Starbucks. People don’t seem to be looking over their shoulders for the thought police. Boutique bookstores are stocked with every imaginable work of foreign philosophy and literature. The web is heavily censored. This blog is often blocked. But anybody with the extra 10 minutes it takes to install a decent VPN can access anything they want, even pictures of “tank man” on Google.
As always, I find it next to impossible to reconcile the descriptions of China I encounter in the United States with the reality of my personal experience in the country. U.S. academics, journalists and government officials almost always speak about China in the abstract. They tend to have neat, clean interpretations of the issues of the day ready to deliver to students, the media and Congress.
My view of the country is intimate and messy. The best advice I can give to my fellow Americans after thirty years of China watching is that the more definitive a U.S expert assessment of China appears to be, the less likely it is to be true.]]>
The Pentagon report does not give details, but refers to the “multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV)-equipped Mod 3 (DF-5)” missile.
China has long had the technical capability to deploy multiple warheads, but was previously not thought to have done so. It’s not clear what evidence is behind the Pentagon’s announcement that China has now deployed MIRVs, or what China’s motivation might be. Some speculate that the change is motivated by Chinese concerns about maintaining a credible deterrent force in the face of the expansion of U.S. missile defenses.
In any event, it’s important to be realistic about what this step means.
It would result in a modest change in China’s nuclear forces because it affects a small number of silo-based missiles. China is thought to deploy roughly 10 of the DF-5 Mod 3 missiles mentioned in the Pentagon report. So if these went from carrying one warhead to three warheads (see below), that would add about 20 warheads to the Chinese force. (In comparison, recall that the U.S. and Russia each currently deploy 1,800-2,000 warheads.)
And contrary to some reports, China’s fleet of 30 mobile missiles appears able to carry at most one or perhaps two warheads anytime soon, for reasons I discuss below.
Since the New York Times article is bound to lead to Chicken-Little analyses warning that China can quickly build up its long-range nuclear forces to many hundreds of weapons, it’s worth looking at some of the technical issues to ground the story in reality.
The DF-5 is China’s largest missile, and is based in silos. It uses liquid fuel and is believed to be stored without fuel (because it is highly corrosive and can damage missile components over time) and without warheads mated to the missile. So it is not that the U.S. has seen DF-5s in their silos with multiple warheads on them. Instead, the U.S. assessment may be based on seeing a test of a missile that released multiple objects, for example.
The key to MIRVing is the “I”, which stands for “independently targetable.” This means that each warhead on a missile can be put on a different trajectory to reach a different target. To do that, in addition to adding warheads to the missile you also need to add a small maneuvering stage that the warheads sit on. This stage is called a “post-boost vehicle,” or a “bus” since it carries warheads and drops them off at different locations on different trajectories.
When the missile stops burning, it releases the warheads and the bus. The bus then drops off the first warhead on its trajectory, maneuvers to a slightly different trajectory and drops off the second warhead, and so on. To do this, the bus needs to carry enough fuel to allow it to maneuver sufficiently to drop all the warheads off on their desired trajectories. As a result, U.S. and Russian buses and fuel typically weigh as much as the total weight of the warheads they carry. Perhaps China would not require as much maneuverability, but this is probably still the right scale.
The large mass of the bus (and its fuel) is important since it reduces the payload the missile can use to carry warheads, because the missile must lift both the warheads and the bus. If a warhead has mass M, then a missile with a single warhead will carry just the mass M. But adding a second and third warhead increases the payload by the mass 2M of those warheads plus the mass 3M of the bus. As a result, the missile must now carry a mass of roughly 6M.
China is known to have had the technology to build a MIRV bus for a couple of decades since it has been able to launch multiple satellites from the same launch vehicle, which is essentially the same technology. But until it had a light enough warhead, it could not put multiple warheads and a bus on even its most powerful ballistic missile.
In the 1990s China developed a lighter warhead before the negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban ended nuclear testing. Unclassified U.S. estimates put the mass of this warhead at about 500 kg.
With this mass, three warheads and a bus would have a total mass of roughly 3,000 kg. This is compatible with the payload capability of the DF-5, which is believed to be 3,000-3,200 kg. But it means China couldn’t add additional warheads without a using a lighter warhead—which China doesn’t appear to have and is unlikely to develop and deploy under a test ban—or a significantly smaller bus with much less ability to independently target the warheads.
Given the large payload capacity of the DF-5 missile, it might not be surprising if China—as it replaces its heavy, older generation warheads with the new, lighter one—decided to put more than one on the missile, even if it didn’t have a specific reason in mind.
As noted above, the DF-5 missile is liquid-fueled and silo-based. Most of China’s long-range missiles instead have solid fuel and are small enough to allow them to be mobile. These include the DF-31 and DF-31A (with a total of about 30 currently deployed), and the DF-41 in development. In contrast to the DF-5, which has a launch mass of over 180 tons, the launch mass of these missiles is thought to be 40 to 60 tons.
Given the size of these missiles and the fact that they need to be built rugged enough to withstand transport on mobile launchers (which increases their structural mass relative to silo-based missiles), they are believed to carry much smaller payloads than the DF-5. Estimates I’ve seen range from less than 1,000 kg up to 1,800 kg. To check this, it’s useful to look at a real-world example we know more about.
A relevant comparison is with the Russian SS-25 (Topol) and SS-27 (Topol-M) road mobile missiles. The Topol-M was commissioned in 2000, so it’s a modern missile. The Topol has a reported launch mass of 45 tons, a range of 10,500 km, and a payload of 1,000 kg. The Topol-M has a launch mass of 47 tons, and a range greater than 10,000 km with a payload of 1,200 kg. These two missiles make up the bulk of Russia’s current land-based missile force, and would seem to put a rough upper bound on the capabilities of China’s current and near-future land-mobile missiles, including the DF-41.
But with China’s 500-kg warhead, even just two warheads would take up most of the 1,000 kg payload. With two warheads on the missile, the missile would put the first warhead on the proper trajectory and you would only need the bus to maneuver the second warhead. In this case you could likely have a relatively light bus, but the total mass would still likely be 1,300-1,500 kg, which the Topol missiles could not carry without a decrease in range. (These missiles could carry two warheads with no bus, but the warheads would not be independently targetable in that case.)
I’ve seen some reports that say the DF-41 might be able to carry up to 10 warheads. But with China’s current warhead, that would lead to a total mass of about 10,000 kg, which is well above the payload of even the DF-5. In order to increase the number of warheads its mobile missiles could carry beyond one or two, China would need to significantly increase the payload capacity of its missiles well beyond that of the Topol-M, and/or develop and test a new warhead with a much smaller mass than its current small warhead.
If, for example, China designed, tested, and deployed a warhead with a mass of 200 kg—less than half of the mass of its current warhead—deploying five of these warheads and a bus would require a missile with a payload of about 2,000 kg. Neither step appears likely to happen soon.
The recent announcement that China has equipped some of its large DF-5 missiles to carry multiple warheads does not imply that China will be able to significantly expand the number of warheads it can deploy on missiles any time soon.
However, China might find it useful to add a small maneuvering bus to its mobile missiles to release decoys and other countermeasures along with the warhead, to defeat missile defenses. In this case the added mass of lightweight decoys and a small bus could be within the payload capacity of China’s mobile missiles. If the United States has observed flight tests of Chinese missiles that release multiple objects, these objects may be decoys rather than additional warheads.
Canada is a member of a coalition of twelve nations called the Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) that includes several countries, such as Japan, Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands, which are sometimes described as “nuclear umbrella” states because of their close consultations with the United States on U.S. nuclear weapons policy. They want to keep the requirement on de-alerting in the 2015 report. The NPDI submitted a working paper calling on all nuclear weapons states, including the United States, to take “concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems.”
U.S. Pressures Allies over De-Alerting
The United States is not happy with the NPDI working paper and is trying to bury it. There was no mention of the paper or de-alerting in Secretary Kerry’s statement to the NPT review conference or the U.S. joint statement with Japan, which founded the NPDI in 2010. Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, participated in a closed-door session at the United Nations with Greg Weaver, the principal director for nuclear and missile defense policy in the office of the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, where the two tried to explain why the United States thinks de-alerting is inadvisable.
Last Thursday, the Canadian delegation hosted a side event at the United Nations for delegates interested in discussing the de-alerting initiative and U.S. opposition. David Wright, the co-director of the Global Security Program at UCS, and Hans Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, helped NPT delegates understand the U.S. position on de-alerting, why it is unfounded, and how de-alerting can be done quickly, simply and safely in a way that increases the collective security of the United States and its allies.
Refusal to De-Alert Could Make a Bad Situation Worse
I focused on a new and unanticipated cost of the U.S. effort to maintain high alert levels: the possibility that China may adopt the same irresponsible hair-trigger mechanisms used by the United States. China currently keeps its nuclear weapons off alert but there are indications a new generation of Chinese military strategists, heavily influenced by U.S. approaches to nuclear deterrence, may convince the Chinese leadership to raise the alert level of China’s nuclear forces in response to perceived threats from the United States.
In my remarks, included below the photo, I argued that U.S. leaders can take steps, including de-alerting, that would encourage China’s leaders to reject the ill-considered advice of their military strategists and keep China’s nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.
Remarks Delivered at the NPT Review Conference
As we urge the United States and Russia to take their nuclear weapons off prompt alert, we also need to consider measures to help all nuclear weapons states keep their weapons off alert, especially states with much smaller nuclear arsenals.
China may provide a guide to the types of measures we should consider.
There are three reasons China deserves our consideration.
- The first is that China currently keeps its nuclear weapons off alert.
- The second is that China has articulated, for decades, concerns about trends in the development of conventional military technology that undermine international efforts to control, reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.
- The third is that China has sought, for decades, international negotiations in the UN Conference on Disarmament to arrest those trends.
China has a comparatively small nuclear arsenal. China will not say how small because it believes ambiguity on this question helps them keep it small.
But for comparative purposes, under the counting rules of the New Start Agreement between Russia and the United States, the total number of Chinese nuclear weapons would be zero.
This is because the New Start Agreement counts “deployed strategic warheads” rather than total warheads. Deployed is defined as “the number of reentry vehicles emplaced on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles and on deployed submarine launched ballistic missiles.”
At present, China is believed to keep its intercontinental ballistic missiles in a non-deployed mode with the warheads separated from the missiles. And China does not currently deploy submarine launched ballistic missiles.
So, compared to the other nuclear weapons states that are parties to the NPT, China maintains its nuclear weapons in a comparatively safe state. The risk of an accidental or inadvertent Chinese launch is comparatively low.
But that could change.
China’s military scholars recently published a study stating China needs a more flexible nuclear policy. A look at some of the statements from that study reveal cause for concern.
No first use remains an unshakable first principle. But Chinese military scholars see what they describe as “an increasingly complicated nuclear security environment.” And the primary complication is the United States, which they believe is
• Making China its primary strategic competitor
• Expanding its missile defense system in East Asia
• Developing new types of conventional weapons that can destroy China’s nuclear forces.
Chinese military scholars are especially concerned about what they call “the U.S. rapid global strike plan.” They believe that “once it becomes operational it can be used to attack our nuclear missile force, put us in a passive position, greatly influence our ability for nuclear retaliation and weaken the effectiveness of our deterrent.”
In the minds of China’s military scholars, this U.S. plan is emblematic of “developments in science and technology that blur the line between conventional and nuclear weapons.”
Missile defense, anti-satellite, space, cyber and conventional precision strike weapons are the most important.
And because the United States refuses to adopt a no first use policy Chinese military scholars worry that “a future informationalized (信息化) conventional war could develop into nuclear war.”
Chinese military concerns about the vulnerability of its nuclear forces present Chinese military scholars with the perceived need to suggest a solution.
This is not a new problem for China.
Chinese analysts have been thinking about the impacts of advanced conventional weapons on nuclear arms control for decades.
In the late 1970s Chinese researchers were warning that advances in conventional military technology would eventually undermine nuclear arms control agreements.
In the mid 1980s China responded to the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative by investing heavily in an effort to narrow an already widening gap between U.S. and Chinese military technology while simultaneously proposing international limitations on all military space technology.
China followed its experience as a victim of U.S. advanced conventional military technology in 1999 – the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade – by accelerating investment in military space technology and stepping up efforts to open negotiations on an international arms control agreement to restrict it.
Finally, in 2013, the Chinese military let the world know, in a widely read and highly regarded open source publication, it was considering raising the alert level of its nuclear forces in response to the continued unrestrained development and deployment of advanced conventional weapons.
The publication stated the Chinese military was considering responding to the perceived vulnerability of its nuclear forces by making preparations to be able to launch its nuclear-armed missiles after being warned of an incoming nuclear attack but before the attacking forces could destroy their targets.
That statement, from a committee of 35 military scholars from the Chinese Academy of Military Science, is not a definitive indication that China will, in fact, raise the alert level of its nuclear forces and move to a launch on warning posture.
Equipping its forces to implement launch on warning would not be easy, cheap or quick.
Earlier this week, in response to a question from a reporter for the Congressional Research Service, a former Chinese missile designer noted that China’s missiles were not designed to be kept on alert. Replacing them would be prohibitively expensive.
China is not known to have satellite, radar or other sensing systems that would allow it to detect or confirm an incoming nuclear attack.
And there is no evidence China’s missile forces are training to carry out this type of prompt launch operation.
So the statement by the Chinese Academy of Military Science is best interpreted as an aspirational goal or a suggestion for the Chinese Communist Party leadership to consider.
As they do, it will be interesting to see whether China’s leaders continue to chart their own course on nuclear policy, or whether they choose to follow in the footsteps of the United States.
A knowledgeable Chinese arms control expert recently confided, with amusement and concern, that some Chinese security experts are currently raising the following question during internal debates about Chinese nuclear policy: “The U.S. President carries around a nuclear football, why doesn’t our president? Shouldn’t China have its own nuclear football?”
A U.S. decision to de-alert its forces might change the tenor of that conversation.
A U.S. decision to participate in international negotiations on missile defense, space and conventional precision strike weapons might end it.
Regrettably, the United States decided to brush aside talk of de-alerting during this review conference, and it continues to brush aside Russian and Chinese concerns in the UN Conference on Disarmament.
China’s consideration of moving to launch on warning is a warning that the U.S. decision to ignore global calls to take its weapons off hair-trigger alert is not in the best interests of the United States, its allies, or the credibility of the NPT.
U.S. Air Force Lt. General Jay Raymond told the packed house of space enthusiasts that China was enemy number one. He claimed a July 2014 Chinese missile defense test was actually an anti-satellite test and that it was successful, although he offered no new information in support of either claim. U.S. officials are using the recent Chinese test to justify greater U.S. reliance on space weaponry to protect U.S. satellites.
You say tomato, I say 西红柿
Chinese interest in anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons is not new. A survey of Chinese publications contains analyses of U.S. and Soviet ASAT programs from the late 1970s. Interestingly, even these early Chinese studies view anti-satellite and missile defense as two applications of the same hit-to-kill technology. Researchers from the Air and Missile Defense Institute of China’s Air Force Engineering University expressed the same view in a paper published this March. These views are correct, of course. For example, in February 2008 the United States used a modified missile defense interceptor to shoot down a malfunctioning U.S. satellite.
After decades of research and development, China tested its own hit-to-kill interceptor in an ASAT mode in January 2007. The test obliterated one of China’s own satellites. Widespread international condemnation of the test, which created a large field of hazardous space debris, led China to begin sub-orbital testing of the interceptor, much like U.S. missile defense tests. China conducted what it described as missile defense tests of the interceptor in January 2010, January 2013 and July 2014.
The United States did not object to China’s descriptions of the 2010 and 2013 tests, so its decision to challenge China on the 2014 test is a cause for concern.
U.S. officials refuse to reveal why the 2014 test is different than the earlier two tests. China remains characteristically silent. In the absence of additional information neither description is convincing. But even if there were distinguishing characteristics that justify the ASAT label, it is hard to understand why China’s 2014 test suddenly justifies greater U.S. reliance on space weaponry.
Calling off talk of an international agreement
China has been requesting international negotiations on binding limits on space weapons since 1985. China currently has a proposal, submitted together with Russia, for negotiations in the UNCD on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The United States rejects the proposal on the grounds that it fails to address important U.S. concerns but it is unwilling to offer an alternative.
The Obama administration was willing to promote the voluntary norms proposed by the European Union in their International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. But the July 2014 Chinese test seems to mark a turn towards a more aggressive U.S. approach to space security emphasizing space deterrence, space control and “active defense”—a euphemism for space weaponry. U.S. space diplomacy is now more focused on rallying allies to contribute to a new U.S. effort to deter U.S. enemies in space, especially China.
Negotiating a space security treaty with China and Russia is no picnic. Both want an agreement that includes limitations on U.S. ballistic missile defense, which may be one reason the United States has consistently refused to engage in negotiations on space security within the UNCD. And since missile defense technology can be used to shoot down satellites, it is hard to conceive of a credible international ban on ASAT weapons that would not include restrictions on missile defenses.
After considerable expenditures and decades of development, the United States still does not have a credible missile defense and recent government and independent studies document its failures. It may be time for the United States to reconsider accepting limits on missile defense and to explore an international agreement that would prohibit attacks on satellites.
Negotiating a verifiable treaty to protect satellites from attack may be extremely difficult but at least it is possible. Defending satellites is not. They are inherently defenseless. Satellites are extremely fragile and cannot be hidden, maneuvered, or hardened against a physical attack to any meaningful degree.
Threatening to destroy enemy satellites in the hope of deterring an enemy attack in space is not the best approach to space deterrence and will lead to deploying space weaponry. Whatever the Chinese did in July 2014, a U.S. decision to favor this military option remains a poor strategic choice.
There are a number of practical steps the United States can take to make satellites less attractive targets and blunt the effect of a space attack, such as building redundancy into satellite systems and developing the ability to rapidly replace them. They can be hardened against electronic attack. If, as some people claim, satellites are an Achilles heel for the U.S., then that is very poor military planning and should be fixed.
Limiting the capabilities that countries have to carry out such attacks can strengthen this approach. A binding international agreement forbidding anti-satellite attacks would raise the strategic costs and lower the strategic benefits for any nation that chose to violate it.
The United States has much more to gain from negotiating a binding international agreement to protect U.S. satellites than it does from deploying the means to destroy Russian and Chinese satellites.
The good news is that both Russia and China are ready to open negotiations in the UNCD. Instead of seeing that as a ploy to somehow dupe the United States and its allies, the United States should take advantage of the offer, especially since it holds the potential to solve a serious U.S. security problem. Just because the United States does not like where the negotiations start does not mean that is where they must end up. That’s why they’re called negotiations.]]>
Article VI of the NPT requires Britain, France, Russia, the United States and China to “pursue negotiations in good faith” on “a treaty on general and complete disarmament.” But instead of negotiating, these five nuclear nations are investing heavily in modernizing their arsenals and making sure they can be kept in good working order for generations to come.
China’s nuclear modernization program receives more attention than the other four even though its several hundred nuclear weapons are technologically inferior to the many thousands of nuclear weapons held by the United States and Russia. It was the only program highlighted at this year’s iteration of the world’s largest non-governmental nuclear policy conference. An international panel of experts, including three technically trained specialists from China, discussed why China is modernizing its nuclear arsenal, despite its NPT obligations.
Chinese Nuclear Modernization a Response to U.S. Pressure
The Chinese panelists explicitly connected China’s nuclear modernization program to concerns about the United States. They explained that China is upgrading its small arsenal of delivery systems to ensure they are not vulnerable to a disarming U.S. first strike. They said that China is experimenting with multiple independent re-entry vehicle (MIRV) technology as a possible counter to U.S. ballistic missile defense. And they noted that China is investing in a stockpile stewardship program to ensure its nuclear weapons are “safe, secure and effective,” just like the United States is doing.
China’s nuclear posture remains the same as it has been since its first nuclear test in 1964. In a declaration immediately following that test China promises never to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states. It claims it will never, under any circumstances, be the first to use nuclear weapons, and that it will only use nuclear weapons to retaliate in response to a foreign nuclear attack. China also claims to be committed to complete nuclear disarmament.
The Chinese panelists implied that China believes its current nuclear modernization program is needed to guarantee its traditional nuclear posture remains viable in the face of massive U.S. investments in military modernization that could render the United States invulnerable to a Chinese retaliatory strike.
One significant change China may be considering is to place its nuclear forces on a higher level of alert. A 2013 book on Chinese military strategy written by a committee of Chinese military scholars claimed that China could, in response to increasing U.S. pressure, launch its retaliatory strike upon warning of an incoming nuclear attack. The Chinese panelists did not publicly comment on the proposed change, but privately expressed the opinion that a Chinese move to launch-on-warning is unlikely because it would require significant technological upgrades that China could not put in place anytime in the near future.
U.S. and Russian Reductions Not Enough to Discourage Chinese Modernization
Both the United States and Russia point to mutually agreed upon reductions in deployed nuclear weapons as a sign of their commitment to the NPT. But those reductions are not enough to convince China to participate in multilateral negotiations on deep nuclear cuts. Chinese analysts point out that the New Start Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, allows both parties to continue to deploy 1,550 nuclear weapons. One of the panelists noted (correctly) that according to the definition of “deployed” in the treaty, the current number of Chinese nuclear weapons would be zero. More importantly, the treaty allows both Russia and the United States to keep much larger numbers of nuclear warheads in reserve. A reliable non-governmental estimate indicates that the nuclear arsenals of both Russia and the United States are still, despite the treaty, nearly 20 times larger than China’s.
But this disparity in numbers may be less relevant to Chinese thinking about the need for nuclear modernization than Chinese perceptions of ongoing U.S. efforts to develop new military capabilities the United States could use to launch a preemptive attack against Chinese nuclear forces. As the Japanese panelist at the conference noted, the United States is unwilling to accept vulnerability to a Chinese retaliatory strike. While the United States regularly attempts to reassure China that the development of what it calls “conventional precision global strike” (CPGS) capabilities are not intended to threaten its nuclear forces, Chinese nuclear strategists are not convinced. The Chinese panelists noted that the primary focus of Chinese nuclear modernization is to increase the mobility of China’s nuclear forces so that they cannot be so easily targeted by advanced U.S. weapons.
The Nuclear Arms Race 2.0
The frenetic stockpiling of large numbers of nuclear weapons ended with the Cold War. But there is a new nuclear arms race underway: a race for improved quality rather than increased quantity.
The United States, for example, plans to develop a new nuclear warhead, despite a public U.S. assurance to the contrary. Although the Obama administration argues the new nuclear warhead makes deeper reductions in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile easier to achieve, other nations—nuclear and non-nuclear—could see it as a violation of the spirit of NPT. The plans for a new warhead are part of a massive new investment in the U.S. nuclear infrastructure, which the Obama administration promised to the U.S. Senate during its debate on the ratification of the New Start agreement with Russia. In exchange for lower numbers of deployed weapons, U.S. nuclear weapons advocates demanded—and received—assurances there will be a virtually indefinite perpetuation of U.S. nuclear modernization. In the words of Gary Samore, who spearheaded President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summits from 2009 to 2013, “Nuclear disarmament is not going to happen. It’s a fantasy. We need our weapons for our safety, and we’re not going to give them up.”
Prof. Wu Riqiang, a former missile engineer and one of the Chinese panelists at the conference, noted that in addition to concerns about the vulnerability of China’s existing nuclear forces, a second driver of China’s nuclear modernization program is the desire to keep pace with U.S. military technology. China may not be not engaged in a traditional nuclear arms race with the United States, and may not deploy some of the military capabilities it is developing, such as MIRV and missile defense technologies, but China does not want to be left behind or surprised by the emergence of new military capabilities that could undermine its effort to maintain a credible ability to retaliate in response to a U.S. nuclear attack.
If the Chinese panelists accurately reflect the thinking of China’s decision-makers, China is modernizing its nuclear arsenal in response to continuing U.S. efforts to further advance both nuclear and conventional military technologies. Although both countries claim to remain committed to the long-term goal of nuclear disarmament, they are both engaged in a technological competition that keeps pushing that goal farther into the future.
This is certain to be unwelcome news to the 178 non-nuclear weapons states waiting for China and the United States to finally live up to their obligations under the NPT.]]>
They have been piecing together information about China’s Korla Missile Test Complex, which appears to be the base where China has launched interceptors for several recent missile defense tests. They are posting their analysis today at armscontrolwonk.
The question they had for me was whether data they had found on China’s January 27, 2013 missile defense test was consistent with an interceptor launch from the Korla site. That could be checked by modeling the flights of the interceptor and target missiles in the test and seeing if they could intercept at the time and altitude reported in the press. That’s what I looked at.
From scouring press reports, Catherine and Jeffrey collected information about the test. They believe the target missile was launched from the Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center (40.9622°N 100.2888E). The target missile is called a CSS-X-11 medium range missile in western reports.
The SC-19 interceptor was launched from Korla (41.5377°N, 86.3721°E), lifting off 2 minutes and 42 seconds after the target was launched.
The intercept reportedly occurred at an altitude of about 250 km, some 7 minutes and 31 seconds after the target launch.
At Jeffrey’s suggestion, I modeled the target missile roughly on the DF-16/CSS-11 Mod 1 missile. I assumed a one-stage solid-fueled missile with a maximum range of 800 km if flown on a minimum-energy trajectory.
The SC-19 interceptor booster is thought to be a variant of the CSS-5/DF-21. For this analysis I assumed a two-stage solid-fueled missile with a maximum range of 2,000 km.
The launch sites for the two missiles are 1,170 km apart. My computer model calculates the flyout trajectories with a round earth and realistic atmosphere.
I assumed that the target missile was fired in the direction of interceptor launch point, so that both trajectories lay in the vertical plane that includes both launch sites. Given the times above, the target missile was launched at t = 0, the interceptor was launched at t = 162 s, and the intercept occurred at t = 451 s.
Fig. 1 shows two trajectories of both the target (red) and interceptor (blue), launched with different burnout angles. The dots represent 30-second intervals, and the times marked are relative to the time of launch of the target missile.
What this shows is that the two bold trajectories can intercept at a time of about 451 s (marked by the dark circle), at an altitude of 300 km and a range of 700 km from the interceptor launch site. The relative speed between the two objects at intercept is about 5 km/s.
The circles on the two lower trajectories show where the two objects are at 451 s. Both are at an altitude of 250 km, but they have passed each other. It would likely be possible to have the intercept occur at 250 km altitude if either or both of the missiles are somewhat slower (i.e., shorter range) than I have assumed. It appears from the figure that the intercept would still occur at a range of 600-800 km.
Another possibility is that the target missile was not fired directly toward the interceptor launch site so that intercept did not occur in a plane. If you imagine rotating the two lower trajectories somewhat out of the plane, you could arrange for these two missiles to intercept at 250 km altitude and still at 451 s. The intercept would still occur at a range of about 700 km from the interceptor launch site. This would allow an intercept at about 250 km altitude with the missile models I have assumed.
While a number of estimates go into this calculation, it adds confidence to the story Catherine and Jeffrey are putting together about Korla.
The UCS paper examines the key references to nuclear weapons and policy contained in the recently updated edition of The Science of Military Strategy, an authoritative text published in December 2013 by the Chinese Academy of Military Science (AMS). The book presents the Chinese military’s views on nuclear deterrence, nuclear war, and nuclear arms control with unprecedented clarity, especially compared to previous editions. It provides an internal Chinese assessment of the effectiveness of China’s nuclear forces and how the Chinese military intends to use them. The book also discusses the influence of U.S. policies on China’s nuclear strategy.
The Science of Military Strategy reaffirms that nuclear weapons continue to play a very limited role in Chinese military strategy. Their sole purpose is to deter other nuclear-armed states from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China. In the words of the authors:
As it has been for a long time, the objective of China’s development and utilization of nuclear weapons is concentrated on preventing enemy nations from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against us.
The text also clarifies Chinese military views on three key aspects of Chinese nuclear weapons policy relevant both to neighboring non-nuclear weapons states concerned about the possibility of China using its nuclear weapons to influence the outcome of territorial disputes and to U.S. military planners worried about a Chinese nuclear response to a conventional U.S. attack. It states that:
1. China will not use nuclear weapons to attack or threaten non-nuclear states,
2. China will not use nuclear weapons to respond to conventional attacks; and
3. China will use nuclear weapons only after it has confirmed an incoming nuclear attack.
Chinese military strategists are increasingly worried about potential losses in a first strike from a less restrained adversary with a larger nuclear arsenal. The text indicates the Chinese military plans to address that anxiety, if necessary, by launching its retaliatory nuclear strike upon warning of an incoming nuclear attack:
When conditions are prepared and when necessary, we can, under conditions confirming the enemy has launched nuclear missiles against us, before the enemy nuclear warheads have reached their targets and effectively exploded, before they have caused us actual nuclear damage, quickly launch a nuclear missile retaliatory strike. This is in accord with our guiding policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and can effectively avoid having our nuclear forces suffer great losses, raising the ability of our nuclear missiles to survive and retaliate.
The text does not specify how the PLA plans to confirm an incoming nuclear attack, although it does indicate the PLA intends to field new early warning capabilities. There is no discussion of the strategic challenges associated with a decision to launch on warning, particularly the risk of an accidental or erroneous launch either due to false or ambiguous warning, technical problems or damage to the early warning systems, or poor judgment.
The Science of Military Strategy indicates the Chinese military now sees itself as the target of a major adjustment in U.S. national security strategy. It characterizes the Obama administration’s use of the term “rebalance” in the harshest possible terms:
The United States is strengthening traditional military alliance relationships and establishing new strategic partnership relations with the aim of building around the land mass of Asia a massive naval alliance system to realize the strategic need to contain China’s rise.
As a consequence, the Chinese military identifies the United States as the most important factor in China’s nuclear security environment:
The United States is making China its principal strategic opponent and is intensifying construction of a missile defense system in the East Asia region, creating increasingly serious effects on the reliability and effectiveness of a Chinese retaliatory nuclear attack.
Missile defenses are not the only concern. Chinese strategists also believe new U.S. conventional military capabilities could significantly weaken China’s nuclear deterrent:
The United States is currently putting into effect a plan for a conventional “rapid global strike” which, as soon as it becomes an actual combat capability, used to carry out a conventional attack against our nuclear missile forces, will put us in a passive position, greatly influencing our nuclear retaliatory capability, weakening the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent.
The Obama administration’s positive public characterization of the U.S. – China Strategic Security Dialogue is at odds with the deep-seated anxieties about the anticipated trajectory of U.S. – China relations expressed in The Science of Military Strategy. While nuclear weapons continue to play a marginal role in Chinese military planning, perceived U.S. efforts to negate China’s nuclear deterrent are pushing the Chinese military to adjust its nuclear strategy in ways that appear to be destabilizing. The most alarming is a Chinese decision to rely on early warning technologies that increase the possibility of an accidental or erroneous Chinese launch of a nuclear missile in a crisis.
The negative impact of current U.S. policies on U.S. – China relations, especially continued U.S. investments in ballistic missile defenses and conventional prompt global strike, may be higher than the Obama administration is willing or able to recognize. The U.S. “rebalance” in Asia appears to be dangerously out of balance, and a source of increasing strategic instability with China.]]>
An outstanding investigative journalist and the author of a well-documented book on the troubled history of the U.S. Read More]]>
An outstanding investigative journalist and the author of a well-documented book on the troubled history of the U.S. nuclear weapons program mistook fiction for fact when commenting on the history of China’s nuclear program in a November 2014 editorial, writing:
“During the Cultural Revolution in China, members of the red guards launched a missile with a nuclear warhead on a flight path over populated areas – an extremely risky and perhaps unauthorised launch.”
China did conduct this risky test on 27 October 1966. But the nuclear-armed missile was not launched by red guards. It was authorized by Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai, supervised by General Nie Rongzhen—the military officer in charge of China’s nuclear weapons program— and certified as technologically feasible by Qian Xuesen, the founding director of the U.S. Joint Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who returned to China from the U.S. after being accused of espionage during the McCarthy era.
The journalist was misled by questionable information in a recently published case study of China’s nuclear command and control system. The study claims the radical politics of the Cultural Revolution was the decisive factor in a red guard inspired push by the newly-formed Second Artillery—China’s missile force—to conduct the October 1966 test.
But that claim is wrong, according to publicly available Chinese histories..
Instead, preparations to conduct the test began after a meeting of the Central Military Commission at its headquarters in the Western Hills of Beijing in early 1966. During the meeting all of the key technical institutions involved in China’s nuclear and missile programs presented information on the feasibility of conducting a successful test of a nuclear warhead mated to a modified version of China’s DF-2 missile. The decision to go forward with the test was taken in a meeting chaired by Premier Zhou Enlai and held in the Xinjiang Room of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 11 March 1966, five months before the Cultural Revolution started.
Poor Use of Sources
The sole reference the case study associates with the sensational claim that Chinese red guards conducted an unauthorized test of a nuclear-armed Chinese missile is a 1985 article published in the Beijing Review. But in fact, the article—an excerpt from General Nie Rongzhen’s autobiography—says exactly the opposite.
Nie, whose leadership of the nuclear weapons program was challenged by the radicals in the labs, indicates there was a careful and deliberate process leading to Mao and Zhou’s authorization to conduct the test. In addition to this article, numerous Chinese language histories of the nuclear program tell the same story. The case study does not reference any of them in support of the claim about the effect of radical Chinese politics on Chinese views of nuclear weapons. It is an oversight that is difficult to understand, especially since these histories are well known and generally accepted as credible both inside and outside of China.
The case study claims the radicals wanted to “accelerate the nuclear weapons program.” However, Chinese historical accounts indicate the leadership’s primary concern was that the radicals would delay it.
This is especially true in the case of the October 1966 test. The histories show that the outbreak of Cultural Revolution political activities within the various departments working on the nuclear program started just as preparations to conduct the test were entering their final phase. The case study mentions the radical activity in Qinghai, and suggests that ideological debates related to the pace of the nuclear weapons program led to unauthorized efforts to accelerate a test that was already imminent. But the Chinese histories tell a very different story. They indicate the officials in charge of China’s nuclear program were concerned that red guards might commandeer the train scheduled to carry the nuclear warheads from Qinghai to the test site, and in doing so delay the scheduled test indefinitely. Red Guards had begun commandeering trains all over China and the leadership of the facility in Qinghai where the warheads were stored called Premier Zhou Enlai to implore him to take efforts to prevent the red guards from taking the Qinghai train.
General Nie was concerned that other logistical problems associated with the politics of the Cultural Revolution might delay not only the October 1966 test but the upcoming test of the hydrogen bomb. Nie also contacted Premier Zhou Enlai to obtain an order preventing various types of red guard activities within the nuclear complex, including putting up big character posters, conducting struggle sessions and engaging in mass public protests against supposed counterrevolutionaries. The emphasis throughout was on preserving order and discipline within the labs and the military so that Cultural Revolution activities would not disrupt the nuclear weapons program.
So not only does the case study fail to provide any documentation to support the claim that the red guards tried to accelerate the nuclear program by conducting an unauthorized test, the available sources, when examined, show that the Chinese political leadership, and the leadership of the nuclear weapons program, were forced to take extraordinary measures to prevent the red guards from derailing it.
Putting the Chinese People at Risk
The most recent historical account of China’s nuclear weapons program is a 2011 work called “Fate of the Nation: The Secret Course of China’s Liang Dan Yi Xing.” Authors Tao Chun and Chen Huaiguo offer their version of the standard Chinese explanation behind the Communist Party leadership’s decision to conduct a risky test of a nuclear-armed missile in October of 1966:
After China’s first nuclear weapons test, the United States tightened its complete blackmail and strategic encirclement against China, enlarging the scale of the Vietnam War, and organizing the so-called crescent moon of military bases encircling the eastern Pacific coast like a sickle hanging over China’s head. At the same time the Americans intoxicatedly believed that Sino-Soviet relations were changing and that the situation demanded the Soviets carry out a crushing preemptive nuclear attack while China still had not completely mastered the practical ability to use nuclear weapons.
In truth the Soviet threat to China was equally great. In 1963, after China and the Soviet Union completely broke relations, the Soviets moved their armies into Mongolia and were on the border of Inner Mongolia on a line to Beijing just over 500 kilometers away, with strategic nuclear forces deployed in Central Mongolia and along the Chinese-Soviet border to the east, posing a serious threat to China.
After China’s first nuclear weapons test, the West thought it was just a nuclear demonstration, still not a weapon, and not something to make a fuss about. This led Chinese leaders to feel that in the past they didn’t have hard enough stuff and they couldn’t straighten their spine, and now with nuclear bombs they still could not take a breath. Because if all you have is a nuclear bomb, that won’t do, it still isn’t a weapon, it does not have eyes, have long legs, know how to run— so all you can do is blow up yourself with it, no? Therefore, whether or not we could quickly possess a useable nuclear weapon became a question of life or death.
On 14 May 1965 a Hong 6 aircraft dropped a nuclear weapon at the nuclear test site and this test of an airborne nuclear weapon was a success, demonstrating once and for all that China possessed a nuclear weapon that could be used in a war. However, all of the aircraft China could use were backward, and any U.S. or Soviet fighter could easily intercept them. Considering China’s practical conditions at the time, relying on the quantity or quality of the aircraft available to China for a nuclear deterrent was naturally a non-starter. This is also to say developing a nuclear-armed missile was a road China must walk.
The Americans believed China could not master nuclear missile technology in a short period of time. At the time U.S. Secretary of Defense McNamara predicted it would be five years before China would have a nuclear-armed missile. Why did he say that? Because it took the United States twelve years from their first nuclear test to launch a nuclear-armed missile, and about the same amount of time for the Soviet Union, so for China to use ten years to develop the same seemed normal. In five years they certainly could not. This, fundamentally, was the U.S. prediction.
Considering all this, with research on the hydrogen bomb proceeding at the same time, the test of a missile armed with a nuclear weapon made it on to the agenda of the Specialized Committee…
The following clip from a 1999 film produced by the August 1st Movie Production Studio of the People’s Liberation Army offers the same basic story of the events leading up to the test.
It is misleading to downplay the sense of urgency behind the Chinese leadership’s decision to conduct the October 1966 test with claims about the ideological influences of the Cultural Revolution. Portraying the decision to conduct the test as the intemperate push of radicals obscures the motivations driving the Chinese leadership’s decision to put their own population at risk. The test was conducted over populated areas because there were no other viable options available to the Chinese leadership at that time. They could not, as the United States did, conduct such a test over the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. Zhou Enlai, at the end of the 11 March meeting that authorized the October 1966 test, admitted that if the worst happened it would be a crime against the Chinese people. But he also realized, along with everyone else in attendance, that despite all their best efforts there was a real risk of catastrophic failure. As authors Tao and Chen relate, “The meeting ended. There was no clapping, and the attendees’ faces were full of imposition as they quietly left the meeting place.”
These people knew they were creating a risk of an accidental nuclear explosion over populated areas of their own country. That seems more deserving of our concern and consideration today, as the United States negotiates with China on the possibility of nuclear reductions, than imagining the October 1966 test was the reckless act of a bunch of unauthorized Chinese radicals.
The Need for More Careful U.S. Scholarship on China’s Nuclear Program
Of course, all of the histories published in China are subject to question. The archived original sources on which they are based are not open to scrutiny, even to trusted researchers currently working in China’s nuclear weapons labs. State-authorized histories of China nuclear weapons program are not objective chronicles of events conducted by dispassionate academics. There are, most likely, quite a few details about the history of China’s nuclear weapons program that will not be known until the Chinese government decides to open its archives to independent scholars.
Nevertheless, in the meantime, U.S. analysts who make claims to expertise about that history are obliged to consult everything that is available and to present what they find as accurately and honestly as possible. Sensational claims in particular require careful vetting and full documentation. Without it, scholars who are less familiar with that history and unable to read Chinese language sources are easily led astray. More importantly, U.S. decision-makers who rely upon the expertise of U.S. analysts inside and outside of government need to know the information about China’s nuclear weapons program those analysts produce is credible.]]>
Since its establishment in October 2000, the commission has been unduly influenced by domestic political debates over U.S. China policy. The USCC appears to have adopted a position in those debates, which inhibits its ability to provide objective and reliable information.
A History of Mistrust
The commission was created in the waning days of the Clinton administration at the suggestion of the late Senator Robert Byrd on behalf of a group of Senators who opposed the Clinton administration’s push to grant China permanent normal trade relations. By making normal trade relations permanent, Clinton put an end to fourteen years of increasingly acrimonious annual debates within the Congress on the negative consequences of expanding U.S. trade with China. Byrd saw creating the USCC as a way of continuing those debates. In the conference report for the legislation that created the USCC, Byrd lent his venerable voice to a rising tide of congressional mistrust in the executive branch’s assessment of U.S.—China relations.
“Let’s have some group that will advise the Congress as to what impact the trade engaged in by China with the United States might have on our national security. We are not depending upon the administration. We are not depending upon the executive branch. We have a commission that will advise the Congress so that we will know, we will have some idea as to what the impact on national security is of this permanent normal trade relations legislation.”
At the time of the vote Congress was investigating a variety of concerns about the Clinton administration’s China policy. A select committee of the House chaired by Congressman Christopher Cox had recently issued a report accusing China of exploiting commercial ties with U.S. satellite manufacturers to steal information that could improve the accuracy of its ballistic missiles, and of using official exchanges between the U.S. and Chinese nuclear weapons laboratories to obtain data it used to modernize the warheads those missiles carried. Some political opponents of the administration, like New York Times columnist William Safire, accused President Clinton of selling these military secrets to the Chinese for campaign contributions. Administration supporters, like Senator Byrd, simply doubted the President’s judgment, and felt that Congress needed an independent source of reliable information in order to come to its own conclusions.
But the way the USCC was formed and operated compromised its objectivity. Democrats appointed commissioners inclined to oppose or restrict trade with China and Republicans appointed commissioners who were already convinced China was a serious security threat. Several years after the USCC was established a democratic commissioner told UCS that the Democrats on the USCC generally deferred to their Republican counterparts on security issues and the Republicans usually left the economic issues to the Democrats. The USCC quickly became a platform for China skeptics in both parties to challenge various aspects of U.S. engagement with the communist regime. Since the commissioners already held strong opinions on the issues they cared about, they tended to collect data that supported those opinions while ignoring countervailing evidence. And because they felt their pro-engagement opponents dominated the stream of China-related information coming from the executive branch, the USCC never seriously questioned this practice. They seemed to feel their role was to act as a counterweight to U.S. advocates of pro-engagement policies, rather than to provide objective information.
Byrd eventually became disillusioned with the USCC. It was never the independent source of reliable information he intended it to be. His staff told UCS the late senator tried to reform the commission, on multiple occasions, but ultimately failed to alter its role as a platform for critics of engagement.
Because the commission’s conclusions have become predictable, the USCC’s annual reports lack credibility. Many policy-makers, both in the executive and in Congress, have told UCS repeatedly that the commission has no substantive impact on U.S. China policy. Ironically, the reports it produces appear to be clouded by the same aura of mistrust the commission was originally created to dispel.
Some of the claims on the supposedly rapid expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal that appear in this year’s report are likely to further undermine the commission’s reputation.
Questionable Use of Sources on China’s Nuclear Arsenal
USCC annual reports are filled with copious footnotes that give it the appearance of a well-researched paper. But the notes can be deceiving. There is a telling example in a footnote related to claims about China’s nuclear arsenal.
Pages 301-302 of this year’s report contain the following claim:
“By the end of 2014, the PLA Navy’s JIN SSBN probably will conduct its first patrol while armed with the JL–2 submarine-launched ballistic missile. China also is developing its next-generation SSBN and submarine-launched ballistic missile, called the Type 096 SSBN and the JL–3, respectively. The new SSBN likely will feature improved stealth over its predecessor, the JIN, which is a very noisy submarine and could be vulnerable to U.S. and Japanese antisubmarine capabilities. Additionally, the new submarine-launched ballistic missile probably will have a longer range and be more lethal than the JL–2.”
Footnote 71, which appears at the end of this paragraph, supposedly substantiates these claims. But unlike a well-researched paper, the note contains a list of sources but does not identify which sources support the various claims contained in the footnoted paragraph. That makes it difficult for readers to check.
But worse than that, the more authoritative sources listed in footnote 71 don’t support the claims made in the paragraph. They contradict them.
The first listed source cannot be checked. It is an interview conducted by the commission with J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based journalist. The second source is an article titled China’s Transition to a More Credible Nuclear Deterrent, written by Michael Chase and published in the July 2013 edition of the academic journal Asia Policy. The author is an Associate Professor in the Warfare Analysis and Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College who has written extensively on China nuclear weapons program. In the cited article Prof. Chase notes that “although the new Jin-class submarines have started entering service with the [Chinese Navy], China has not yet completed development of the JL-2.” That contradicts the USCC’s “judgment” that the submarines could begin patrols within the next few months “while armed with the JL-2.”
Footnote 71 also cites an earlier article by Professor Chase that mentions the claims about the Type 096 SSBN and the JL-3—the new missile the new submarine will supposedly carry. He mentions it in the other cited article as well. But both times he does so with considerable skepticism. After detailing all of the problems China encountered in decades of effort directed at deploying a sea-based nuclear deterrent, Chase and co-author Benjamin S. Purser III note that there are “media reports in Taiwan” that “suggest” China “eventually may develop and deploy a follow-on SSBN and SLBM combination.” The USCC report removes all doubt and asserts China “is developing its next-generation SSBN and submarine-launched ballistic missile.” Chase and Purser paint a picture of slow, halting “gradual progress” in China’s nuclear-armed submarine program, not a rapid build-up. Moreover, the authors emphasize there are a number of “unanswered questions” about how China plans to deploy its nuclear-armed submarines when it finally “resolves its technical difficulties with the JL-2.” Chase and Purser cite several sources that question “whether the [Chinese Navy] will conduct routine peacetime deterrence patrols with nuclear weapons.” The USCC, however, makes it appear as if China is going to place the subs on armed patrols any day now.
The other sources in footnote 71 are the “Taiwan media reports” mentioned by Chase and Purser. The first is a February 2013 op-ed by Tseng Fu-sheng published on-line by WantChinaTimes.com, the English news website of the Taiwan based China Times News Group. Tseng leads with the claims about the new submarine and missile but gives no indication whatsoever about the source of these claims. The second is an 23 May 2011 article in the Taipei Times by J. Michael Cole, the same person identified earlier in the footnote as the subject of a USCC interview. In that article Mr. Cole calls into question a 2011 report from UCS on the status and evolution of China’s nuclear arsenal. Cole’s critique is essentially an interview with Richard Fisher, who has a long-term relationship with the USCC originating in his role as a senior staff member of same select House committee, chaired by Congressman Christopher Cox, that played a role in Byrd’s decision to create the USCC. Cole repeats the claims about the new Chinese submarine and missile but, as in the other Taiwan media report, gives no indication of the source.
The final citation in footnote 71 is an August 2009 report from the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. The USCC cites page 22 of the report, which is a graphic on noise reductions in Chinese submarines. But the Type 096 SSBN, which the USCC report claims will be quieter than China’s existing nuclear-armed submarines, does not appear on the graphic, or anywhere else in the ONI report.
Had the USCC been doing its job it would have tried to identify the source and credibility of what could be very important information about a new Chinese SSBN and SLBM. But it didn’t. It simply collected the sensational and unsubstantiated claims repeated by a pair of Taiwan-based journalists, mixed them in with a few citations of related works by serious U.S. scholars that, when examined, raise questions about those claims, and then released this unsubstantiated information in its annual report to Congress. Despite all the footnotes, the USCC conducted no original research that could help Congress evaluate these claims.
The Value of an Extra Hour of Effort
To see what useful information about this issue is available and could have been found by USCC researchers, I did a quick search on the internet. Here’s what I found in about an hour.
My search revealed the claims about the new Chinese SSBN and SLBM have been circulating for more than six years. A 3 March 2008 article on NTI’s Global Security Newswire (GSN) mentions the submarine claims and links them to a 29 February 2008 story by Andrei Chang, the editor-in-chief of the Kanwa Information Center (KWIC), a Hong Kong-based news service registered in Canada. The NTI article states China released pictures of the new sub but does not provide a link to the images. A Google search for the images returns a few drawings but no images linked to an official Chinese source.
I also found that Thomas M. Skypek, while working as a fellow for the National Review Institute, cited a 5 April 2008 article by Chang as his source for the submarine claims in a 23 November 2010 paper published by CSIS titled China’s Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrent in 2020: Four Alternative Futures for China’s SSBN Fleet. A Google search on the link provided by Skypek reveals that Chang’s claims about the new submarine and missile have been cited in numerous U.S. studies over the past six years that do not appear in footnote 71 of the USCC report. Curiously, when that same link is entered into the address line of a web browser it returns an empty page on the UPIAsia website. A search on the title provided by Skypek returns equally disappointing results. But after a little hunting and pecking I was able to find Chang’s oft-cited article, which was published a day earlier on UPI’s main website under a less alarming title that did not contain the word “rising” after the words “China’s nuclear stockpile.” Chang identifies the source of the images mentioned in the earlier GSN article as coming from “China Central Television,” but he does not provide a link to the source.
Politics Trumps Substance
China may be developing a new submarine and a new missile for it to carry, and understanding the details could be important. I plan to follow up on my initial hour of searching to see if I can locate the source of the six-year old claims about China’s new nuclear submarines, which appear to be based on a few pictures in an old CCTV news report. The Pentagon’s most recent Annual Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China also asserted China is developing the new submarine but did not provide any supporting references. Curiously, the USCC failed to cite the Pentagon report in footnote 71. This could be due to the USCC’s original mandate, which was to provide reliable information to Congress that does not rely upon the executive branch. Or it might be a manifestation of the USCC’s historical origins in the acrimonious debates that have punctuated Congressional involvement in U.S. China policy in recent decades.
Whatever the reason, the USCC should work to correct the deficiencies in its research methods as soon as possible.]]>