More questions on the testimony of the Strategic Commands Congress on China
More questions on the testimony of the Strategic Commands Congress on China

More questions on the testimony of the Strategic Commands Congress on China

The United States and China appear to be launching a new nuclear arms race. Admiral Richard, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress that it is already well under way and that the United States risks falling behind.

Unfortunately, his assessment of the US-China nuclear balance and his proposals for improving it are based on dubious characteristics of China’s nuclear weapons program. If Congress accepts them, it is likely to respond in ways that will increase the danger China’s nuclear weapons pose to the United States.

Pots and kettles

The first is the commander’s claim that Chinese statements about when and why China can use or threaten to use nuclear weapons are “opaque.” It’s a strange statement when you consider that US leaders seem far less willing to delineate US options for nuclear use.

On the day of its first nuclear test in 1964, the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) committed that “never at any time and under any circumstances be the first to use nuclear weapons.” It continues to repeat this commitment in official statements on Chinese nuclear weapons policy. The US government, on the other hand, is reluctant to say whether it will use nuclear weapons first in a conflict and prefers to keep opponents from guessing.

In addition, authoritative Chinese military texts explicitly state Chinese nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation after China has been attacked with nuclear weapons. They are well aware that Chinese nuclear weapons “will not be used to deter the military activity of the non-nuclear enemy.” Compare that to Richard’s February 2021 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, when he said the United States could use nuclear weapons to deter “a strategic non-nuclear attack on our vital interests.”

Which government’s policy on the use of nuclear weapons is more opaque?

The problem is not that Chinese nuclear policy is unclear, it is that US officials do not believe in it. Last February Richard told The Senate he “could drive a truck” through alleged holes in China’s “no first use” policy. U.S. officials are entitled to their doubts about Chinese truth. But it is misleading to claim, as Richard did in his recent testimony to house managers, that Chinese nuclear policy is purposefully vague, or that U.S. declaratory policy is more transparent.

Strategic hyperbolas

Another dubious claim in Richard’s recent testimony is that “The strategic security environment is now a three-party nuclear-peer reality.” The three nuclear peers he identifies are the United States, Russia and China. But a comparison between apples and apples does not justify describing China as an equal nuclear power in the United States.

The biggest and most obvious difference is in the number of American and Chinese nuclear warheads.

China can double the size of its nuclear stockpile, as Richard claims it will, and the United States will still maintain an advantage of more than 7 to 1. But there is also a huge and important difference in US and Chinese funds to supply these warheads, reinforcing the hyperbola in Richard’s testimony to Congress.

Richard’s congressional testimony suggests that because China can supply nuclear warheads at sea, on land and in the air; because it also has what is called a “nuclear triad,” this creates a kind of strategic equality with the United States. But the air and sea legs of the Chinese triad are minimal by comparison.

An American Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine carries 24 missiles, and each missile can carry up to eight nuclear warheads. Two of these submarines can deliver more nuclear warheads to targets in China than all three legs of the Chinese nuclear triad can deliver. The United States has 14 of them. US aircraft can deliver up to 54 times more nuclear warheads than Chinese aircraft.

Richard might think stored American warheads do not count. But China is holding back almost all of its nuclear warheads storage, so a statement excl. stored warheads would put the total Chinese figure close to zero. Richard may also include U.S. restrictions under the new START agreement in his comparison of U.S. and Chinese capabilities. But his assessment and his request for more funding are both based on future expectations. They are also based on warheads and delivery vehicles that China does not have, and perhaps still does not, build. Moreover, Chinese future expectations can assume that the new START agreement, which expires in 2026, will hardly be extended.

No matter how you divide the numbers, China is not a “nuclear peer” of the United States and is not about to become one in the foreseeable future.

Undocumented speculation

The most worrying claim in Richard’s recent testimony is that China “will increase the role of nuclear weapons in its defense strategies.” Unfortunately, he offered no supporting evidence in his public statement, other than to say that China now has a “survivable nuclear triad.”

It’s hard to imagine how someone with Admiral Richard’s background could think that the small air and sea ships in China’s triad are so robust. The six submarines carrying China’s 72 submarine-firing nuclear missiles are noisy and easy to track, which may be why they do not go on routine armed patrols. And it is highly unlikely that China’s 20 air-fired nuclear weapons or the planes that supply them could survive a serious US attempt to prevent them from destroying them.

Richard offered a few more details in a 2020 discussion with journalists. He said updates to Chinese delivery systems are what “you have to look at” to see if China will use nuclear weapons for purposes other than retaliation. He said the JL-3 was a “good example”. It is a submarine-fired missile, which is still under development and which can fly 2,000 km further than the JL-2 missile, which China launched in 2015.

The Admiral believes the development of the JL-3 is a “watershed moment” because it allows China “to directly threaten our homeland from a ballistic missile submarine.” But so could JL-2 from a Pacific patrol west of Hawaii. Perhaps Richard considered Chinese submarines easy to find in the high seas, which is why he sees it as a game to be able to shoot up from the shallower and congested sea closer to the shores of China, where a noisy submarine can hide or be protected. changing development.

Even if you think the JL-3 provides a new Chinese capability, how does a longer range indicate that China would launch the new missile for purposes other than retaliation? And how does it prove, as Richard claims, that the United States has “no margin leftIn a new nuclear arms race with China forcing Congress to ‘recapitalize our strategic triad?’

Last thoughts

Nuclear war planning can create an understandable but disabling suspicion that impairs the judgment of people who take on this psychologically stressful responsibility.

In the very early days of the Cold War, when the United States had a 17 to 1 advantage in the number of nuclear weapons over the Soviet Union, US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argued that the United States could maintain this advantage through nuclear control agreements, beginning with restrictions on testing. Each member of the joint chiefs of staff opposed a test ban. They claimed that the Soviets would cheat by testing their weapons on the other side of the moon. McNamara told them “You’re about to stop, it’s absurd.”

Admiral Richard’s sensational mischaracterization of the nuclear balance between the United States and China may be a product of the same tortured mindset. The next best explanation is that he deliberately exploits US concerns about China to get Congress to spend more money on new nuclear weapons.

If we learned anything from the Cold War, it is that no one will ever win a nuclear arms race. Congress should remember that before deciding to fund another one. The only rational approach to the problem of nuclear war is dialogue and negotiations between nuclear-armed opponents, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.