The vice commander of the U.S. Strategic Command told a Mitchell Institute nuclear seminar forum on August 27 that China may replace Russia as the top nuclear-capable adversary of the United States. Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere said he was concerned about the recent discovery that China is building up to four hundred new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) silos in Western China. This construction could be completed within the next two to four years if it is done at a pace not unlike that of the United States when it constructed its original Minuteman ICBMs. The missile slated for deployment in these silos would be the Chinese Dongfeng-41, which can carry six to ten warheads.
When is the crossover point? Is it when China actually deploys more nuclear weapons than Russia? “We believe, in the next few years,” Bussiere said. While the two nations have differing national objectives, there are indications that those nations are “cooperating across different spectrums and presenting a cooperative deterrence model,” he said.
Bussiere noted that “both China and Russia have the ability to unilaterally escalate a conflict to any level of violence in any domain, in any geographic location, at any time, with any instrument of their national power . . . we haven’t faced a . . . global situation like that in 30-plus years,” according to the Air Force Association’s John Tirpak. And while China will soon exceed Russia force capability, “there is no framework under which to negotiate arms limits with China, and China has expressed no interest in creating one,” Bussiere said.
Bussiere’s warning may come as a surprise to many national security specialists. Depending upon the source one references, China is often assumed today to want only a limited arsenal, on the order of no more than 250-350 warheads in its deployed nuclear force, consisting of a limited number of land-based fixed and mobile ICBMs, some submarine-launched missiles, and a modernizing strategic bomber force.
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