he rise of China’s nuclear forces, added to Russian “exotic” new nuclear systems, is raising considerable concern in the United States for two separate but highly interconnected reasons. This rise in power poses a few questions. Is the nuclear force structure that America is planning to rebuild and modernize adequate enough to deter these threats? Is the New START arms control deal that America just extended for another five years in danger of becoming irrelevant? What is the new threat that America faces and is it serious? The answer is: yes, it is serious.
First, the recent discovery of three large silo construction fields in China by commercial satellites let the “nuclear cat out of the bag,” allowing the U.S. government’s top nuclear professionals to publicly lay out the details of China’s secret activity.
Second, according to Bill Schneider, the former head of the Defense Science Board, the Chinese could be heading toward deploying a seriously expanded nuclear force. In his view as many as 250 Chinese new Dongfeng-41 missiles each with ten warheads could be deployed, a far greater build than the assumed doubling warned about earlier this year by our intelligence services.
Third, a top former nuclear military commander thinks the Chinese can, in two to four years, deploy an even greater number of warheads—upwards of 3,500—at a time when U.S. nuclear modernization is set to begin in 2028–29 and then only to 1,550 warheads.
Fourth, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Hyten has argued that the United States remains in a “slow” acquisition structure that does not allow the United States to respond more quickly to emerging threats to its security.
So, while the rough outlines of the new Chinese nuclear threat are beginning to emerge, China’s plans and the breadth of its nuclear forces are simply not fully known. Plus, those forces are not subject to any inspection or verification that might come from an arms control agreement or a Chinese proffer of nuclear information.