The Buzz

This Is China's Master Plan for a Nuclear War Against America

Yet one can still find in that same analysis ample concern among Chinese specialists regarding new directions in U.S. military capabilities that could threaten China’s deterrent. Another concern amply evident in Chinese writings concerns tactical nuclear weaponry. Most of this reporting of late concerns a recent upgrade to the American B-61 nuclear bomb. A full-page graphic in the same issue that discusses the DF-41 missile tests offers many specifics on the B-61, including its “dial-a-yield” [威力可调技术] feature that enables the operator to choose destruction on a scale ranging from fifty to 0.3 kilotons. That same month, in the magazine Aerospace Knowledge [航空知识], a “centerfold” featured the SS-26 Iskander, a Russian short-range tactical nuclear weapon. Elsewhere, I have, moreover, documented Chinese discussions of tactical nuclear weapons for anti-submarine warfare, as well as the importance of nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCMs) for strategy in the late Cold War. Let’s hope that these are just academic discussions in the Chinese context and do not reflect actual weapons under development.

As one can see from this discussion, there is ample reason for anxiety with many new Chinese nuclear systems now coming online, as well as substantial reason for optimism. As an author who frequently rides China’s high-speed rail [高铁], I am acutely aware that astronomical sums of money spent on that system could just as easily have been spent building an enormous arsenal of nuclear weaponry. That was not done and it’s certainly good that Chinese leaders have their priorities straight. American strategists need to keep this Chinese restraint in mind, especially as they weigh both new, expensive weapons systems (missile defense augmentation, the new strategic bomber, SSBN-X and also prompt global strike) and a set of measures to counter Beijing within the maritime disputes on its flanks.

Lyle J. Goldstein is Associate Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The opinions expressed in this analysis are his own and do not represent the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. Government.

Image: Reuters. 

This first appeared in 2015.

Pages