Tuesday 23 December 2008

China's New Undersea Nuclear Deterrent: Strategy, Doctrine, and Capabilities

The past few years have witnessed a lively debate among Western strategic thinkers over Chinas emerging force of fleet ballistic-missile submarines and what it portends for Beijins overall strategy of nuclear deterrence. One influential school of thought prophesies a relatively static model for Chinese nuclear development, assuming that the rudimentary land-based missile force that served Beijings needs in the past will continue to do so. Others dispute such benign prognoses, pointing to the introduction of next-generation, land-based mobile ballistic missiles, the rapid buildup of Chinas navy in general, and improvements to the navys submarine and ballistic-missile forces in particular. If so, the coming years will see China put to sea a force more symmetrical with the U.S. Navy, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. Moreover, it
will abandon its traditional stance of 'minimum deterrence,'assuming a nuclear posture
better described as 'limited deterrence'. We take issue with both of these projections
of Chinese nuclear strategy, doctrine, and undersea capabilities. We assess Chinas
undersea deterrent purely at the strategic level, leaving aside other important questions
such as how Beijing might use fleet submarines to support coercion against Taiwan or in
other contingencies. Our chief finding: that a larger, more advanced, more capable flotilla
of fleet ballistic-missile submarines (FBM, or SSBN) does not necessary signal a break with
Chinas tradition of minimalist nuclear strategy.
Indeed, a modest undersea deterrent would reinforce minimum deterrence as Beijing conceives of it. We first examine historical precedents for Chinese ballistic-missile submarine development, revealing some parameters for Chinas likely future in this domain, then attempt to project the likely size and deployment patterns for Chinese SSBNs. Its tough to make predictions, especially about the future. This is nonetheless an exercise worth undertakingas the United States and other powers with a stake in Asian politico-military affairs shape their own strategies and forces. Historical Models for Chinas Undersea Deterrent Five countries have deployed undersea nuclear deterrent forces: the United States, the Soviet Union and its successor, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China itself. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the China of past decades is the least relevant of these historical models. For one thing, Mao Zedong scoffed at nuclear weapons, describing them as a 'paper tiger', and was famously indifferent to the seas beyond China coastal waters. For another, the purges Yoshihara/Holmes - accompanying China Great Leap Forward and
Cultural Revolution devastated the nations scientific and engineering sectors, depriving
the People Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy, or PLAN) of the expertise it needed for
submarine development and construction. Accordingly, Chinese shipbuilders and weapons
scientists never managed to construct the reliable fleet ballistic-missile submarine the
nation needs to furnish an invulnerable second-strike capability.
For the sake of parsimony, then, we will set aside the China of the Mao era. By examining the remaining four historical models, we can glimpse possible futures for China sea-based deterrent. The United States and the Soviet Union are obvious choices, given Beijings much-discussed
rise to world power status and the prospect that it will follow the path taken by the
superpowers. At the risk of ruffling feathers, we will consider the French and British cases
together. Similar incentives and disincentives notably misgivings about the reliability of
the U.S. nuclear guarantee during the Cold War induced Paris and London to develop modest
nuclear arsenals of their own and to deploy ballistic missiles in nuclear-powered
submarines. Some China-watchers, moreover, predict that Beijing will settle for regional
power status in Asia, akin to the status the United Kingdom and France have enjoyed in
Europe and its environs since the 1950s. This commends the independent NATO-European
deterrents to our attention. United States. In the early Cold War, successive U.S.
administrations concluded that the United States depended on a large nuclear force
structure. The rationale for a large arsenal underwent several phases.
At first, in the 1950s, this was largely a matter of exploiting the U.S. lead in nuclear weapons. The Eisenhower administration saw nuclear forces as a way to offset enormous Soviet advantages in geography and manpower, especially in the crucial NATO-European theater. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, briefly flirted with a
doctrine of massive retaliation to respond to all communist efforts at expansion,
however minor. By the Kennedy years, massive retaliation had lost credibility the notion
of using nuclear weapons against, say, an insurgency in the Third World was unpersuasive and Washington was scrambling to plug the missile gapa that seemed to have opened with the Soviet Unions launch of Sputnik in 1957.
In the 1960s and 1970s, strategists developed and refined a doctrine of mutual assured destruction, or MAD. No sane leader on either side would risk nuclear war, maintained proponents of MAD, knowing that this would bring on an automatic, devastating second strike. And so the Western debate over nuclear strategy went. According to the scholar Lawrence Freedman, though,
the weapons never left center stage. Dominant perceptions held that a large arsenal
was essential to counter an adversary that commanded overwhelming conventional supremacy and
a potent nuclear stockpile of its own. Neither the vagaries of academic debate nor
intermittent efforts at arms control and disarmament overcame that fundamental conviction.
Hence the powerful U.S. submarine force, the core of the U.S. second-strike capability. By
the late Cold War, eighteen Ohio-class SSBNs armed with Trident II C-4 or D-5 SLBMs
constituted the U.S. undersea deterrent. 8 American submariners are famously closemouthed
about SSBN Yoshihara/Holmes - 2deployment practices, as befits their mission of keeping the
nations second-strike capability invulnerable. Telegraphing the locations of U.S.
submarines patrol grounds or their habits while on their 77-day patrols might render the
submarine force vulnerable to an adversary antisubmarine-warfare efforts. Successive
U.S. administrations have developed elaborate command-and-control procedures to guard
against an unauthorized release of nuclear weapons. For instance, even a thirty-minute loss
of communications with an SSBN on patrol warrants intensive efforts to restore connectivity
between U.S. Strategic Command, the parent command for all U.S. strategic forces, and these
crucial assets. Political and military leaders are clearly mindful of the repercussions that would follow a mistaken release of SLBMs from U.S. strategic submarines.Yet they also seem comfortable allowing individual skippers to roam their patrol grounds without tight political supervision, and without the luxury of having attack submarines or land-based platforms nearby to defend them from enemy action.
The U.S. approach to sea-based nuclear deterrence, then, seems offensive in nature, confident in U.S. submarines capacity for concealment, and unfettered by geographically based conceptions that safe havens are necessary to protect American SSBNs. If Chinese leaders follow the U.S. template,and once the supporting technologies mature, the coming years may see PLA Navy SSBNs range throughout the Pacific Ocean basin. Soviet Union/Russia. Like the United States, the Soviet
Union seemed convinced that it needed to hold a maximum number of its adversarys assets cities or, technology permitting, military forces at risk in order to ensure deterrence. Accordingly, the Soviet Navy put to sea a sizable fleet of nuclear-powered submarines armed with the latest nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
Technology especially range limitations on the early generations of Soviet missiles imposed constraints on Soviet SSBNs deployment patterns, compelling Soviet commanders to send these boats into Atlantic waters, where they could threaten American cities. Indeed, U.S. naval planners
worried that the presence of Soviet SSBNs in the Atlantic Ocean, a body of water crisscrossed by vital sea lanes connecting North America with NATO-Europe, would conflate the SLOC defense and antisubmarine-warfare missions severely complicating the wartime tasks assigned the U.S. and allied navies. 11 Soviet naval strategists seem to have come to the same realization, while advances in technology allowed the Soviet preference for a defensive stance at sea to reassert itself.
By the 1970s, a growing body of evidence suggested that the increasingly capable Soviet Navy was reverting to defensive deployment patterns. Soviet weapons engineers had improved the ranges of the navys submarine-launched ballistic missiles while adding capabilities such as multiple,
independently targeted warheads. Rather than venturing into the Atlantic, Soviet SSBNs
were patrolling Arctic waters, where they could still range U.S. targets while enjoying the
advantages that came with proximity to Soviet naval bases. This insight drove the thinking
behind the U.S. Maritime Strategy of the Reagan years, which envisioned U.S. Navy task
forces seizing the initiative in wartime, steaming northward into the Norwegian Sea to
threaten Soviet strategic forces in their Yoshihara/Holmes - 3icy northern bastions.
Should Beijing follow Moscows naval strategy of the 1970s and 1980s, PLAN SSBNs would
shelter within such geographic redoubts as the Bohai Sea or, perhaps, the waters within the
first island chain that parallels the Chinese coastline.
Britain/France. It is worth saying a few words about the British and French approaches to undersea deterrence, if only because they could offer a third model for a China content with regional influence and a second-strike capacity far more modest than those of the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia. London and Paris developed independent submarine deterrents out of concerns that the U.S. nuclear umbrella would prove flimsy in wartime. That is, Washington might
prove unwilling to expose the American homeland to a nuclear counterattack for the sake of
NATO-European allies. Preserving the ability to inflict unacceptable damage on the
USSr and thereby supplementing the U.S. security guarantee helped them hedge against
possible American waffling. Keeping sea-based nuclear forces modest in size was imperative
in light of the meager budgets available to these middle-rank economic powers and the
competing demands for preparedness in continental Europe. Asymmetrical undersea forces
appeared sufficient to British and French officials, not only in strategic but in budgetary
terms.
The United Kingdom and France, then, made do with SSBN forces dwarfed by those of the
superpowers. It is worth noting that, numbers aside, SSBN deployments patterns seemingly
resembled those of the U.S. Navy. The entire French SSBN force was based at the Atlantic
port of Brest, while for obvious reasons submarines based in the British Isles patrolled the
Atlantic and the North Sea. Neither of these governments adopted a strategy requiring its
FBM submarines to stay within confined geographic regions or within range of land-based
military forces for support. Should China adopt this approach, it will continue its
tradition of maintaining a small nuclear arsenal but permit its submarine commanders to
patrol widely in the Pacific, the South China Sea, or the Indian Ocean, subject only to
staying within firing range of the targets they are assigned to threaten. Targets for
Chinese SSBNs would include U.S. bases in the Pacific, as well as less obvious sites in
India and the Russian Far East.Judging from these historical cases, several indices are
worth taking into account when appraising China emerging submarine deterrent: Nature
of the Regime.
Regimes exhibit certain distinct strategic and operational preferences. Like
their authoritarian counterparts, Western liberal governments with nuclear capacity
institute elaborate precautions and stringent command-and-control arrangements to prevent
unauthorized releases of nuclear weapons. They nonetheless evince a fair degree of comfort
with SSBN skippers operating far from their shores, in an offensive manner and beyond
land-based support. Deployment patterns reflected this, with U.S., British, and French SSBNs
enjoying considerable latitude to cruise independently within range of Soviet targets. By
comparison, authoritarian regimes particularly those driven by ideologies such as
communism, which place great weight on loyalty to the regime and go to elaborate lengths to
enforce it are ill-disposed to permit Yoshihara/Holmes - 4 naval officers this degree of
control over strategic assets. As became apparent in the 1970s and 1980s, Soviet leaders
preferred to keep FBM submarines closer to home, under their watchful gaze. Whether Chinese
leaders will incline to one of these approaches or fashion one of their own remains to be
seen.
Strategic Culture. During the 1970s, Western strategic thinkers waged a lively
debate over whether there was a peculiarly Soviet way of thinking about and executing
nuclear strategy. They formerly assumed not. But accumulating evidence indicated that,
contrary to the logic of mutual assured destruction, Moscow was pursuing the capacity to
fight and prevail in a nuclear conflict. Long-held assumptions among scholars and
practitioners of nuclear strategy held that the same logic of nuclear deterrence would
govern decision-making in all countries. If such assumptions were false, however, U.S. and
Western nuclear strategy and force structures designed for mutual assured destruction might
have been dangerously misguided. Spurred by the debate over Soviet nuclear strategy,
strategic thinkers began taking into account the effects of national traditions, history,
and culture on the making of policy and strategy.
This recognition did not come easy. The Soviet approach holding SSBNs back and deploying general-purpose naval and land forces to defend them defied offensively minded Western sensibilities. At one briefing in 1981, reports John Hattendorf, Adm. Thomas Hayward, the chief of naval operations, found the concepts of Soviet strategy so completely different that he expressed disbelief that the Soviets could possibly operate their navy in such a manner. 16 But they did. If the Soviet Union and other powers displayed distinctive styles in submarine warfare, the People Republic of China probably will as well.
Threat Perceptions. How Beijing views the threat from prospective adversaries will shape its SSBN doctrine. Generally speaking, the historical models surveyed here involved putting to sea submarine forces able to counter a single threat. For the most part, the Soviet Union and United States sought to deter each other, keeping their opponent from gaining a nuclear advantage that would allow it to wage war without fear of a disastrous counterstrike. Britain and France tried to deter the Soviets and guard against U.S. abandonment by deploying sufficient nuclear forces. China clearly faces a more complex geometry, since it must worry about not only about, say, a U.S. effort to knock out the Chinese ICBM force in a Taiwan contingency, but also about India, a
new nuclear neighbor with which China shares a long border and a history of at-times violent
competition. China and Russia also have a tumultuous past. Despite their cooperation of
recent years, Russian sites will almost certainly find themselves on the target list for
Chinese submarines. How these competing considerations will affect the size and operations
of the PLAN SSBN force remains to be seen.
Technology Dependence. As seen from this survey of Cold War precedents, technology at times imposed certain constraints on SSBN deployment patterns that were at odds with political and culturally derived strategic and operational preferences. The Soviet Navy seemed to prefer a defensive stance leveraging geographic and land-based defenses, but early on, Soviet SSBNs were forced to venture into the Atlantic to meet their objectives. Western submarines, similarly, were
compelled to patrol in range of their targets, limiting their liberty of action. Once
technological constraints eased, however, normal strategic and operational preferences
grounded in political and strategic culture reasserted themselves. Soviet boats were limited
to geographically defined bastions, while U.S., British, and French boats carried on
open-ocean patrols.
China will undoubtedly confront similar technical challenges as it attempts to construct and use its first effective SSBN flotilla. Once it meets these challenges, it too may pursue SSBN operations in keeping with Chinese strategic traditions and preferences. Chinas Nuclear Posture To test the applicability of the undersea deterrent models postulated above to China, it is necessary to assess the evolution of broader Chinese nuclear doctrine and force posture. Over the past four decades, China has carved out a rather unique niche among the five declared nuclear weapon states. Since China demonstrated its ability to fire ballistic missiles at intercontinental ranges in 1980, its nuclear posture has remained surprisingly modest and remarkably resistant to change.
China maintains what many Western analysts consider a doctrine of minimum deterrence, which calls for: 1) a strictly defensive posture, 2) a small arsenal, 3) a pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons, and 4) a commitment not to attack or threaten non-nuclear states.
Official Chinese documents have repeatedly reaffirmed these minimalist principles. 17 In the
most detailed articulation of Chinese nuclear policy to date, Chinas authoritative and
most recent Defense White Paper forcefully states: China remains firmly committed to the
policy of no first use of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances. It
unconditionally undertakes not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against
non-nuclear-weapon states
China upholds the principles of counterattack in self-defense and limited development of nuclear weapons, and aims at building a lean and effective nuclear force.It endeavors to ensure the security and reliability of its nuclear weapons and maintains a credible nuclear deterrent force. Wang Zhongchun, a professor at Chinas National Defense University and a senior colonel in the People Liberation Army (PLA), asserts succinctly, China nuclear strategy is mainly defensive, directional, passive and limited. Such nuclear minimalism has exerted significant influence on
China nuclear posture, suppressing the size and readiness of the force structure.
According to a RAND study: Yoshihara/Holmes - 6One of the most intriguing aspects of
Chinas nuclear weapons program has been its quantitatively and qualitatively limited
nature over time. These limitations are characterized in practice by a relatively small
number of warheads, technically and numerically limited delivery vehicles, an overwhelming
reliance on land-based systems, persistent concerns over the arsenals survivability, reliability and penetrability, and a limited program of research, development and testing. Another, more recent analysis concurs: Chinas small but effective nuclear counterattacking force comprising around eighty operationally deployed nuclear warheads that are stored separately from their land-based ballistic missiles and intended for retaliatory mission is significantly smaller, less diverse, and less ready to conduct actual operations than any of the arsenals maintained by the other four nuclear powers recognized under the NPT. While there is an ongoing debate in China and in the West on the merits of rejecting minimum deterrence, authorities in Beijing appear unswervingly committed to existing policy. As nonproliferation expert Jing-Dong Yuan notes, China will continue to view nuclear weapons as largely political and psychological instruments in the contest of will, not usable weapons.
Beijing will remain satisfied with the small size of its nuclear force as long as a comfortable margin of survivability of its nuclear arsenal can be assured. Rather than speculate on a nuclear posture not yet in existence, then, one reasonable baseline for analysis is to assume that China will hew closely to its minimalist posture well into the next decade. Such a benchmark would at least provide policymakers and analysts with some basis to measure the degree of change should China decide at some future point to depart from minimum deterrence. It is important to note, however, that minimalism does not equate to immutability. Qualitative and quantitative changes are clearly underway in Chinas nuclear posture as Beijing seeks to shape and
respond to the dynamic security environment. It is within this context of apparent restraint
that the new generation of undersea deterrent force has entered into Chinas strategic
calculus. Successive Defense White Papers, for example, stress the need to improve nuclear
deterrence at sea. The 2004 issue observes that, Preparation for maritime battlefield
[has] intensified and the capability of nuclear counter-attacks [has been] enhanced.
Similarly, the 2006 version envisions the PLA Navy enhancing its capabilities in integrated maritime operations and nuclear counterattacks. Beijing is clearly eyeing a larger role for its undersea deterrent. Sufficiency Goes to Sea Defense planners in Beijing face several basic but crucial questions regarding the future of undersea deterrence. What types of force structures would Beijing consider viable? What factors might tend to favor a greater reliance on the nascent ballistic-missile submarine fleet? In short, how much is enough? Sizing the fleet is both an analytical exercise and an art, not least because of the political ramifications of deploying the most destructive single platform known to mankind. A large SSBN fleet will not only impose a substantial financial burden but could very well trigger competitive responses from potential
adversaries. Thus, China faces a delicate balancing act that seeks to meet strategic
requirements without unduly alarming other great powers. An important intervening variable
is Beijings calculus concerning the proper force mix and tradeoffs between its
land-based, mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the DF-31s, and the
sea-based component.
Each leg of the dyad presents distinct advantages and disadvantages that will surely influence the PRCs cost-benefit analysis. In terms of survivability, both land- and sea-based options enhance Chinas ability to escape a disarming first strike. The mobility of the DF-31s will allow the PLA to exploit Chinas geographic depth, while the next-generation Type 094 SSBN currently under development will impose additional targeting, tracking, and other intelligence challenges on any adversary. Ideally, an interactively survivable nuclear dyad would greatly increase the versatility of Chinas nuclear forces. In other words, if the DF-31s suffered unacceptable losses in a first strike, the Type 094s would still guarantee a retaliatory option. Modest quantitative
increases in both the land- and sea-based arsenals, then, would go a long way to enhance the
survivability of Chinas nuclear forces.
Some factors unique to an undersea strategic force magnify the relative importance of SSBNs vis- -vis their land-based counterparts. A ballistic-missile submarine distinguishes itself even from a road- or rail-mobile ICBM by its stealth and unlimited mobility and endurance, which generate virtually infinite possibilities in terms of launch locations. As a Chinese study on nuclear submarines written by a senior nuclear engineer declares,the ballistic missile submarine is thus far the most ideal nuclear weapons armory. The author identifies three key factors that make the SSBN the ultimate weapon: 1) survivability (as high as ninety percent); 2) offensive power; and 3) destructive power. The survivability of SSBNs promisesto reduce the temptation for Beijing to adopt a destabilizing land-based posture that undermines crisis stability and escalation control, including increased dispersion and decentralized command and control. Jing-Dong Yuan concludes that a sea-based deterrent would be less vulnerable to preemption and could reinforce Chinas no-first-use policy, reducing the risk of a sudden escalation to the nuclear level.
However, the persuasiveness of abstract strategic and operational benefits of an undersea strategic force likely will not convince the Chinese leadership to lean decisively in favor of SSBNs over ICBMs. Foremost in the thinking of any political leadership is command and control of its nuclear arsenal. It is unclear whether Beijing would be willing to delegate operational
control of a nuclear-armed submarine to a tactical commander. Practical considerations
such as technical feasibility and steep financial costs, moreover, could impose burdens that
the PRC may be unwilling to carry. The enormous technological, scientific, and engineering challenges of building a SSBN are already well documented.
The very troubled history of the first-generation Xia-class SSBN is a testament to the tremendous hurdles that the Chinese had to overcome to master a craft involving
extraordinarily high barriers to entry. In terms of costs, the pricetags of modern U.S.
SSBNs provide a rough sense of the financial liabilities that Beijing confronts. The average
per-unit cost of an Ohio-class SSBN, measured over ten years from 1981 to 1991, was an
estimated $1.2 billion in 1994 dollar terms. Relying on similar estimates of U.S.
expenditures on SSBNs and SSNs, Chinese observers have also commented on the prohibitive
costs of nuclear-powered submarines. Land basing, then, still appears to have significant
financial advantages. In theory, a relatively modest number of survivable ICBMs and SSBNs
should reduce the probability that bean counting would prompt a competitive response
from the United States. In other words, Beijing will likely favor a force configuration that
demonstrates restraint in order to maintain a stable deterrent relationship with Washington.
However, accurately determining a quantitative ceiling of ICBMs and sea-based ballistic
missiles that would buttress deterrence while precluding a countervailing U.S. response is a
delicate affair. For example, Zhang Baohui observes that if China possessed four Type 094s
carrying sixteen JL-2 ballistic missiles armed with three warheads each, then Beijing undersea deterrent would boast 192 warheads. 35 If China deployed six SSBNs with six multiple warheads atop each JL-2, the number of warheads would jump to 572. These figures exclude the ongoing introduction of DF-31s and DF-31As that could also be armed with multiple warheads. Such a dramatic increase would likely raise concerns in Washington, even assuming the United States continues to enjoy commanding quantitative and qualitative advantages over Chinas nuclear arsenal.
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While a classic arms race resembling the Cold War would not ensue as a result of such a shift in the nuclear balance, it is unlikely that U.S. defense planners would respond passively to this hypothetical orders-of-magnitude increase in the Chinese nuclear inventory. At present, the forecast number of Chinese SSBNs remains a subject of contention. The U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon believe that both the JL-2 ballistic missiles and the strategic nuclear submarine will not enter service until the end of the decade. According to the director of the DefenseIntelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the 8,000+ kilometer range JL-2likely will be ready for deployment later this decade. The Pentagons most recent assessment of Chinese military power speculates that the JL-2 will achieve initial operational capability in the 2007-2010 timeframe.The U.S. Navys Office of Naval Intelligence believes that the Type 094 may enter service as early as 2008 and that afleet of probably five TYPE 094 SSBNs will be built in order to provide more redundancy and capacity for a near-continuous at-sea SSBN presence.
The open-source literature provides even more disparate estimates concerning the number of SSBNs that the Chinese plan
to, or will be able to, build. Conservative assessments of Chinas strategic forces tend to agree with the U.S. intelligence community. The Council on Foreign Relations, for example, believes that the first ballistic-missile submarine will not be in
service before 2010.Janes Strategic Weapons speculates that China will ultimately build four to six Type 094 submarines. The latest Janes Fighting Ships places the expected number of commissioned hulls at four by 2014. The Congressional Research
Service, which regularly tracks U.S. analyses of Chinas navy, places the number of Type 094s at four to five. Other studies have drawn a more alarming picture. One study projects five to six vessels before the end of this decade. Two analysts from the U.S.
Naval War College cite sources predicting the availability of two to three strategic submarines by 2010 and place the final number of SSBNs at twelve. The degree of uncertainty over the operational status of the Type 094 was on full public display in Taiwan as politicians openly disputed the veracity of the National Security Bureaus intelligence report, which claimed that the Type 094 had completed sea trials and would be in service in the near future. Simply put, the future size of the fleet is still anybodys guess. Some parameters and assumptions embedded in the historical models set forth previously
provide useful guidance for estimating the likely size of Chinas future SSBN fleet.
First, an underlying principle of minimum deterrence is that as long as the number of surviving retaliatory weapons after a disarming first strike is not zero, then the posture is credible. As in the British and French models, the threshold for sufficiency would be quite low for China. In theory, even if all of Chinas land-based deterrent were destroyed in a first strike, only one SSBN armed with multiple re-entry warheads would need to survive a bolt from the blue to conduct a liatory strike. Second, the only power with the capacity to inflict a disarming preemptive attack on Chinese nuclear forces on land and at sea simultaneously for the foreseeable future will be the United States. This reduces if not eliminates Chinas requirement to conduct deterrent patrols against lesser nuclear powers such as India and perhaps even Russia. In other words, the SSBN would only have to cope with one threat vector across the Pacific. Third, this study assumes that the United States
ability to degrade the survivability of an SSBN will not improve radically over the coming decadesay, by making the oceans transparent to U.S. sensors and ASW weaponry. Since theend of the Cold War, furthermore, Americas nuclear attack-submarine fleet and ASW aviation squadronsthe most potent counters to an undersea threathave atrophied in numbers, at rates that many believe will take decades to reverse. Nor is U.S. ballistic-missile defense in its current state any match against submerged launched missiles.
A counter-SLBM capability might be decades away from deployment. Under such circumstances, even if all of Chinas land-based deterrent was destroyed in a first strike, only one SSBN armed with multiple re-entry warheads would need to survive a bolt
from the blue to conduct a highly destructive retaliatory strike. Fourth, Beijings high degree of comfort with the ambiguity surrounding the survivability of its nuclear forces, a longstanding hallmark of Chinese nuclear strategy, would further reduce the need for absolute numerical guarantees. Yoshihara/Holmes - 10 These factors suggest that the lower-range estimates from the analysts discussed above would likely suffice for China. The rule of thumbfamiliar to U.S. naval plannersis that three aircraft-carrier expeditionary groups are needed to keep one fully operational at sea at any given time. Of the remaining two groups, one will be in an extended maintenance period, probably in a shipyard, while the other will be undergoing training and workups for deployment (and its availability will thus be reduced).
Assuming China adopts similar operating procedures, a minimum deterrent posture would not demand too much in terms of quantity. Assuming fifty percent of the at-sea SSBNs fell prey to enemy ASWa generous estimate in view of SSBNs capacity for concealment and quiet operationsonly two Chinese SSBNs would need to be at sea at any given time to ensure that one survived a first strike. Based on the rotating deployment cycle described above, then, China would need six SSBNs to fulfill the basic
demands of minimum deterrence. Depending on the eventual technical quality, reliability, and characteristics of the Type 094, furthermore, Beijing may not even need six boats. If the PLA Navy adopted an arrangement similar to the U.S. Navys Blue and Gold crew system,which alternates crews after each deterrent patrol with a short maintenance period in between, it might even make do with a two-for-one ratio of boats in port to at sea. Four fleet boats would serve Chinas needs under these circumstances. Potential Deployment Patterns Beyond force sizing, China would also need to consider a range of possible
deployment patterns.
Recently, speculation concerning the logic of a bastion strategy for China has emerged among U.S. analysts. 50 The Chinese themselves seem intrigued by the Soviet Unions experience in this regard.China could seek to replicate the Soviet
model by turning the geographical features of the Asian coastline to its advantage. Beijing could, for instance, concentrate its SSBNs within the protective confines of the Bohai and Yellow seas. Nuclear attack submarines, shore-based fighter aircraft, and surface combatants could be poised as palace guards to quickly respond against hostile forces seeking to hold Chinas SSBNs at risk. The bastion approach would offer sanctuaries within which high-value SSBNs could operate. In theory, sea- and shore-based assets would be able to identify and hold at bay hostile forces operating near or in the Bohai or Yellow
Seas.
The shallowness and complex acoustic environment of littoral waters, moreover, would pose serious challenges to high-speed American hunter-killer submarines designed for open- ocean operations during the Cold War. However attractive it seems, a bastion strategy would entail certain risks. Keeping the undersea deterrent in the Bohai area would: 1) constrain
patrol patterns, thereby increasing the likelihood that the submarines would be detected by enemy forces; 2) forego much of the inherent stealth and mobility of an SSBN; and 3) keep certain targets out of reach due to the longer distances that the missiles would have to traverse.To overcome such obstacles, China would have to build large, capable naval forces to protect the SSBNs lurking within the bastion and to enable the boats to stage a breakout should hostile forces seek to bottle then up and hunt them down in confined waters. The main risk of such an all-consuming strategy of deterrence is that excessive investment in protecting SSBN forces would detract from broader maritime priorities such as Taiwan-related contingencies, sea-lane defense, and secure access to overseas energy supplies.
As an alternative to the bastion strategy, the strategic submarines could operate more freely along Chinas long coastline under the protective cover of naval and land-based aviation forces on the mainland. Recent studies have postulated that China has already embarked on an ambitious plan to create contested zones along its maritime periphery. Premised on the concept of sea denial, Beijing would be able to exercise local superiority roughly within the first island chain stretching from the Japanese archipelago to the northern Philippines. Under this scenario, China might be confident enough to permit SSBN patrols along the Asian mainland, particularly in the Bohai, Yellow, East China, and South China seas and the Taiwan Strait. Given that China confronts several deterrent relationships in Asia, including India, one analysis argues that the presence of SSBNs in the South China Sea would help shore up deterrence on the southern flank. This sort of expanded bastion strategy would clearly open up new options for the PLA, albeit at greater risk. Most ambitiously, China could deploy its submarines out to
the Pacific in forays reminiscent of the U.S.-Soviet undersea competition during the Cold War. One analyst speculates that China might base its SSBNs in the South China Sea, enabling them to slip into deeper Pacific waters undetected. 58 Forward deployment would place a much larger number of U.S. targets within the range of the JL-2 missiles.
Assuming China manages to develop very capable and quiet submarines, Chinese patrols in the Pacific would pose the
greatest challenges to U.S. defenders seeking to detect and track lurking SSBNs. Forward patrols would also force the United States to devote more of its attack boats to shadow Chinese submarines in open waters, thereby diverting American SSNs that might otherwise be available for a Taiwan contingency or some other flare-up. The PLA Navy would incur strategic and operation risks by permitting such free-ranging deployments. From a political standpoint, active patrols within the first island chain or in the Pacific could prove highly provocative to the United States and would almost certainly stimulate a competitive response. U.S. naval planners would likely see Chinas entry into Asian waters as a dramatic change in the threat environmentespecially given the lack of Russian deterrent patrols in the Pacific since the end of the Cold War. Given that the Xia-class SSBN has never conducted a deterrent patrol, 59 even a modestly forward-leaning deployment pattern could signal a sea change in Chinese nuclear strategy that might significantly heighten American threat perceptions. From an operational standpoint, submarine patrols along the mainland littoral or in the Pacific would expose PLA Navy boats to U.S. and allied ASW measures.
Throughout the Cold War, the United States developed extensive and highly effective undersea detection networksmost notably the Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUSto track the location of Soviet submarines. In the Pacific theater, U.S. submarines aided by SOSUS monitored every movement of Soviet SSBNs in waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula. In the 1980s, American and Japanese naval forces raised ASW to an art form, cooperating closely to bottle up Soviet forces operating in the Seas of Okhostk and Japan. These legacy systems and well-developed tactics would lend themselves readily to ASW against Chinese SSBNs. The ability of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) to track a Chinese Han-class submarine that had breached Japanese territorial waters reaffirmed the JMSDFs high level of ASW readiness. Commenting on the Han incident, a
former JMSDF chief of staff boasted that Chinese submarines would be unable to slip into the deep waters of the Pacific through the Ryukyu island chain, to the north or south of Taiwan, or through the Bashi (Luzon) Strait without being detected by U.S. and Japanese ASW forces.
Given such potent risks, China will probably avoid coastal and blue-water patrols, especially during the initial stages of deployment when training, tactical skills, and doctrine are still immature. Additionally, Beijing simply might not have enough SSBNs to contemplate riskier, more forward-leaning options. As noted above, China may be content with two boats conducting deterrent patrols at any given time. If so, then secondary considerations such as patrols in the South China Sea aimed at India, could be viewed as a diversion from the primary mission of deterring the United States. Unless the range of the JL-2 is sufficient to reach the continental United States from any location within the first island chain, which seems unlikely, operating farther from American shores may be deemed counterproductive. These factors suggest that submarine deployment patterns will be rather constrained. Beijing will likely favor protection over effectiveness during the early phases of SSBN deployment and will thus rely on some type of bastion strategy. Over time, if the vessels are operationally capable of extended patrols far beyond the Chinese coastline, then China might be willing to relax its protectiveness and permit more forward patrols. It is important to note that the deployment optionsthe bastion strategy, coastal patrols, and
open-ocean patrolsare not mutually exclusive. It is possible that the Chinese may keep open variations of the three choices and alternate between them as security conditions change. Beijing may be content to rely on the bastion strategy during peacetime, when no immediate threat is evident.
In times of crisis or conflict, China may permit more active coastal patrols or slip its SSBNs into open waters to signal resolve or to counter potential nuclear coercion by an adversary. In sum, even a small undersea deterrent would give Beijing
multiple options across a spectrum of contingency scenarios. Potential Stimuli for a Larger Undersea Deterrent While a restrained Chinese nuclear posture is a more likely outcome at present, it is nevertheless worth exploring how Chinas willingness to retain its minimalist posture could come under significant pressure in the future.There has been considerable speculation in the U.S. policy community about the prospects of a shift in Chinas deterrent posture from minimum to limited deterrence for at least a decade. Western analysts have long predicted that China will make the transition to a more flexible capacity to engage in a broader range of nuclear warfighting missions, requiring substantial increases in the numbers and types of nuclear weaponry. So, too, chinese analysts and policymakers have exhibited greater willingness to reconsider and
question the basic merits of minimum deterrence. Although official policy remains firmly rooted in the status quo, three key factors could challenge the logic of minimalism. First, Chinas ongoing refusal to acknowledge the utility of an adversarys nuclear first-strike option, which is central to the concept of minimum deterrence, depends in part on whether the United States wants to submit to the logic of assured (but minimal) retaliation vis- -vis China. There is evidence that some U.S. strategists have dismissed such a mutual vulnerability, asserting that the United States should direct its ballistic-missile defenses specifically to negate Chinas deterrent.
Reflecting such an attitude, one advocate of missile defense argues that should Beijing continue to exhibit hostile intent toward Washington, particularly with regard to Taiwan, then the United States may simply have no choice but build defenses against China.If Washington overtly seeks to deny China a retaliatory option, then Beijing will almost certainly respond with a larger and faster buildup, including a buildup of its undersea strategic forces. Second, Chinas more leisurely approach to bolstering its nuclear posture could come under strain with the emergence of strategic technical advances or surprises. For instance, more capable missile-defense systems deployed by the United States in the coming decades could shake Beijings confidence in its retaliatory options. It is conceivable (although highly improbable in the near term) that the advent of space-based lasers and other advanced capabilities could radically reshape Chinas outlook. The track record of the
missile-defense program to date suggests that such radical breakthroughs are highly unlikely over the next decade. But, should such technological leaps occur, then SSBNs might emerge as a strategic trump card. 67 Third, the reconnaissance/precision-strike complex that the United States boasts could alter Chinas exclusively retaliatory posture. In July 2005, Major Geneal Zhu Chenghu caused a sensation when he declared to the foreign press that If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on Chinas territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons. He argued that if China faced the prospect of defeat in a conventional conflict over Taiwan, then Beijing
would have no choice but to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against American cities.
Similarly, in a candid assessment of how Chinese calculations might change, Shen Dingli argues that precision conventional strikes against Chinas nuclear forces during a Taiwan contingency could force Beijing to abandon its no-first-use pledge. He asserts that, If Chinas conventional forces are devastated, and if Taiwan takes the opportunity to declare de jure independence, it is inconceivable that China would allow its nuclear weapons to be destroyed by a precision attack with conventional munitions, rather than use them as true means of deterrence. 68 In other words, if the effects of Americas conventional attacks are indistinguishable from a disarming nuclear strike, then Chinas no-first-use policy would quite sensibly become untenable.Shens conclusion seems consistent with Chinas longstanding aversion to nuclear blackmail. In this context, a much larger SSBN fleet might be perceived as the only viable insurance policy against a conventional and/or a nuclear disarming first strike. Clearly, Chinas next generation undersea deterrent would give Beijing the strategic option to hedge against sudden shifts in the international security environment. However, it is important to acknowledge that SSBNs
are not Chinas only answer to the strategic dilemmas noted above. Beijing is actively developing a range of alternative countermeasures to shore up the credibility its deterrent forces. For instance, the PRC boasts a rather comprehensive set of programs designed to defeat U.S. ballistic-missile defenses.
The recent anti-satellite test by the Chinese is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of its determination to possess multiple options, ensuring that missile defenses will not have a debilitating impact on Beijings deterrent posture. Conclusions This study demonstrates how China can make significant qualitative and quantitative leaps in its nuclear posture without fundamentally overturning the type of minimalism (at least at the strategic level) that has characterized its nuclear strategy. It appears that China has redefined the parameters of minimalism in tune with the fluid security environment. China will have a more effective and credible nuclear deterrent with the deployment of the Type 094s, even as technical and doctrinal advances by the U.S.military have introduced elements of nuclear instability. Such a balancing trend should not
be surprising for a rising power like China and augurs well for a more stable nuclear relationship with the United States. Mutual ambivalence continues to characterize bilateralties. As long as Washington and Beijing refuse to embark on a Cold War-style rivalry,radical shifts in Chinas nuclear posture are nonetheless improbable.

Ukraine to help train China's navy pilots

China has been sending military personnel to the Ukraine to learn how the country trains its aircraft carrier pilots, in preparation for the aircraft carrier battle group it eventually plans to build.

According to a source in the Ukrainian military industry, China first sent a large naval delegation, headed by the deputy chief of the PLA Navy, to visit the Ukrainian Navy Aviation Force training centers in the southern port cities of Odessa and Sevastopol in October, 2006.

The Chinese visited the Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka on the Crimean Peninsula, and the two sides discussed the possibility of Ukraine helping to train Chinas navy aviation force and aircraft carrier pilots, the source said. Since then, Chinese engineers, pilots and naval technical experts have made frequent visits to Nitka.

The focus of much of Chinas current military cooperation with Russia and Ukraine is on producing large aircraft and an aircraft carrier. Ukraine has provided China with a prototype of its T-10K shipborne fighter. By dissecting the T-10K an earlier variant of the Su-33 fighter China hopes to acquire the capability to independently develop its own shipborne fighters.

The single T-10K that China purchased from Ukraine was originally based at the Nitka center, which is equipped with a range of simulators to train pilots in jump take-offs, arresting landings and contingency responses. The training modules simulate the release of the arresting hook on take-off and its use on landing at a speed of 250 kilometers (155 miles) per hour.

The Nikta center previously trained a generation of Soviet pilots on the Su-33 and MiG-29K fighters. Now the 297th Fighter Regiment of the Russian Navy Aviation Force is undergoing training there.

As this author reported earlier, China has imported four sets of aircraft carrier landing assistance equipment and arresting hooks. The Chinese are in the process of building their own aircraft carrier training base, which is why they have been so keenly interested in Nitkas simulators, training software, management procedures and technologies.

The training of aircraft carrier fighter pilots is a crucial step in putting together an aircraft carrier fleet. The training program is extremely harsh. According to the Ukrainian source, the most basic training for short-istance take-offs, landings and ski-jumps would take at least six months.

Ukraine was once the main training center for the Soviet Unions aircraft carrier fighter pilots. It now intends to train navy pilots not only for China, but also for India and other countries that aspire to possess aircraft carriers, a source from Nitka says.

The Indian Navy is in the process of purchasing an aircraft carrier from Russia, as well as MiG-29K and MiG-29UBK fighters, the first batch of which is expected to be delivered to India by the end of the year already a year later than scheduled. The pilots for those fighters will most likely be trained at Nitka.

Chinas dealings with Ukraine reconfirm that the PLA Navy is moving forward on its aircraft carrier project. The Chinese carrier is apparently based on a Russian design; otherwise China would not be interested in Ukraines simulators. This means Chinas aircraft carrier will very likely adopt the Russian methods of ski-jump take-off and landing.

China has also taken practical steps to build an aircraft carrier training base. The first step is to train shipborne fighter pilots at this base, followed by basic short distance take-off and landing training on the disabled Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, which China purchased in 1998.

Sources from the Ukrainian military industry have confirmed on several occasions that the Varyag is unlikely to be restored to an operational fighter aircraft carrier, and will most likely only be used as a training platform.

Although the ship was purchased by a Hong Kong company ostensibly to be converted into a casino, Ukrainian sources say they were aware of Chinas intentions from the beginning to use it for military purposes. The aircraft carrier, repainted with the colors of the PLA Navy, is now in the Chinese port city of Dalian.

Saturday 20 December 2008

China's Nuclear Weapons

China's Nuclear Program

"596" - The Chinese Atomic Bomb

Test: "596"
Time: 07:00 16 October 1964 (GMT)
Location: Lop Nur Test Ground,
42.35 N, 88.30 E
Test Height and Type: Tower, 102 m
Yield: 22 Kt

This pure-fission U-235 implosion fission device named "596" was China's first nuclear test. The device weighed 1550 kg. No plutonium was available at this time.
"596" on the way to the tower

596 Fission Device"596" Atomic Bomb (43 K)

After Detonation

596 Mushroom"596" Detonation (68 K)

Lop Nur After TestLop Nur Nuclear Test Range (67 k).

The Lop Nur Nuclear Test Range four days after the test of "596". Image taken by a KH-4 Corona intelligence satellite.
Larger size image (700x553, 83 k).

Satellite image courtesy John Pike at the Federation of American Scientists, see the FAS Intelligence Resource Program page.




The Chinese Hydrogen Bomb

Test: Test No. 6
Time: 00:19:07.9 17 June 1967 (GMT)
Location: Lop Nur Test Ground
Test Height and Type: Air drop, 2960 m
Yield: 3.3 Mt

This was China's sixth nuclear test, and its first full scale radiation implosion (Teller-Ulam) weapon test. It was conducted only 32 months after the first atomic test, the shortest elapsed time for any nuclear weapons state. The device contained U-235, lithium-6 deuteride, and U-238. It was detonated at 2960 m over the Lop Nur Test Ground after being dropped from an H-6


China's Nuclear Weapons

Present Capabilities

Given the People's Republic of China's size in terms of geography (third in the world, only slightly behind Canada), population (number one), and economy (second largest in the world by 1999 CIA equivalent purchasing power estimates, with current growth rates in the high single digits), it seems inevitable that China (also called the PRC) will become the dominant power in the world within a few decades. China's leaders are acutely aware of this fact, and are also acutely aware that except for the last few centuries, China has consistently been the most powerful and advanced society in the world for 3500 years. They undoubtedly intend that China will have military capabilities commensurate with this once and future status.

Over the years China has certainly invested a much smaller amount of resources (although not necessarily a much smaller proportion of its resources) to developing and deploying nuclear weapons than either of the two superpowers. The exact size and composition of its nuclear forces is very difficult to determine however due to strict secrecy. Force structure estimates consequently are rather uncertain, and published estimates are even a bit mysterious. It is hard to assess the ultimate source or reliability of the data provided.

Since the cut-off of aid to its nuclear weapons program in 1960 by the Soviet Union, most of the technology used on the program has been developed indigenously. There has been (and continues to be) considerable concern in the West about the export of this technology to non-nuclear powers interested in acquiring these weapons. China is known to have given Pakistan considerable assistance, possibly including actual warhead designs. Recent concern has focused on Chinese deals with Iran. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, China has turned its interest to obtaining more advanced nuclear technology from the successor to its old mentor. Nihon Keizai Shimbun has reported that China bought computer simulation technology for nuclear warheads from Russia during the mid-90s.

To date China has conducted many fewer nuclear tests than the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia (less than 5% as many as either) and this discrepancy accounts for China's initial reluctance to sign on to a permanent ban of all nuclear tests at the CTBT negotiations, although these reservations have now been overcome since the conclusion of China's final test series

The final test series concluded in the spring and summer of 1996. According to Japanese government sources (reported in Nihon Keizai Shimbun), the penultimate underground Chinese nuclear test on 8 June 1996 (calculated at 20 to 80 kilotons) was actually a simultaneous detonation of multiple warheads (a common practice by both the U.S. and USSR). It was said to be part of a program to produce smaller warheads for submarine-launched and multiple-targeted missiles. Overall, the yields since 1990 have suggested that two warheads have been in development: one in the 100-300 kt range, and one in the 600-700 kt range.

China's last nuclear test was detonated at 0149 GMT (9:49 p.m. EDT) on 29 July 1996. According to the Australia Geological Survey Organization in Canberra its yield was 1 to 5 kilotons, with a seismic magnitude of Mb 4.3. This was China's 45th test, and its 22nd underground one.

It is believed that with the conclusion of this series, China has completed development of a range of warheads similar to the state of the art weapons developed by the other major nuclear powers. These would be miniaturized hardened thermonuclear warheads with yields in the tens to hundreds of kilotons, as well as warheads with variable yield options, and enhanced radiation ("neutron bomb") warheads.

The subject of China's neutron bomb capability has been the subject of considerable public attention over the last several years. China reportedly conducted a successful test of a neutron bomb on 29 September 1988; in March 2000 a Chinese military newspaper threatened to use neutron bombs to capture Taiwan if it declared independence. But most of the attention has centered on alleged connections with the theft of nuclear secrets from the United States.

Allegations have circulated for over 20 years that U.S. nuclear weapon technology has been leaked to China. CIA Director George Tenet reported in the 1999 "Intelligence Community Damage Assessment" on Chinese spying, that China "obtained information on a variety of U.S. weapon design concepts and weaponization features, including those of the neutron bomb."

As was reported by Dan Stober in the 13 April 2000 San Jose Mercury News, in 1981 Gwo-Bao Min, a nuclear weapons engineer in the D-Division at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was forced to resign form the laboratory due to suspicions about having provided China with information about U.S. neutron bomb technology from the W-70 warhead. According to Stober:

Exactly how the government discovered the loss of neutron bomb secrets to China and what led investigators to Min remain a secret.Sources outside the FBI say the agency is protecting its source, which could be a spy or the clandestine interception of an electronic communication.

Min continued to be investigated after his resignation by an FBI operation known as "Tiger Trap". Stober interviewed a number of officials familiar with the case:

"We did not design nuclear warheads (in D-Division), but we had access to all that stuff," said one of Min's co-workers. "They're classified documents and you go down and check them out. There's a classified library and you sign your name to show what you checked out."

"If the information was compromised, (the damage) could have been quite severe," said Houston T. Hawkins, an expert on Chinese nuclear weapons who is the top intelligence official at Los Alamos. Hawkins directs the group that wrote the "damage assessment" in the wake of the Tiger Trap case".

Although no prosecution ever developed from Tiger Trap, a December 1982 phone call between Min and Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee emerged as an important piece in the infamous case against Lee two decades later.

Walter Pincus and Vernon Loeb reported in stories published in the Washington Post on 8 April and 9 May 1999 that in 1997 another Chinese-American scientist named Peter H. Lee had been arrested and pled guilty to verbally passing classified nuclear weapons information to Chinese scientists while he was employed as a physicist at Los Alamos. Like Wen Ho Lee (who is unrelated), Peter Lee is a naturalized citizen born in Taiwan. The 1985 incident for which he was convicted involved a briefing Lee gave seven or more top Chinese nuclear scientists for two hours in a small conference room at another Beijing hotel. According to Pincus and Loeb;

"He talked about laser fusion and even discussed problems the United States was having in its nuclear weapons simulation program. He drew diagrams and supplied specifications. He explained test data. And he described at least one portion of a classified paper he had written, knowing that his disclosures violated the law.

"In December 1997 -- more than 12 years after the events, and after a six-year FBI investigation that included agents tapping his phones for months, reading his e-mail and his personal diaries, trailing him to China and conducting a polygraph -- Lee finally confessed and pleaded guilty. He was not paid by the Chinese for information, receiving only some travel expenses in 1997, and there was no evidence he disclosed classified information other than what he, himself, had described".

Ironically even though Peter Lee pled to passing classified defense information to unauthorized recipients (for which he was sentenced in March 1998 to a five-year prison term, suspended in favor of 12 months in a halfway house, a $20,000 fine and 3,000 hours of community service), by the time of his arrest much of the information on laser fusion had been declassified (in 1993). But a DOE impact analysis of Lee's disclosures completed in February 1998 held that the information "was of significant material assistance to the PRC in their nuclear weapons development program, ... This analysis indicates that Dr. Lee's activities have directly enhanced the PRC nuclear weapons program to the detriment of U.S. national security." Lee had also revealed current classified information to Chinese scientists in 1997 about his work at TRW involving space radar imaging of submarines.

By far the most celebrated case of actual and alleged Chinese-American nuclear espionage involved the case against Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. This saga grew out of a strange incident in 1995, in which a Chinese intelligence agent walked in to a U.S. diplomatic office unannounced and handed over a collection of highly classified Chinese documents, which included a 1988 Chinese document that made reference to design features of America's miniaturized nuclear warheads. The CIA later concluded that, for unknown reasons, this "walk-in" had acted at the direction of Chinese intelligence.

Of particular interest were some design details of the W-88 warhead, America's most sophisticated design. The details fell far short of evidence that China had obtained anything close to a complete design however, a fact that was often ignored in the later controversy, and it transpired could have been obtained from documents about the warhead distributed at many sites around the country and accessible to thousands of people. Nonetheless, because the warhead design had originated at Los Alamos, an FBI investigation focused there, and because Wen Ho Lee was the only Chinese-American employed in the X-Division, he quickly became the focus of the investigation. Lee's early appearance in Tiger Trap essentially clenched him as the prime (and sole) suspect in the eyes of Department of Energy investigator Notra Trulock.

The Wen Ho Lee investigation was kicked into hyperdrive when the Cox Committee, organized to investigate the transmission of space and missile technology to China, got wind of it and hastily added a sensationalized section on nuclear weapon espionage to the committees final report in December 1998. Virtually no attention was paid to Chinese nuclear spying allegations until a front-page 6 March 1999 New York Times story about the investigation. DOE Secretary Richardson fired Wen Ho Lee two days later. During the next 18 months circumspection was rarely seen in pronouncements made politicians, pundits, and officials. The extravagant claims made about Lee and supposed intelligence compromises led to Lee's arrest, extended imprisonment in solitary confinement, threats of capital punishment, and sworn testimony by government witnesses that was later admitted to be false. In the end the espionage case utterly collapsed with no evidence of spying by Lee ever having been found. Finally a plea agreement was reached on 13 September 2000 in which Lee pleaded guilty to one count of improperly handling classified information and was released.

As far as can be determined from publicly available information, there appears to be no real evidence of China obtaining actual nuclear warhead designs from the U.S. At most the information seems to have been information about warhead design and technology, possibly quite sketchy, that would help guide Chinese research and development down the most productive tracks. Without detailed designs of warheads ("blueprints"), Chinese weapons would necessarily be based on indigenous designs even if they incorporated design features and concepts derived from U.S. systems.

China's nuclear delivery system program's have traditionally proceeded very slowly. This has resulted in the deployment of forces that have been one to two decades behind the other nuclear powers in technology (although cause and effect may be reversed, lack of advanced technology may have been the cause of such tardy deployments). It is believed that fewer than 250 ballistic missiles have ever been deployed (with only the first cryogenic liquid fuel missile having been retired). The vast majority of China's arsenal is not capable of reaching the United States, and thus seems geared towards deterring (or threatening) itsimmediate neighbors.The oldest weapon in China's missile arsenal, the single stage liquid fueled DF-3 deployed in 1971, is gradually being retired. The DF-3 has a range of 2800 km. The DF-4 missile has a range of 4750 km, making it capable of reaching any part of Russia.

Current estimates assert that only about 20 ICBMs are in service - the Dong Feng (East Wind)-5A. This figure is surprising in light of China's ability to produce the same basic booster in larger numbers as the Long March 2 satellite launcher. The U.S. government has stated that in 1981 there were DF-5As deployed in hardened silos at two sites. It is thought to carry the largest warhead ever tested by China (4-5 Mt).

China has placed little emphasis on aircraft as a strategic weapon carrier. The Hong-6 and Qian-5 are short-medium range, light payload aircraft suitable more for tactical or regional-strategic operations. The main bomber, the Hong-6, is based on the Tu-16 Badger which entered Soviet service in 1955 and first flew in China on 27 September 1959. This plane was used to drop two live nuclear weapons in tests: a fission bomb in May 1965 and a megaton-range thermonuclear bomb in June 1967.

The Xian Aircraft Company has been developing the Hong-7 (FB-7), a supersonic fighter-bomber, for over 10 years, but no date has been given for its deployment. The most attractive possibility for modernization of the air arm is simply to purchase advanced fighter bombers from Russia (where they are readily available on easy terms) and modify them to carry Chinese nuclear weapons. China has already purchased 24 Su-27SK and 2 Su-27UBK Flankers (in 1992). Russia has also sold production rights for the Su-27 to China, and an assembly plant has been set up at Shenyang. The first two Chinese-made SU-27s flew in December 1998. China plans to build at least 200 SU-27s over the next 15 years. There is no information available to indicate that they have been assigned a nuclear role however.China has had a rather unsuccessful ballistic missile submarine program. China has only one operational ballistic missile submarine, the Xia (No. 406). This 6500 ton nuclear-powered boat was laid down in 1978, and launched in April 1981 from the Huludao Shipyard and Naval Base on the northern Bohai Gulf but achieved operational status only with great difficulty. The first attempt to fire a missile from the Xia failed in 1985, and it entered service only after a successful test launch was conducted on 27 September 1988. It was deployed to the Jianggezhuang Submarine Base, where the nuclear warheads for the missiles are believed to be stored, in January 1989. A second submarine was reportedly launched in 1982, but is not now in service. Unsubstantiated reports claim it was lost in a 1985 accident. The Xia underwent a modernization refit beginning in 1995. It has never sailed beyond China's regional waters and is believed incapable of deployment to distant areas. The submarine is armed with the Julang-1 (Giant Wave, or Tsunami) two-stage solid fuel missile, which was first test fired 30 April 1982. The Julang-1 was adapted to land service as the DF-21 (CSS-5). There will very probably be no more submarines of this class. A new design (Type 094) submarine, to be equipped with the longer range three stage Julang-2, a variant of the DF-31, is been under development for several years but probably won't see deployment for several more.

Much less is known about Chinese tactical nuclear weapons, which are believed to comprise a large parof the Chinese nuclear arsenal. The neutron bomb claimed by China is strictly a tactical weapon (designed for use against armored vehicles). China has conducted a number of low yield tests that may have been tactical weapons, and a large military exercise incorporating simulated nuclear weapons was held in June 1982. China's M-family of tactical ballistic missiles, the M-9, M-11 and M-18, are believed to be nuclear capable. Taiwanese officials have said that over the last four years the number of M-family missiles in China's three southern provinces nearby, have increased from 30-50 to 160-200 today. Estimates of Chinese tactical warheads range from 100 to 200, with yields from a few kilotons to hundreds of kilotons.

Monday 15 December 2008

Forceful Engagement: Rethinking the Role

Introduction

A key objective of the new administration will be to “rebalance” America’s foreign and security policy “tool kit”, giving greater prominence to diplomacy and other elements of “soft power”. And it is easy to see why. The surge in US defense spending and military activity that began ten years ago, and then sharply accelerated after the 11 September 2001 attacks, has had disconcerting results—to say the least. But setting an effective alternative course for US policy will not be as easy to accomplish as some assume.

Since 1998, defense spending has risen by 90 percent in real terms, bringing the national defense budget close to $700 billion annually, which represents about 46 percent of global defense expenditure (in purchasing power terms). All told, there are approximately 440,000 US military personnel presently overseas, which is close to the number that was overseas during the last decade of the Cold War. About 200,000 are currently engaged in combat operations and more than 38,000 have been wounded in action or killed since 2001. Despite this prodigious and costly effort, the world today seems, on balance, to be less secure, stable, and friendly than eight years ago. Terrorist activity and anti-Americanism have increased. The nation’s military activity has unsettled its alliances and prompted balancing behavior on the part of potential big power competitors: China and Russia. And there remains no real end in sight for America’s consumptive commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, the scope of US military intervention is expanding.

What the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the world is that the United States, unimpeded by a peer competitor, cannot by its current methods reliably stabilize two impoverished nations comprising only one percent of the world’s population—despite the investment of nearly 5,000 American lives and more than $850 billion. What General David Petreaus once asked of the Iraq war—“Tell me how this ends”—might be asked of the “war on terror” as a whole. The effort waxes and wanes, meandering into every corner of the earth, but shows no sure progress toward an end that might be called “victory.”

No great wisdom is needed to suspect that a sea-change in method is due.

Giving greater play to diplomacy and “soft power” is advisable, but not sufficient. More fundamental is the need to roll back America’s over-reliance on military instruments, which has proved both improvident and counter-productive. That the United States faces serious security challenges is not at question. Nor at question is the need for energetic global engagement. The problem is that the United States is using its armed forces and military power well beyond the limit of their utility. It is now experiencing not just diminishing returns, but negative ones. Thus, America finds itself paying more and more for less and less security.

Military moderation is also essential to the revival of America’s world reputation and leadership position. This, because what most divides the United States from those it proposes to lead is the issue of when, how, and how much to use force and the armed forces. This divide helped drive the Bush administration deeper into unilateralism. It was apparent during the 1990s as well, when the rise in anti- American sentiments first made headlines. Indeed, most post-Cold War US military interventions have involved considerable contention with key allies. Even when they join the United States on the battlefield, differences over the use of force re-emerge at the tactical level and with regard to “rules of engagement”.

Refiguring the role of force and the armed forces in US policy will not come easily. The current balance is well-rooted ideologically, institutionally, and politically. Some US leaders see it as reflecting America’s unique competitive advantage in the post-Cold War world and as pivotal to America’s strategy for shaping the process of globalization. But the costly wreck that is recent policy constitutes a strong argument for a change.

And the advent of a new administration in Washington provides an opportunity to go “back to the drawing board”. Unlike the first post-Cold War administrations, the next one will have the benefit of hindsight—having seen clearly both the nature of today’s security challenges and the downside of adopting an overly-militarized approach to addressing them.

Mapping a path out of the current policy cull-de-sac begins with the question, How did we get here?

The advent of primacy

The end of the East-West Cold War, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, put the United States at a strategic crossroads that remains relevant today. America entered the new era with a margin of military predominance greater than that enjoyed by any power since Rome in the Augustan age. Suggestive of the change, the US share of world military spending rose from 28 percent in 1986 to 34 percent in 1994. (Today it stands at approximately 46 percent, as noted above.)

More relevant was the altered balance of power between the United States and potential adversary states. Again, defense expenditure can serve as a proxy measure. In 1986, America’s adversaries—including Russia, China, and their allies—taken together spent 50 percent more on defense than did the United States. By 1994, this same group was spending 42 percent less than the United States. Although US defense spending actually declined during this period, aggregate spending by the adversary group fell faster and much further. The change affected not only the balance in standing military forces, but also in command of the arms trade and in capacities for military assistance, global military presence, and military research and development.

Notably, America’s margin of superiority has grown larger since the mid-1990s, despite increased spending by Russia and China. Today, US defense expenditures— not including war costs—are more than twice as great as those of Russia and China combined (in terms of purchasing power).

The end of the Cold War also prompted strategic realignments favoring the United States. As the Soviet bloc disintegrated, former Soviet satellites turned toward the West and then, in 1992, the Soviet Union itself dissolved into 15 separate countries. Former Soviet clients in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere found themselves substantially shorn of material support. Equally important, the contest of ideologies and social systems that had helped animate the Cold War ended. Both Russia and China adopted the posture of ordinary, self-interested great powers.

These circumstances presented a historic opportunity to increase global cooperation, advance the demilitarization of international affairs, and claim a permanent peace dividend. The end of the Cold War also brought to the fore a host of transnational problems—terrorism among them—that could be effectively addressed only through broad cooperation.

Grasping the promise that was born when the Wall came down proved from the start to be more difficult than many had hoped. One problem was that Russia, China, and other second-tier powers—including core US allies—were unwilling to simply accept American global leadership. On the American side, leaders were unwilling to accept the costs and risks of building out and relying on global institutions and cooperative regimes. The “transaction costs” of deeper cooperation—including implied limits on America’s freedom of action—seemed too high to too many. And, of course, the United States was at odds with much of the world over the prospective role of military power.

The primacy principle Many nations, including America’s partners, have tended to depreciate the utility of American military predominance. This, because the circumstance that produced it— the Soviet collapse—also seemed to make it less relevant. The US strategic community, by contrast, has been mesmerized by primacy. As Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it: “The fundamental question that confronts American foreign policy is what to do with a surplus of power and the many and considerable advantages this surplus confers.” To many, America’s new, sole-superpower status seemed to provide the leverage with which it might further enhance its security, extend its position of world leadership, and advance an American vision of world order—a “new rule set”. Implicit in these aspirations was a reorientation of the military from a reactive “defense and deterrence” stance to a more proactive one.

The exercise of primacy does not necessarily entail military activism, of course. The United States also possesses abundant “soft power.” But, as “soft power” advocate Joseph Nye (and others) have observed: it is only in the military dimension that the world can be thought to be unipolar. Moreover: military power is the policy instrument that the United States has in greatest supply. The US national defense budget is 15 times as large as the budget for international affairs. And Defense commands 200 times as many people as State.

By 1997, military primacy had been codified as the foundation of US post-Cold War security policy. The Quadrennial Defense Review and National Security Strategy documents of that year together asserted that US world leadership was essential to the nation’s security and that leadership, in turn, depended on maintaining America’s distinct global military predominance. Thus, primacy became a security end in its own right and the cornerstone of US global policy. In 2000, Defense Secretary William Cohen publically declared the post-Cold War peace dividend to be over. (How much had America saved? Measured in 2008 dollars, the United States spent $760 billion less on defense during 1991-2000 than it had during the last decade of the Cold War.)

To paraphrase former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: many US leaders treated US military primacy as though it were the peace dividend. A persisting problem, however, is that military primacy does not translate automatically into strategic gains. It conveys a unique competitive advantage only if national leaders can put it to effective use. Otherwise, much of America’s post-Cold War military would amount to nothing more than costly surplus. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright succinctly captured the problem in a 1993 conversation about the Balkans conflict with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell. Powell had said the options for effective military action in the Balkans conflict were limited. Albright reportedly shot back, “What’s the point of having this superb military, if we can’t use it?”

Putting primacy to work

Throughout the 1990s, the US national security establishment set to work refiguring how America might effectively put military primacy to work. In doing so, they developed a set of practices and perspectives that continue to frame security policy today. Surveying US policy developments during the post-Cold War period:

Three successive US administrations have lowered the threshold on using force, undertaking nine significant wars and forceful military interventions in 14 years. (By comparison, the United States undertook only six, small or modest-size combat operations during the period 1975-1989.)

The ways in which national leadership imagine using force and our armed forces have multiplied, and

America’s objectives in war have grown steadily more ambitious. These now include the aim of fighting multiple overlapping wars, achieving fast decisive results, overturning regimes, and sustaining protracted large-scale occupations.

Beyond the traditional objectives of deterring and defending against aggression, there has been an increasing emphasis on trying to use force and forceful pressure to actually “prevent the emergence” of threats and, more generally, to stabilize and “shape” the strategic environment (as the 1997 US Quadrennial Defense Review put it.)

In the past, threat prevention and “environment shaping” were largely in the purview of the State Department. But a feature of our post-Cold War practice has been the increasing intrusion of the Department of Defense (DOD) on the provinces of State. Parallel to this, diplomatic functions have been increasingly militarized. Thus, today coercive diplomacy plays a bigger role relative to traditional “quid pro quo” diplomacy. Similarly, “offensive counter-proliferation”—that is, arms control by means of bombardment or even regime change—has grown in importance.

DOD has even exerted more influence over US programs in support of democratization and development— and this influence is growing. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review strongly advocated for greater Pentagon authority in managing US security partnerships and conducting development assistance programs. Already the Pentagon oversees 22 percent of US official development funds—up from 3.5 percent in 1998.

The use of force—a last resort?

One legacy of the 20th century’s great conflicts was the emergence of a general societal presumption against war: the simple idea that war should be an instrument of last and infrequent resort, mostly restricted to defense against aggression. The reasons are both moral and pragmatic, having to do with the inherent unpredictability of war and its human cost. The “last resort” principle embodies an implicit recognition that war constitutes a zone of profound and chaotic effects. Thus, it holds, we mostly should not go to war unless it is forced upon us.

The “last resort” principle has been in retreat in US policy since the end of the East-West conflict. President George H.W. Bush first enunciated the shift in a 1993 address at West Point. Therein, he set aside the common “last resort” principle for a more permissive formulation. Rather than last, force might be the preferred option when other approaches were not thought to be as likely to work or to work as well. It is precisely this type of complacent utilitarianism that the last resort principle takes to be inappropriate, given the chaotic and extreme nature of war.

A nation’s “war threshold” reflects a number of considerations: For what purposes should a nation resort to military force and threats? What are the diplomatic prerequisites to using force? How soon in a developing clash of interests should force be brought into play? The threshold also pertains to the level of civilian casualties, collateral damage, and general mayhem that a nation is willing to risk.

Lowering the threshold on force can mean that the relationship between going to war and national self-defense becomes more attenuated. It can mean that the limits on “pre-emptive” uses of force become looser— or that forceful coercion becomes diplomacy’s routine companion. It can mean that the “rules of engagement” within war become more permissive or that firepower comes to play a greater role in stability operations. It can mean a greater willingness to “go it alone” in prosecuting a war or undertaking it with just a small circle of friends in coalition. In sum: all those considerations that normally act to limit the frequency, extent, and intensity of war become less compelling.

Certainly, the advent of clear US military predominance has figured in the willingness to lower the threshold on using force. Additionally, the dissolution of the Soviet sphere greatly reduced the likelihood that small wars would escalate to large. Especially important is the fact that regional conflicts no longer carry a substantial risk of escalation to global nuclear war.

Refiguring threat

At the same time that official thinking about the use of force was changing, defense planners (especially at Rand Corporation) began exploring new ways of calibrating threats and managing the security environment. These ideas became important enablers of increased military activism.

In 1991, General Colin Powell, who was then Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, had observed that the Pentagon was “running out of demons.” But as the scale of “clear and present” dangers receded, the Pentagon refocused defense preparation and action on unknown and prospective threats. Emphasizing “uncertainty,” planners relaxed their assumptions about America’s future interests and about the identity of potential foes, their capabilities, and their objectives. Planners lowered the bar on the plausibility of threat scenarios, brought ”worst case” possibilities to the fore, and boosted their estimates of what these might require of our armed forces.

Paradoxically, as the scale and stakes of security challenges declined, the Pentagon adopted more ambitious military objectives, seeking to deploy force ever faster and win wars more quickly and in more than one theater simultaneously. One aim was to be prepared to deal quickly and decisively with a very broad range of possible “surprises”. None of these were remotely as serious or immediate as the challenge that had once been posed by the Soviet bloc. And almost none involved attacks on the US homeland. But hedging against the whole set of them worldwide substantially boosted putative defense requirements.

Unfortunately, rather than immunizing the United States against unpleasant surprises, the effort to defeat uncertainty only dissipated America’s resources and attention. Thus, when Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States in 2001, America’s intelligence agencies and armed forces were mostly preoccupied with other concerns. Bioterrorism, missile defense, North Korea, and Chinese military power dominated security discourse in the months before 11 September. This effectively distracted from eight years of strategic warning—beginning with the 1993 World Trade Center attack—and eight months of more immediate warnings regarding Al Qaeda’s interest in attacking the US homeland. A few years later, the armed forces were similarly unprepared for the eventuality of protracted counter-insurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

These recent failures point to a simple truth: Attempts to hedge against uncertainty by preparing in all directions for all scenarios will leave a nation’s defenses less sensitive to and prepared for what is actually emerging. In fact, the emphasis on “uncertainty” during the past decade has allowed each military service and branch to find some justification for continuing to do and buy what it has been doing and buying for years. Thus, despite years of talk about “transformation”, the US military entered the new century looking not much different than it did in 1990, albeit smaller.

It is hubris that leads policy makers and planners to think that America can decisively trump surprise and attain complete security. A better approach to managing uncertainty is to invest more in intelligence, improve America’s capacity to quickly adapt its defenses to new circumstances as they arise, better protect those national assets that are most critical, and ensure that the nation has the fundamental strength to absorb unexpected blows and “bounce back”—as it did after Pearl Harbor.

Prevention or provocation?

The post-Cold War focus on potential worst case scenarios also increased the attraction of “jumping the gun”— that is, taking action early. “Acting early” can refer to several stratagems—preemption, prevention, or preclusion— each more risk-averse than the one preceding. Preemption involves taking action to spoil an attack that is in its preparatory stages. Prevention, by contrast, involves acting forcefully now against an adversary who officials believe will attempt a serious, unavoidable aggression at some point in future years. Preclusion goes a step further, seeking to remove the possibility of a future aggression even when this eventuality does not seem certain or undeterrable

To appreciate the difference among these stratagems, it helps to dissect the notion of “threat”. A “real and present” threat of aggression minimally comprises a serious clash of interests and the intention, capability, and opportunity to do harm. When some of these elements are missing, there is still risk, but not an immediate threat of the type once posed by the Soviet Union. Even when all the constituent elements of “threat” converge to form a real and present danger, deterrence can often hold it in check—as it did during the Cold War— while diplomacy and other instruments work to defuse it. But it is the risks inherent in this path that the United States is today less willing to bear—despite (or perhaps because of) its distinct military predominance.

Preventive and preclusive military operations imply treating adversaries (or potential adversaries) who do not pose an imminent threat of attack as though they do. Such actions target not aggression, per se, nor even the imminent danger of aggression but, instead, the capability to aggress—be it existing, emergent, or suspected. Prevention and preclusion also can target actors who security officials believe are predisposed, due to the nature of their governments or belief systems, to do America significant harm at some point in the future, although they presently lack the capability. Successive US administrations have marked such recalcitrant state actors as “rogue states” or “axis of evil” states—designations that tend to invite efforts at regime change. Similarly, the failure of some nations and social movements to integrate with the sphere of market democracy is seen as posing a military security problem of growing significance.

While the second Bush administration clearly crossed a threshold in attacking Iraq, the notion of applying US military power more proactively than during the Cold War was already well-established before George W. Bush took office. Key precursors and enablers of current policy ideas—such as offensive counter-proliferation, the “rogue state doctrine”, and regime change—were already evident in US policy toward Iraq and elsewhere during the late 1990s. Some of these ideas may survive the Bush administration—although in transmuted form as part of the new enthusiasm for armed nation-building.

Does prevention work? Our recent experience shows that treating potential threats as though they are imminent ones can exacerbate tensions and precipitate the outcome that “prevention” is meant to preclude. Thus, in addressing the nuclear programs of both North Korea and Iran, America’s coercive efforts spurred, rather than retarded, undesirable behavior. In the Iraq case, too, a confrontational approach in the run-up to the 2003 war fed the regime’s “bunker-mentality”, making war more likely, not less. Generally, the declaration of “regime change” objectives and the frequent resort to saber-rattling undermine diplomacy and help to precipitate and harden anti-American attitudes and coalitions.

The Iraq case also suggests that preventive uses of military force rest on unrealistic assumptions about our capacity to control outcomes and a serious underestimation of the potential costs and consequences of going to war. Additionally, the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate the limits of military occupation as a means of advancing stability and democracy. In both cases, the dominant role of armed foreigners (and their too frequent resort to firepower) have fed and sustained rejectionist movements and sentiments.

Using military power to shape the world

The most costly peacetime function of the US military in the post-Cold War era is something the 1997 US Defense Review called “environment shaping”. This encompasses America’s worldwide military presence, its alliances and military-to-military contacts, and its arms transfers and military assistance programs. A putative goal of this activity is to nudge nations that are at a “strategic crossroads” to develop in a preferred direction. So, this too is a form of preventive action. First among those nations that Washington sees at a crossroads are China, Russia, India, and Pakistan.

“Nudging” is supposed to occur by means of “armed dissuasion”—a process that involves using military assets and activity to “stake out” or strongly assert US interests in a specific situation or outcome. We might think of this as “preemptive deterrence” or “preemptive containment.” The spread of US military bases and partnerships toward the borders of Russia and the increased US naval presence in Asia are supposed to serve a dissuasive function. They are supposed to communicate implicitly that an undesirable competition or confrontation may ensue if Russia or China undertakes a proscribed course of action.

Another key objective of dissuasion has been to discourage other countries from initiating arms competitions with the United States and, in this way, preserve American military primacy. How? By creating and maintaining “substantial margins of advantage across key functional areas of military competition”—as Secretary Cheney put it in his 2002 report to Congress. The conceit is to preempt arms races by winning them in advance and, thus, make competition seem hopeless. And so, US military modernization efforts proceed full-bore, despite the absence of anything resembling peer competition.

Linking military modernization to the dissuasion of military competition also alters the status of arms control in US policy. The only negotiated agreements that are congruent with the drive for dissuasive power are those that codify or otherwise preserve a distinct US superiority.

Does armed dissuasion work?

One test of the increased emphasis on militarized environment shaping is relations with Russia and China. Unfortunately, both nations seem less willing today, not more, to accept a “rule set” written in Washington, or to integrate within a global order led by the United States. Both also have responded energetically to the advance of US bases, alliances, missile defense, and military modernization. We cannot assume that US efforts at “preemptive containment” and “preemptive deterrence” are the principal drivers of this behavior, but it is worth re-considering how these practices might be counter-productive.

Whether armed dissuasion is provocative or not depends on what behaviors it targets and what rules it seeks to set. Generally speaking: if dissuasive acts impinge on the internal affairs, sovereignty, core interests, or normal prerogatives of a target country, they are more likely to prompt resistance than compliance. The United States might effectively dissuade Chinese naval activism in the Caribbean, for instance—but not in the South China Sea. Likewise, if the United States seems to be claiming extraordinary rights or privileges through dissuasive acts, the targeted nations will either resist complying or strive to alter the power balance between themselves and America. This seems to be precisely what China and Russia are attempting to do as the US network of bases and partnerships gradually surrounds them.

Smaller states can respond to shaping efforts by seeking shelter under the strategic umbrella of larger ones. In this way, efforts at militarized “environment shaping” may be adding impetus to a process of global repolarization and remilitarization. This process is apparent in the formation and expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes as full members China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO has afforded observer status to India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan. Among its policy priorities are limitations on US efforts to secure new, enduring military bases in Central Asia.

Is primacy worth the candle?

For more than a dozen years, US policy has been ruled by the “primacy principle”. This is the notion that America’s present condition of distinct military primacy is essential to the nation’s security—not just a fortuitous thing, but a necessary one. What recent practice shows, however, is that US leaders have dangerously overestimated the utility of America’s preponderance of military power. At fabulous expense, the efforts to extend primacy and put it to work have been overwhelmed by unwanted and inadvertent effects.

Military primacy is not sustainable, at any rate. Indeed, the more it is exercised, the more it invites balancing behavior on the part of others. In this light, it is important to note that present global disparities in military power do not reflect the global distribution of human and material resources. Today, the United States devotes 70 percent more of its GDP to defense than do other nations, on average. This gap is much higher than the one prevailing in 1985. This means that other nations—China and Russia, among them—have considerable latent capacity to narrow the military gap between themselves and the United States, if they so choose. Something worth contemplating is that none, not even China, are doing all they might to close the military gap—not yet, at least. Why not?

Implicit in the “primacy principle” and in the expanded use of America’s armed forces is a wager about the nature of strategic competition today, and about the balance among the strategic challenges that face America and all nations. Most nations—including major US allies and potential competitors—are betting that the military sphere is not the key one. Potential competitors and adversaries, especially, are wagering that America has over-invested itself in the wrong contest, the wrong sphere. The current economic upheaval, which has done more to damage American power than Bin-Laden could ever hope, suggests that they are correct.

A litmus for progress

Setting a new course in policy begins with acknowledging that the diffuse surge in US military activism that followed the 9/11 attacks has been, on balance, counter-productive. Looking to the future, national leadership must be more realistic about what can be reliably accomplished by military means. The most important relationship to keep in mind is not the balance between US power and that of its adversaries, but the balance between US power and US objectives.

American leaders also need to be more cognizant of the costs and chaos that attend war. Among these is the risk of unnecessarily adding impetus to global remilitarization and re-polarization. A new cost-benefit calculus must be brought to bear in US military strategy.

To escape the paradox of “less security at greater cost”, America’s leaders must rethink the US security policy “problem set” and alter the balance among policy tools. An adequate alternative would emphasize broad multilateral cooperation in containing and resolving regional crises, reducing conflict potentials, and redressing the sources of instability in the international system. And, it would recognize that the sources of instability today are not principally military, political, or ideological in character, but instead economic, demographic, and environmental.

The United States should redouble its effort to promote the spread of human rights and democracy. And it should energetically support sustainable development. But these efforts should be demilitarized. And care should be taken to ensure that they do not become or seem to become part of a strategic competition between states or groups of states.

The real measure of a renewed US diplomacy will be efforts to reach across current strategic divides—especially to Russia, China, and the Muslim world—and find common ground. Cooperation on water, food, energy, and health security, global warming, economic development, and the management of globalization could serve as a foundation for cooperation on more divisive issues. Regarding these divisive issues, a re-emphasis on traditional “quid pro quo” diplomacy will pay higher dividends than will the resort to coercive diplomacy and saber rattling.

In the future, America’s armed forces should focus more narrowly on containing, deterring, and defending against actual threats of violence to critical national interests. Efforts at “environment shaping” and “threat prevention”, which currently preoccupy much of the US military, are most appropriately the job of the State Department.

Peace and stability operations are important and will remain so—but they should be undertaken only as multilateral affairs under the auspices of inclusive international institutions. To be successful, they must be based on strong global, regional, and local consensus. They are not wars and should not be prosecuted as such. Generally speaking, the rules of engagement in such efforts—and in counter-insurgency campaigns as well—should become more restrictive, not less.

The struggle for meaningful transformation

During the first two years of the Obama administration, all of America’s defense guidance will be reviewed and, to an unknown extent, rewritten. The impediments to adequate policy change are substantial. Several factors predispose the American polity to a dependence on military power and on its exercise in international affairs.

First, popular domestic assent to US global activism characteristically has depended on such activism being framed as a “security issue”—a matter of “defending forward”. This maps a path to globalism that accords with deep-seated “American exceptionalist” and “isolationist” sentiments. So does a preference for emphasizing “decisive” (that is, military) means—because these seem to promise a quick, clear, and surgical form of engagement. Thus, past surges in US global activism have been war-driven—in 1917, 1941, and 1950—with peacetime engagement thereafter almost continuously framed in terms of “Cold War”. Today, the “war on terror” defines a politically practicable path for global activism. Unfortunately, as an overall framework for foreign policy, it favors the wrong mix of instruments. Still, it may be difficult to form a domestic consensus around an alternative path—that is, a path that does not rely on a war frame (as former president Bill Clinton learned during the 1990s).

A second impediment to change is that the institutional base of America’s security policy discourse strongly favors a militarized view—that is, the “Pentagon lens” predominates. The defense establishment enjoys an unmatched capacity to broadly convey its assessment of the global security environment and US security requirements. DOD and the services employ thousands of personnel to communicate their perspectives to various constituencies. And they heavily court retired officers and government officials who routinely serve the news media as “independent analysts”. Finally, DOD and the services sustain a network of policy centers and contracted think tanks whose aggregate size rivals those in the public sphere. (Expenditures for DOD’s “studies and analysis centers” surpass $200 million annually, excluding research laboratories. By contrast, the largest nongovernmental “think tank” devoted principally to foreign and security affairs—the right-of-center Center for Strategic and International Studies—had a 2005 budget of $28 million.)

Like all bureaucracies, DOD and the services tend to see and represent the world in terms of their own defining missions and functions. They are attuned to the military aspect of foreign affairs and tend to view these in terms of military conflict scenarios. There is nothing inherently wrong with this bias; it conforms to the military’s role and it belongs in the mix. What is dysfunctional, however, is the overall imbalance in America’s marketplace of ideas, which gives the “Pentagon lens” predominance. This is a product of history and inertia—the effluent of the Second World War and the Cold War. And, in recent policy, it has had the effect of normalizing a view of the security environment that privileges military action.

Paradoxically, the armed services do not explicitly favor military activism. Indeed, the Joint Chiefs often exert a restraining influence when political leadership is considering war. Nonetheless, the net effect of the defense establishment’s “policy shops” and “think tanks” is to prime the charge for forceful intervention.

DOD and the services are also intent on defending their institutional prerogatives and preserving (or expanding) their budget share. Again, like all bureaucracies, they seek to grow—consuming more resources, appending new roles, and extending the scope of their authority. This they perceive and portray as a national security imperative. An important and potentially supportive constituency is the more-than-12-million voters who live in households with at least one person who is in the active or reserve military, employed by DOD, or employed by a defense contractor. Many millions more live in cities and towns heavily dependent on DOD activity. For good reason, American politicians generally demure from “running against the Pentagon”.

So, can the next administration steer clear of the present overemphasis on military power and chart an alternative course for US policy? In light of the impediments to change, progress will require unusual foresight and courage. The least hazardous path politically would be a modest departure from Bush administration military policy. But this would not be adequate to the quandary in which America presently finds itself—as will become clearer, if it needs to be, when the next administration lifts the veil on the status of our armed forces and their efforts abroad. Economic troubles and fiscal pressure are also likely to generate stronger support for a shift in priorities. Finally, any new charm and diplomacy offensive attempted by the next administration will soon fall flat if not mated to a significant change in US defense strategy. Now, less than ever, can America’s allies afford to join America in desultory wars.

Unfortunately, presidential campaigns tell us little about what comes next in this area of policy. For different reasons, both Democrats and Republicans have handled defense issues gingerly. So the prospect for meaningful reform depends on November 4th marking not the conclusion of the US security policy debate, but its rebirth.