Tuesday 1 April 2008

China's not so new nuclear strategy

The 51-page monograph is a sort of literary review, the result of exploiting sections of a doctrinal text, "A Guide to the Study of Campaign Theory", published for People's Liberation Army (PLA) higher military schools by the Chinese National Defense University.
The monograph finds:

In the view of many in the PLA, the military power of the United States, the potential to use that power to coerce or dominate China, and the ability to threaten China's pursuit of its own interests [present] a latent threat to China. Additionally, China's own threats against democratic Taiwan, and the fact that PLA leaders believe that the United States is likely to come to Taiwan's assistance in the event of Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait, magnifies the threat that PLA officers perceive from the United States. This perceived threat drives the PLA to follow US military developments more carefully than those of other nations and to be prepared to counter American forces.

The PLA is mixing nuclear and conventional missile forces in its military doctrine. Also, some in China are questioning whether the doctrine of "no first use" of nuclear weapons serves China's deterrent needs.

The monograph has been exciting attention in US national-security circles because it asserts that China's nuclear strategy could bring about a nuclear war. Supposedly Beijing may be trying to develop the capability to destroy entire US aircraft-carrier battle groups in the Pacific Ocean by targeting them with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Its a alarming news by the fact that China is experimenting with both multiple re-entry vehicles (MIRV - a collection of nuclear weapons carried on a single ICBM or a submarine-launched ballistic missile) and maneuverable re-entry vehicles (MARV - a type of nuclear warhead capable of shifting targets in flight) as well as other penetration aids or countermeasures on its warheads as means to respond to potential missile defense.

Another Chinese developmentisfinds noteworthy is that Chinese military officials have picked target sets that would would disrupt the enemy's economy, reconstitution and resupply capabilities. Specifically:
# Enemy political centers.
# Economic centers.
# Major enemy military bases and depots.
# Enemy command centers.
# Enemy communications and transportation networks.
# Major troop concentrations.

Even a development that is genuinely, at least potentially, destabilizing,the decision by Beijing to put nuclear and conventional warheads on the same classes of ballistic missiles - also mirrors a recent US initiative.This initiative has been heavily criticized by the arms control community because is brings an inherent risk of triggering a nuclear war. It seems likely, for example, that Russian and Chinese early warning radars would be unable to differentiate between US nuclear and conventional SLBM and/or ICBM launches, as the heat signatures of both would be the same. The ambiguity, by causing doubt and uncertainty, and possible delay in response, would also inevitably strengthen the capacity for a successful US nuclear first strike. Countries targeted by any ICBM strike would need to treat any attack as a nuclear one if they were to avoid being open to a successful surprise US nuclear first strike.

Ironically, it is this sort of initiative - which makes it more likely that China might execute a preemptive nuclear counterattack if it believes that an adversary is about to attack it worreis more.

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