First Strike — China omission of no-first-use nuclear doctrine in defense white paper signals policy shift

China omitted a reference to its no-first-use strategic nuclear weapons doctrine in a recently published government white paper, indicating Beijing shifted the policy as part of its large-scale nuclear arms buildup.

The omission, along with recent comments by a senior Chinese military officer, is raising new concerns among Pentagon officials about China’s nearly opaque strategic arms buildup.

Chinese Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, a senior researcher at China’s Academy of Military Science, revealed earlier this month that China is considering expanding its growing nuclear arsenal in response to U.S. missile defense deployments and upgrades.

The white paper omission follows periodic statements and writings by Chinese officials since the late 1990s that are undermining U.S. intelligence estimates, which for several decades have predicted China’s stockpile of strategic nuclear arms will remain relatively small, limited to around 240 warheads.

Russian and private U.S. analysts recently disputed the U.S. assessments and have said the Chinese nuclear arsenal could be far larger, possibly a stockpile of as many as 1,500 to 3,000 warheads.

The Pentagon’s 2010 annual report on the Chinese military said the no-first-use nuclear policy is ambiguous and Chinese officials have not clarified it.

Additionally, China is known to engage in Soviet-style strategic deception regarding its nuclear forces. U.S. officials have said the deception efforts include masking nuclear forces as part of a calculated effort to undermine foreign nations’ assessments of its strategic forces and the forces that are required to deter or counter them.

Larry M. Wortzel, a former military intelligence official who worked in China, revealed in an article published last year that China appears to have circulated a suspect “top secret” document affirming its announced plan to maintain a small nuclear weapons force. The document appeared aimed at bolstering “everything that the arms control community would advocate about building down U.S. nuclear forces toward ‘nuclear zero,’” Wortzel stated.

A Chinese U.N. official once said the no-first use policy wouldn’t apply to a Chinese response to a foreign invasion of Taiwan, and in 2005 a general said China would use nuclear weapons against the United States in response to conventional-tipped cruise missile attacks on China.

Chinese military writings also call for using all weapons, both nuclear and non-nuclear, in conflicts to assure victory.

Full article: First Strike — China omission of no-first-use nuclear doctrine in defense white paper signals policy shift (Washington Free Beacon)

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