China’s disturbing new nuclear buildup

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DF-26 missiles appear at a Beijing parade in this file photo

 

When it comes to China’s ongoing military buildup, most attention is paid to the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) conventional forces, that is, fighter jets, submarines, armored vehicles, precision-guided munitions, and the like. The nuclear side of this buildup is almost totally ignored – and yet what is happening here is equally disturbing.

For China, “going nuclear” was major achievement. Beijing detonated its first atomic (fission-type) bomb in 1964, followed by the test of a thermonuclear (fusion-type) device three years later. Given the relatively backward state of China’s defense science and technology base, these feats, along with the launching of China’s first satellite in 1970, were a source of considerable national pride.

Despite the success of its “two bombs and one satellite,” Beijing faced the problem of what to do with its new-founded nuclear capability. It could not hope to match the nuclear forces of the United States or the USSR in terms of quantity or quality. Nevertheless, there had to be a strong strategic rationale for possessing – and possibly using – nuclear weapons. Continue reading