Taiwan faces a “very severe” nuclear threat from China, a Washington forum was told on Thursday. Adjunct professor at Georgetown University Phillip Karber made the assessment after releasing a paper by Russian General Viktor Yesin titled China’s Nuclear Potential.
The paper, published last month in a Russian military journal and recently translated into English, concluded that China has up to 1,800 nuclear warheads. Previous estimates of China’s nuclear arsenal have generally put the warhead figure at a few hundred.
“This new paper is of enormous importance,” said forum organizer Rick Fisher, who is a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
Karber said the paper showed that China was now fielding three missiles — the DF-11 the DF-15 and the DH-10 — with nuclear warheads that could strike anywhere in Taiwan.
There was an assumption, he said, that some of the warheads used enhanced radiation technology which would kill people, but leave infrastructure intact so that Taiwan could subsequently be occupied.
Yesin estimated that some of the DF-11, DF-15 and DH-10 missiles had single nuclear warheads ranging from 5 kilotonnes to 20 kilotonnes each.
Taiwan was the “cork” in the first island chain, Karber said.
“If that cork gets reversed, that is if Taiwan comes under the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] and they start military operations from the island, it will be a very serious issue,” he said.
Such a development, Karber said, would change the “entire equation” and the defensibility of Asia would “shift dramatically.”
“We have got to be careful with these friends of ours. If we are not willing to go to their aid and go quickly they become more vulnerable,” he added.
Yesin, a former chief of staff of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, is currently a professor at the Academy of Military Sciences of the Russian Federation.
Yesin is viewed as an authoritative source “closely associated with Russian government positions,” Karber said.
The paper said China provided no official information about its nuclear arsenal and that Beijing argued that its nuclear weapons were “insignificant in number.”
However, Yesin said in the paper that an analysis of the capacity of Chinese factories that supply special fissionable materials indicated that as of last year, they could have produced up to 40 tonnes of weapons-grade uranium and about 10 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium. This is enough material for the production of about 3,600 nuclear warheads, but it was likely that half or more of the total was in stockpiles.
Yesin said there were “probably” 1,600 to 1,800 warheads in the Chinese nuclear arsenal. He said the nuclear capability of China had clearly been underestimated by the Western expert community.
“It is necessary to take into account the Chinese factor when considering any of the next -Russian-American agreements on the further reduction and limitation of nuclear weapons,” Yesin said. “It is time to bring China into multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament.”