In a development that could impact the security of Taiwan, a new report estimates that China now has 250 nuclear warheads and is continuing to increase the size of its nuclear arsenal.
China is assigning a growing portion of its warheads to long-range missiles capable of reaching the US, the report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says.
The US intelligence community predicts that by the mid-2020s, Beijing could more than double the number of these warheads that threaten the US to more than 100.
That situation might very well give Washington reason to delay coming to the aid of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
“When considering how China’s nuclear forces may impact the security of Taiwan, or more precisely how they might deter the US from coming to Taiwan’s military defense in the event of a Chinese attack, it is crucial to consider the number of China’s strategic and theater/tactical nuclear weapons,” International Assessment and Strategy Center senior fellow Rick Fisher told the Taipei Times.
“I would offer the estimate that numbers in both categories are growing and that this should concern Taiwan, the US and all other democracies in Asia,” Fisher said.
He said that “at a minimum” it was unwise for the US to consider further reductions in its nuclear arsenal at a time when China’s nuclear arsenal is growing.
“The capability of the arsenal is also increasing, with liquid-fuel and relatively inaccurate maneuverable missiles being replaced by solid-fuel and more accurate road-mobile missiles,” says the report titled Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2013.
It estimates that China’s current arsenal includes as many as 60 long-range missiles that can reach the US, but at this point only 40 of them — 20 DF-5As and 20 DF-31As — can strike the continental US.
Earlier this year, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington issued a study titled Nuclear Weapons and US-China Relations. It said Taiwan remains the single most plausible and dangerous source of tension and conflict between the US and China.
Although tensions across the Taiwan Strait have subsided since 2008, the situation remains “combustible and complicated,” it said.
“For the foreseeable future, Taiwan is the contingency in which nuclear weapons would most likely become a major factor because the fate of the island is intertwined both with the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party and the reliability of US defense commitments in the Asia-Pacific region,” the CSIS report said.
Fisher said that China does not reveal the current or planned numbers of its nuclear weapons, and goes to great lengths to conceal its nuclear and missile-related planning development, production and deployment.
“There is no Congress in China to ask nosy questions about nuclear weapons, no Freedom of Information Act to harass bureaucrats,” Fisher said.