China appears to be within two years of deploying submarine-launched nuclear weapons, adding a new leg to its nuclear arsenal that should lead to arms-reduction talks, a draft report by a congressionally mandated US commission says.
China in the meantime remains “the most threatening” power in cyberspace and presents the largest challenge to US supply chain integrity, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in a draft of its report this year to the US Congress.
China is alone among the original nuclear weapons states to be expanding its nuclear forces, the report said. The others are the US, Russia, Britain and France.
Beijing is “on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and air-dropped nuclear bombs,” the report said.
China has had a largely symbolic ballistic missile submarine capability for decades, but it is only now set to establish a “near-continuous at-sea strategic deterrent,” the draft report said.
The deployment of such a hard-to-track, submarine-launched leg of China’s nuclear arsenal could have significant consequences in East Asia and beyond. It also could add to tensions between the US and China. Any Chinese effort to ensure a retaliatory capability against a notional US nuclear strike “would necessarily affect Indian and Russian perceptions about the potency of their own deterrent capabilities vis-a-vis China,” the report said.
China is party to many major international pacts and regimes regarding nuclear weapons and materials, but it remains outside of key arms limitation and control conventions, such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in April 2010 and the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The US historically has approached these bilaterally with Russia.
The US Congress should require the US Department of State to spell out current and planned efforts to integrate China into existing and future nuclear arms reduction, limitation, and control discussions and agreements, the draft said.
In addition, congress should “treat with caution” any proposal to unilaterally, or in the context of a bilateral deal with Russia, reduce operational US nuclear forces without clearer information being made available to the public about China’s nuclear stockpile and force posture, it said.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Geng Shuang, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China is estimated by the Arms Control Association, a private nonpartisan group in Washington, to have a total of 240 nuclear warheads. The US, by contrast, has about 5,113, including tactical, strategic and nondeployed weapons.