Inside the Ring: China rejects zero option

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President Obama and other disarmament advocates continue to call for the total elimination of nuclear arms. This week, China’s government signaled its intention to move in the opposite direction and expand and speed up its large-scale nuclear buildup.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, stated in a Sept. 11 editorial that reports about China’s recent long-range nuclear-missile tests, including a future multiple-warhead ICBM, are part of a major shift in its nuclear posture.

China must accelerate upgrading and strengthening its nuclear deterrent and make it real and believable,” the newspaper said.

The unusual statement was followed by another alarming comment: China should use its nuclear forces to coerce its enemies.

China should change its past nuclear image, explore the possibility of using the nuclear deterrent to change China’s strategic environment peacefully but firmly, and make China a large country that no country dares provoke easily,” the newspaper said.

U.S. officials said that China on July 24 conducted the first flight test of a new road-mobile ICBM called the DF-41 that will be fitted with between three and 10 warheads. It would be the first of China’s strategic missiles to be outfitted with multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs.

China’s military has had MIRV technology for years, after covertly acquiring the know-how during the administration of President Clinton, when similar technology used in launching multiple satellites was transferred to the Chinese.

The Chinese editorial could expose what some experts say is a looming, but as yet undetected, strategic intelligence failure.

China has been engaged in a major buildup of strategic nuclear forces for at least the past 15 years, a buildup that has been largely ignored by the U.S. government and its intelligence community, according to officials familiar with intelligence reports.

Now that China recently acknowledged its work on the multi-warhead DF-41, U.S. intelligence agencies are expected to face the difficult challenge of holding on to their decades-long estimate about China’s relatively small warhead stockpile.

In recent months, U.S. spy agencies vehemently denied work by outside specialists who are challenging the low-warhead count for China.

One is Georgetown University’s Phillip Karber, who has said the official U.S. estimate of 300 to 400 Chinese warheads does not square with the huge size of China’s recently disclosed underground nuclear complex that includes 3,000 miles of nuclear tunnels dubbed the Underground Great Wall.

Then, in June a paper surfaced from the former commander of Russian strategic forces, Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, who revealed that Russia thinks China has between 1,600 and 1,800 warheads, with 800 to 900 deployed — more than twice the current U.S. intelligence estimate.

The question asked by nuclear specialists in and out of government is why the congressional intelligence oversight committees have not challenged the U.S. intelligence community on the Chinese warhead estimate.

One official said the reason for congressional inaction has been the firm denials by U.S. intelligence analysts to their House and Senate overseers.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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