IFS Insights no. 2, August 2011
Title: China's nuclear force structure
Author: Henrik Stålhane Hiim
Since the country’s first nuclear test in 1964, the nuclear posture of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been strikingly different from those of the superpowers. Despite the superior nuclear firepower of the U.S. and Russia, Beijing has maintained a relatively small arsenal whose role appears to have been exclusively retaliatory.
Currently, China’s nuclear forces are undergoing a major modernization effort. These developments are increasingly causing concern in the Asia-Pacific region. Some analysts are arguing that China is about to break with its traditional nuclear force posture and initiate a major nuclear build-up, possibly triggering an arms race in the region.
In this paper, Henrik Stålhane Hiim sets out to analyze China’s policy of deterrence and the driving forces behind its nuclear modernization. He argues that rather than representing the initiation of a major build-up, the purpose of the Chinese modernization program is to strengthen the country’s “minimum deterrence” force posture. At the same time, the paper also points to how the Chinese deterrent posture is facing a set of increasingly serious challenges, particularly from U.S. missile defense plans. In the future, in cannot be ruled out that China will initiate more drastic responses to address these challenges.
Henrik Stålhane Hiim (b. 1982) is a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. He holds a MA in political science from the University of Oslo. He has also studied Chinese at Renmin University and Huazhong Normal University, as well as international relations at Renmin University.